The English word paladin — borrowed from French in the late 1500s — originally referred to one of the twelve legendary knights in Charlemagne’s court. The definition later evolved to encompass any knight known for being particularly heroic or chivalrous.
The word also happens to refer to a handful of people who are not knights at all. How? It’s their legal name! Paladin started popping up in the U.S. baby name data in the late 1950s:
- 1960: unlisted
- 1959: 5 baby boys named Paladin
- 1958: 5 baby boys named Paladin [debut]
- 1957: unlisted
- 1956: unlisted
The pop culture influence wasn’t a knight, though. It was a gunfighter. A gentleman gunfighter.
Paladin, played by actor Richard Boone, was the mononymous protagonist of the TV Western Have Gun – Will Travel, which aired from 1957 to 1963. (The series was also adapted into a radio show, several novels, and a line of comic books.)
Gun-for-hire Paladin was a West Point grad who lived in a San Francisco hotel, smoked expensive cigars, had box seats at the opera house, and spoke Chinese. Cleverly, he used a knight chess piece as his personal symbol: a silver one adorned his holster, and another was printed on his business card. (Yes, he had business cards.)
The name Paladin dropped off the charts after 1958, but has since returned several times in the new millennium (perhaps thanks to role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons).
What are your thoughts on the baby name Paladin?
- Paladin – Oxford Dictionaries
- Terrace, Vincent. Television Series of the 1950s: Essential Facts and Quirky Details. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.