Some recent and not-so-recent baby names from the news…
Blu (rejected): A baby girl born in late 2016 in Italy was almost named Blu, but the Italian government rejected the name because it didn’t correspond to her gender. (The Local)
Betsy and Emory: Twin baby girls born in January of 2018 to singer Hillary Scott were named Betsy Mack and Emory JoAnn. Their older sister Eisele was behind the debut of Eisele in 2014. (Taste of Country)
Brianna: A baby girl born in Sacramento in early 2018 with the help of firefighter Brian Hoffer was named Brianna Renee in his honor. (CBS Sacramento)
Crew: A baby boy born in June of 2018 to reality TV stars Joanna and Chip Gaines was named Crew. (Motherly)
Harry and Meghan: Twin foals born in Wales the day before the royal wedding were named Harry and Meghan. (BBC)
Hayes: A baby boy born on the last day of 2017 to actress Jessica Alba was named Hayes. (People)
Knight: A baby boy born in Vegas in during the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals was named Haizen Knight in part after the Vegas Golden Knights, who ultimately lost to the Washington Capitals. (KTNV Las Vegas, video)
Neve: A baby girl born in June of 2018 to Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, was named Neve Te Aroha. (NZ Herald)
Riley: A baby girl born in Vegas on the day the Vegas Golden Knights advanced to the playoffs was named Riley after player Reilly Smith. Her parents were survivors of the Las Vegas shooting. (NY Post)
Ryder: A baby boy born in May of 2018 was named Ryder after the Ryder Cup. (Ryder Cup…and here’s the follow-up post that mentions several more babies named Ryder)
Saynt: A baby boy born in February of 2018 to Australian actress Tessa James was named Saynt — a respelling of Saint, which would have been illegal in Australia. (news.com.au)
Sheboygan: A baby boy born in April of 2018 to a Michigan couple already famous for being prodigious producers of sons was named Finley Sheboygan — middle name derived from the phrase “she is a boy again.” (Today)
Stormi: A baby girl born in February to reality TV star Kylie Jenner was named Stormi. (People)
So what’s the story behind this mysterious name? The state-by-state data offers a big clue:
1941: 11 baby boys named Saford
9 born in Virginia specifically
The name Saford was inspired by Virginia fiddler Saford Hall. Saford and his identical twin brother Clayton (who played the banjo) were born in rural Patrick County, Virginia, in 1919. They were the last of 10 children. (Their older siblings were named Lee, Roxie, Thamon, Mack, Romie, Samson, Simon and Asa.)
In the late ’30s, the boys formed their first band: the Hall Twins.
In 1939, the twins joined Roy Hall (no relation) and His Blue Ridge Entertainers. The band had a radio show that started out in Winston-Salem (WAIR), but saw much more success after moving to Roanoke (WDBJ) in April of 1940. The show consisted of musical numbers and comedy skits. In fact, Saford and Clayton had a comedy segment in which they played hillbilly characters named Monk and Gibb.
And while Saford and Clayton were radio stars in Roanoke, Saford’s name emerged in the U.S. baby name data — thanks to strong usage in Virginia. Clayton‘s name was already being given to hundreds of U.S. babies per year by the early ’40s, but usage in both Virginia and North Carolina was higher than expected in 1942. I even found a Virginia baby named Saford Clayton! (He wasn’t born until 1944, though.)
Ralph Berrier, Jr. — a journalist who happens to be Clayton’s grandson — wrote about the twins in his book If Trouble Don’t Kill Me. Here’s how he describes them on his website (which also includes recordings of several performances from the early ’40s):
The Hall twins rose from mountain-bred poverty to pickin’ and yodelin’ all over the airwaves of the South in the 1930s and 1940s, opening shows for the Carter Family, Roy Rogers, the Sons of the Pioneers, and even playing the most coveted stage of all: the Grand Ole Opry.
(They played the Grand Ole Opry twice, in 1941 and in 1942, as part of the Blue Ridge Entertainers.)
But just as their musical careers were beginning to take off, the brothers were drafted. Saford was sent to North Africa and Europe, and Clayton was sent to the South Pacific.
The Hall twins survived WWII, and they continued playing music after returning to the States, but they were never able to achieve the same level of musical success. Saford passed away in 1999, Clayton in 2003.
Berrier, Ralph, Jr. If Trouble Don’t Kill Me: A Family’s Story of Brotherhood, War, and Bluegrass. New York: Crown Publishing, 2010.
As of right now, it’s used almost exclusively for baby boys:
2010: 2,985 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Maxwell
2009: 3,068 baby boys (and <5 baby girls) named Maxwell
2008: 3,050 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Maxwell
2007: 2,711 baby boys and 6 baby girls named Maxwell
2006: 2,789 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Maxwell
2005: 2,809 baby boys (and <5 baby girls) named Maxwell
But I think that could change.
Several months ago, a minor celebrity named her daughter Maxwell Lue.
And rumor has it that singer Jessica Simpson is also considering Maxwell, nn Maxi, for her baby girl due in a couple of weeks.
(In fact, the rumor has gotten so much press that I think the rumor itself could influence expectant parents — regardless of what Simpson actually names her baby.)
Do you think celebrities naming their baby girls Maxwell will inspire enough non-celeb parents to follow suit that Maxwell becomes dual-gender (à la Rory, Elliot, Charlie, Avery & Peyton)?
Do you like Maxwell as a girl name, or do you prefer it on boys only?
P.S. Maxwell was originally a locational surname. It was first recorded in 12th century Scotland as Mackeswell, meaning “Mack’s spring” or “Mack’s stream.” Mack was a short form of the Scandinavian name Magnus, which comes from the Latin word for “great.”