Where did the baby name Unseld come from?

sports, baby name, 1970s, kareem, unseld, basketball
Wes Unseld & Kareem

The unusual baby name Unseld was a one-hit wonder in 1971:

  • 1973: unlisted
  • 1972: unlisted
  • 1971: 5 baby boys named Unseld
  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: unlisted

Why?

If you remember the image above — which was in the post about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the other day — then you already know: professional basketball player Westley “Wes” Unseld.

Unseld played in the NBA from 1968 to 1981, always for the same team: the Baltimore Bullets, which in 1973 became the the Capital Bullets, which in 1974 became the Washington Bullets. (Today they’re the Washington Wizards.)

Though Wes Unseld was clearly the influence behind the name, it’s hard to connect the appearance of “Unseld” in the data with a specific moment in his career. Wes was an All-Star in 1971, but that wasn’t the first time he was an All-Star. Likewise, 1971 was a couple of years after he won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award.

The surname Unseld can be traced back to the Middle High German word unsælde, which meant “misfortune.” It was a nickname for a sad or unlucky person.

Sources:

  • Wes Unseld – Wikipedia
  • Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

4 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Unseld come from?

  1. The Baltimore Bullets ended up in the NBA Finals for the 70-71 season, so maybe that gave the name enough exposure?

  2. Yes, that certainly could have been it.

    Just seems odd to me that the debut wasn’t closer to a “bigger” year for him. Like 1978, when the team not only went to the finals, but won the championship — and Unseld was voted NBA Finals MVP.

  3. That’s kind of strange, because Unseld is a famous surname in Germany, borne by one of the most influential publishers, Siegfried Unseld, who was leading the famous Suhrkamp Verlag 1959–2002. But in the USA he is so unknown that he hasn’t even a stub in the anglophone Wikipedia.

  4. Oh wow I had no idea about that. I’d never heard of Siegfried Unseld. Thanks for teaching me something new today. :)

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