The Debut of Delvecchio

delvecchio, tv show, 1970s, baby name

On the short-lived TV series Delvecchio, Los Angeles police detective Dominick Delvecchio (played by Judd Hirsch) was a cop who aspired to be a lawyer. (He’d graduated from law school, but hadn’t managed to pass the bar exam yet.) This made him more complex than the average TV detective of the era:

“What you have in Delvecchio is basically a schizoid personality. A cop is trained to assume guilt. A lawyer is trained to assume innocence and we have both of those things in the same guy. […] For that reason we have always built situations for Delvecchio where he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. […] So he lies to his bosses, he occasionally bends police procedure. He gets personally involved.”

Though the show was only on the air for a single season (1976-1977), it had a relatively strong impact on baby names.

The name Delvecchio was the top boy-name debut of 1976:

  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: 44 baby boys named Delvecchio
  • 1976: 27 baby boys named Delvecchio [debut]
  • 1975: unlisted

And the surname of Delvecchio’s partner/sidekick, detective Paul Shonski (played by Charles Haid), was a one-hit wonder in the data the next year:

  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: 5 baby boys named Shonski [debut]
  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: unlisted

I haven’t been able to figure out the etymology of Shonski, but the Italian surname Delvecchio is easy: del means “of the” or “from the,” and vecchio means “old” or “mature.” So one original usage would have been to denote the son or servant of an older man. The name was also “taken by various Jewish families long established in Italy (allegedly since the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70) to distinguish themselves from later arrivals who migrated there on being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula after 1492.”

What are your thoughts on Delvecchio and Shonski as first names?

Sources:

  • Vanocur, Sander. “A Non-Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Washington Post 27 Feb. 1977.
  • Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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