Rafer Lewis Johnson, born in Texas in 1935, competed in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He won the gold medal with a record-breaking 8,392 points.
He later said, “I never want to go through that again — never.”
The next year, the baby name Rafer appeared in the SSA’s baby name data for the very first time:
- 1963: unlisted
- 1962: unlisted
- 1961: 8 baby boys named Rafer [debut]
- 1960: unlisted
- 1959: unlisted
Later the same year, a TV documentary called The Rafer Johnson Story premiered — this could have influenced the usage of the name as well.
The name never became a mainstay on the list, but it has reappeared a few times. One of those times was in 1968, the year Rafer Johnson and several other men caught and disarmed Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles.
So how did Rafer Johnson get his name? Here’s how he explained it in an interview from 2003:
“When my dad was in the fourth grade, one of his best friends was killed,” Johnson said. “When my dad went to the funeral, he found out that this kid, who everyone called Louis, was actually named Rafer. So my dad decided, in fourth grade, he was going to name his first son Rafer.”
Do you like the name Rafer?
- Johnson, Rafer and Philip Goldberg. The Best that I Can Be. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
- A Legacy Met: Rafer interviews Rafer as namesake gains a new perspective by Rafer Weigel
- “Rafer Johnson takes decathlon.” Leader-Post 7 Sep. 1960: 25.
- The Rafer Johnson Story – David L. Wolper