April 7th is International Beaver Day, so today is a weirdly appropriate day to check out the baby name Beaver, which debuted on the baby name charts in 1959:
- 1965: unlisted
- 1964: 9 baby boys named Beaver
- 1963: 5 baby boys named Beaver
- 1962: unlisted
- 1961: unlisted
- 1960: unlisted
- 1959: 5 baby boys named Beaver [debut]
- 1958: unlisted
The cause? Leave It to Beaver, the iconic TV sitcom that aired from 1957 to 1963.
The central character of the series (which had nothing to do with actual beavers) was a boy named Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver. Beaver was the youngest member of an idealized, post-war family of four living in a fictional suburban community.
As with Rambo and several other pop culture baby names, “Beaver” had been in use as a first name in the U.S. long before 1959. (In fact, one of the co-creators of the show discovered the name while serving in the Merchant Marine during WWII. One of his shipmates was named Beaver.) Leave It to Beaver simply boosted the visibility/usage of the name enough for it to finally appear on the SSA’s annual baby name list, which doesn’t include names bestowed fewer than five times per year.
So how did a boy named Theodore acquire a nickname like Beaver? When Beaver was born, his older brother Wally couldn’t pronounce “Theodore” correctly. The result was “Tweeter.” From there, the word somehow morphed into “Beaver.”
The nickname was finally explained during the last episode of the series. Jerry Mathers, the actor who played Beaver, thought the explanation was “lame.” Perhaps…but this explicit focus on Beaver’s nickname during the mid-1963 finale may have been what caused the usage of Beaver to peak in 1964.
P.S. At least one U.S.-born Beaver got the middle name Cleaver. This real-life Beaver Cleaver was born in 1965.