The curious name Kalimba has popped up in the U.S. baby name data just twice, the first time in 1974:
1974: 7 baby girls named Kalimba
Where did it come from?
An Earth, Wind & Fire song called “Kalimba Story,” which was included on the 1974 album Open Our Eyes. The song was released as a single the same year, and in August peaked on two different Billboard charts: the Hot 100 (at #55) and R&B/Hip-Hop (at #6).
From the refrain:
Kalimba, ooh kalimba
Play me a tune
Kalimba, ooh kalimba
I’m glad I found you
In the song, “Kalimba” doesn’t refer to a person — it refers to a musical instrument. A kalimba is an African thumb piano played by plucking metal tines attached to a wooden board. One contemporary reviewer described the instrument as “a hand-held whatzit that looks like a TV remote control device and sounds like an electric piano.”
Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White favored the kalimba and featured it in multiple songs. In the liner notes to EWF’s Eternal Dance compilation album, White explained that “the kalimba represented my link to Africa. It was my way of taking part of that culture and spreading it all over the world.”
My dad came out to visit us in Colorado recently. He loves geology, so we made sure to take him to several different places with impressive rocks/terrain.
One place we visited was Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. In this park we spotted the above sign, which described how the park got its name back in the 1850s:
As they looked over this area of cathedral-like rock spires, one man, Malancthon Beach, commented that the spot would be a great place for a beer garden someday. His friend, a poetic young man named Rufous Cable, replied that it was a place “fit for the Gods.”
It’s a cool story, but, to me, that first name “Malancthon” is way more interesting than the origin of the park name. Where did it come from?
My best guess is that Malancthon is a tribute to 16th-century German theologian Philipp Melanchthon, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. His surname at birth was Schwartzerd (“black earth” in German), but as a young man he Latinized his name to the classical equivalent Melanchthon (“black earth” in Greek).
We also saw some names at Red Rocks, which is both a park and a famous amphitheater.
The amphitheater was constructed from 1936 to 1941 by men in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program that existed during the Great Depression. One display included a photo of 124 of the men in the local CCC. Here are their first names, sorted by frequency:
Actress Melissa Gilbert is probably best known for portraying young Laura Ingalls Wilder on the TV series Little House on the Prairie (1974–1984). Her TV father, Charles, was played by actor Michael Landon.
In October of 1995, Melissa and her second husband welcomed a son (12 weeks early). He was named Michael Garrett — “Michael” in honor of Michael Landon, who had died of cancer in 1991, and “Garrett” in honor of the deceased teenage son of family friends.
Landon’s birth name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz. His nickname in primary school was “Ooogy.” He chose his stage name by flipping through a phone book.
The name Bear was just barely being used before adventurer Bear Grylls (birth name: Edward Grylls) came to our attention via the TV series Man vs. Wild (2006-2011).
Since then, usage has increased steadily — both among regular folks and among celebrities:
2017: English musician Liam Payne had son Bear Grey
2017: English musician Howard Donald had son Dougie Bear
2013: English actress Kate Winslet had son Bear Blaze
2011: American actress Alicia Silverstone had son Bear Blu
2010: English chef Jamie Oliver had son Buddy Bear Maurice
In the U.S., the baby name Bear is currently sitting just outside the top 1,000:
2016: 186 baby boys named Bear [rank: 1,055th]
2015: 134 baby boys named Bear [rank: 1,311th]
2014: 131 baby boys named Bear [rank: 1,327th]
2013: 84 baby boys named Bear [rank: 1,730th]
2012: 79 baby boys named Bear [rank: 1,845th]
2011: 85 baby boys named Bear [rank: 1,728th]
The England and Wales data for 2016 isn’t out yet, but Bear entered the top 1,000* there in 2015:
2015: 36 baby boys named Bear in E/W [rank: 859th]
2014: 19 baby boys named Bear in E/W [rank: 1,330th]
2013: 15 baby boys named Bear in E/W [rank 1,546th]
2012: 19 baby boys named Bear in E/W [rank 1,319th]
2011: 7 baby boys named Bear in E/W [rank 2,650th]
But this data only accounts for first names. The principal usage for Bear could be happening under the radar, with middles. Two of the celebs above used Bear as a middle, and so did this Canadian couple who hit on a bear on the way to the delivery room. And don’t forget American actress Zooey Deschanel, who didn’t opt for Bear, but did give her kids the animal-middles Otter and Wolf.
