The Entrance of Torben

torben ulrich, tennis, baby name, 1960s
Torben Ulrich (in 1957)

The name Torben first emerged in the U.S. baby name data in the late 1960s:

  • 1971: unlisted
  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: 6 baby boys named Torben
  • 1968: 7 baby boys named Torben [debut]
  • 1967: unlisted
  • 1966: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Sports…sort of.

The source seems to be Danish professional tennis player Torben Ulrich. But he’d been playing professionally for many years by the late ’60s. What happened in 1968?

That year, Torben was memorably profiled in American newspapers by sports columnist Murray Olderman. The article wasn’t about Torben’s tennis-playing as much as it was about Torben’s unapologetic nonconformism. Here’s how it began:

Behind dark glasses framed by swirls of long brown hair, Torben Ulrich looks out on a curious world. It’s the world that’s curious–not necessarily Torben–because it sees him as a slightly hunched, slender, effete, bearded and tressed hippie. It also sees him, curiously, as an athlete who has made his living, more or less, for 20 years by playing tennis. We say more or less because Torben also plays the tenor sax in a rock ‘n’ roll band, tootles a classical flute, writes a weekly column for a Copenhagen newspaper, broadcasts on the Danish national radio and raises a family.

In a tone that vacillated between mockery and admiration, Olderman described Ulrich’s nomadic lifestyle, sleeping habits (night owl), language skills (Danish, English, French, German, Italian, etc.), and sense of style (including “a bracelet made from the hair of an elephant’s tail”).

I imagine the profile would have struck a chord with counterculture readers. In fact, maybe it was those readers specifically who were enticed enough by the name Torben — which is a variant of Torbjörn, which can be traced back to Old Norse elements meaning “thunder” (Thor) and “bear” — to choose it for their newborns that year.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Torben?

P.S. The article also mentioned that Torben had a 4-year-old son. That son, Lars Ulrich, grew up to become the co-founder/drummer of the heavy metal band Metallica. (Metallica is also a baby name, btw.)

Sources:

Image: Tennis – Wimbledonsterren in Noordwijk – Nationaal Archief

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