Friday, June 21, 2024

The trail of the name Sigourney

Sigourney is a surname that originates from the French town of Sigournais. It was called Segurniacum in latin which is of unknown origin. Sigourney Weaver is the first person that comes to mind for most of us. The actress played fearless heroine Warrant Officer Ripley in Ridley Scott's 1976 movie Alien. She was born Susan Alexandra Weaver in 1949 and started going by Sigourney when she was 14. She picked the name from a single line in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 book The Great Gatsby. In the book the character Jordan Baker tells Nick to look up her Aunt's name in the phone book to find her, a "Mrs. Sigourney Howard", which would have actually been her aunt's husband's name. The name was likely after Fitzgerald's close friend Reverend Sigourney W. Fay who died in 1919. The reverend's full name was Cyril Sigourney Webster Fay and a quick family tree search showed (besides a bunch of cousin marriages...) he was probably named after his paternal uncle Sigourney Webster Fay, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1836.
Portrait of Sigourney Webster Fay in 1855 when he was 18 (Boston Athanaem)

The trail of Sigourneys ends here though, as I can find no near relative with this surname for whom he could have been named. The US census of 1861 shows Sigourney was a rare first name, under 20 people, but it was used more for women than men. All were named after 1830. A google books search showed there was one notable Sigourney active at this time, a Connecticut born poet named Lydia Sigourney, referred to mostly by her married name in print, Mrs. Sigourney.
Lydia Sigourney, 1820

She wrote poetry and conduct manuals for women which emphasized a woman's place in the home and the importance of women being agreeable in conversation. She also wrote eulogies and poetry. She was the most well known female writer of her time and inspired many women to become poets and start literary societies. She has now been largely forgotten. My guess is he was named after her. Webster also happens to be the surname of the Massachusetts Senator who ran for President in 1836, Daniel Webster, who was also a famous orator and writer during his political career.

Mrs. Sigourney was born Lydia Howard Huntley and was the only child of Ezekiel Huntley and Zerviah Wentworth. She was named after Ezekiel's deceased first wife, Lydia Howard. Imagine naming your only daughter after your husband's dead wife! It's probably just a coincidence that Fitzgerald chose Howard for the aunt's surname but it is possible he was aware of her poetry. Perhaps she was alluded to as the prim overbearing aunt type in juxtaposition to Jordan Baker's more liberal attitudes. What would Mrs. Sigourney have thought of her!

Sigourney has never been a very popular name in the US and peaked in popularity in 1989 with 43 girls named. That year Sigourney Weaver was nominated for two acting awards at the Oscars and also starred in Ghostbusters II. In 2022 only 6 girls were named Sigourney. Ripley on the other hand, Weaver's Alien character, was given to 206 girls and 107 boys and is trending up for both.
Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ripley in the movie Alien (1976)

The story of Sigourney seems to touch down at pivots in the story of women, from tradiontional yet inspirational poets, to new women flapper girls and finally sci-fi heroines who kill aliens. That Ripley is now trending as a unisex name, for boys as well as girls thanks to Sigourney Weaver is a delightful addendum to this story.

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The trail of the name Sigourney

Sigourney is a surname that originates from the French town of Sigournais. It was called Segurniacum in latin which is of unknown origin. Si...