Do you like Bear as a baby name? How high do you think it will climb on the U.S. charts?
Maurice Micklewhite is dead; long live Michael Caine. The legendary British actor has officially adopted the name you know and impersonate him by after getting fed up with increased airport security checks. “I changed my name when all the stuff started with ISIS and all that,” Caine told The Sun, going on to describe his experiences with security guards thusly: “He would say, ‘Hi Michael Caine,’ and suddenly I’d be giving him a passport with a different name on it. I could stand there for an hour. So I changed my name.”
In a 2006 letter to Nature, Australian geneticist Ken Maclean highlights the pitfalls of fanciful names: “The quirky sense of humour that researchers display in choosing a gene name often loses much in translation when people facing serious illness or disability are told that they or their child have a mutation in a gene such as Sonic hedgehog, Slug or Pokemon.”
Translating names mostly goes one way. Somehow ‘we’ must translate our names into English, and ‘you’ don’t have to translate yours into Polish, Estonian, Romanian or Slovak. And that makes the translation much more political than linguistic. And if it is political, I go against!
And here is the main point of this post – it’s not linguistic, I’m afraid. Names are political. And I think it’s important to keep them. Michał, Agnieszka, Małgorzata, Paweł, Justyna…these are your names, don’t change them to Michael, Agnes, Margaret, Paul or Justine. If they care, they will learn, if they don’t — it’s their loss.
Could it be that we are best served by imperfect, not perfect, names? When a baby is saddled with a name, he is taught a first lesson about pitiless fate and life’s limitations–that there are aspects of the self that can never be self-determined, circumstances that must be stoically endured, and, hopefully, someday, made peace with. There are a goodly number of us who wear our names not like a precious spell but like a humbler workaday garment. Whatever you’re called–Jody or Sue or Moon Unit or Jermajesty or maybe even Anus–you can, if you’re lucky, reach that state of grace where you hardly notice your name is there at all. You wake up in the morning and slide right into it, like a well–broken-in pair of pantaloons.
“The idea for this project came as I was typing names one day. I realized that the Microsoft Word program would indicate that some names were spelled incorrectly — a red wavy line would appear under them — but not others. I’d type a name like Elizabeth or Judy and there’d be no red line, which implied it was spelled correctly. Then I’d type a name like Shaniqua, LaQuisha, or other black women’s names I knew, and they would get a red line under them, like it was spelled wrong.”
“It made me wonder, does Microsoft have a diversity department?” said Woodley.
The rights activist [Nderitu Njoka] said he just wanted to prove his deeply rooted Christian faith by naming his son ‘Jesus’.
‘After all, the name is common in Portugal, Spain, and Mexico which are God fearing. My call is to Christians to start naming their sons Jesus since by doing this they will be preaching gospel of Jesus Christ to the world without hypocrisy,” the letter says.
Our oldest son Jay (who was almost two at the time) insisted on calling our baby-to-be “Baby Fire” while my wife was pregnant. It caught on and throughout my wife’s pregnancy, our families would ask, “How’s Baby Fire doing?” Although it seemed like a fitting name, we just dismissed it thinking “Fire” was too “out there” for anyone to be on board. But on the way to the hospital during the wee hours of the morning on July 4th, my wife and I decided that “Fire” as a middle name seemed appropriate. It will forever link our sons since it was Jay’s idea, and it captures the memories and emotions we felt throughout the pregnancy. There’s the July 4th fireworks tie-in as well. And let’s face it “Fire” as a middle name is only one step away from “Danger” as the coolest name ever.
The religious obsession of the New England colonists is also kept in mind by the persistence of Biblical names: Ezra, Hiram, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Elijah, Elihu, and so on. These names excite the derision of the English; an American comic character, in an English play or novel, always bears one of them.