The baby name Tristram, which has been around for centuries, didn’t debut in the U.S. baby name data until 1958:
- 1959: unlisted
- 1958: 5 baby boys named Tristram
- 1957: unlisted
This was the year after the name Tris, which had charted as a girl name several times, first appeared on the boys’ list.
The influence behind both names was American actor Tristram “Tris” Coffin, who starred in the TV series 26 Men from late 1957 to mid-1959. In the show he played a fictionalized version of Thomas H. Rynning, captain of the Arizona Rangers during the early 1900s.
His first name is a variant of Tristan, immortalized in the tragic medieval tale of Tristan and Iseult (a.k.a Isolde). We don’t know for sure where the name Tristan comes from, as it’s been “altered from an irrecoverable original as a result of transmission through Old French sources that insisted on associating it with Latin tristis ‘sad,’ a reference to the young knight’s tragic fate.” Tristan may have been based on the Pictish male name Drustan/Drosten, a diminutive form of Drest/Drust/Drost, which was a common name among Pictish rulers.
If the name “Tristram Coffin” sounds weirdly familiar to you, you aren’t nuts — more than a few American men have borne this exact name. All are descendants of Tristram Coffyn, an immigrant from England who was one of the first settlers of Nantucket. In fact, the original Tristram Coffyn (c.1608-1681) was the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of actor Tris Coffin (1909-1990), born in a mining town in Utah three centuries later. (Another bearer was folklorist Tristram P. Coffin.)
Do you like the name Tristram? Do you like it more or less than Tristan?