The name Torben first emerged in the U.S. baby name data in the late 1960s:
1969: 6 baby boys named Torben
1968: 7 baby boys named Torben [debut]
Where did it come from?
The source seems to be Danish professional tennis player Torben Ulrich. But he’d been playing professionally for many years by the late ’60s. What happened in 1968?
That year, Torben was memorably profiled in American newspapers by sports columnist Murray Olderman. The article wasn’t about Torben’s tennis-playing as much as it was about Torben’s unapologetic nonconformism. Here’s how it began:
Behind dark glasses framed by swirls of long brown hair, Torben Ulrich looks out on a curious world. It’s the world that’s curious–not necessarily Torben–because it sees him as a slightly hunched, slender, effete, bearded and tressed hippie. It also sees him, curiously, as an athlete who has made his living, more or less, for 20 years by playing tennis. We say more or less because Torben also plays the tenor sax in a rock ‘n’ roll band, tootles a classical flute, writes a weekly column for a Copenhagen newspaper, broadcasts on the Danish national radio and raises a family.
In a tone that vacillated between mockery and admiration, Olderman described Ulrich’s nomadic lifestyle, sleeping habits (night owl), language skills (Danish, English, French, German, Italian, etc.), and sense of style (including “a bracelet made from the hair of an elephant’s tail”).
I imagine the profile would have struck a chord with counterculture readers. In fact, maybe it was those readers specifically who were enticed enough by the name Torben — which is a variant of Torbjörn, which can be traced back to Old Norse elements meaning “thunder” (Thor) and “bear” — to choose it for their newborns that year.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Torben?
P.S. The article also mentioned that Torben had a 4-year-old son. That son, Lars Ulrich, grew up to become the co-founder/drummer of the heavy metal band Metallica. (Metallica is also a baby name, btw.)
Olderman, Murray. “Between you ‘n’ me.” Courier-Gazette [McKinney, Texas] 19 Mar. 1968: 6.
The baby name Randye debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1949. The usage was primarily in New York state.
Randye, usage in U.S.
Randye, usage in N.Y.
11 baby girls
10 baby girls
24 baby girls
11 baby girls
12 baby girls
6 baby girls
9 baby girls
6 baby girls
24 baby girls [debut]
14 baby girls [debut]
Why the debut, and why New York?
Because of a set of identical triplets born to New York City couple Murray and Marjorie Herman in May of 1949. The three girls were born at Polyclinic Hospital and named Jaimye, Randye, and Vickye.
My guess is that the triplets — plus their older sister, Leslye — were featured in the local news throughout their childhood. All four of must have been in the papers around 1952, for instance, because usage of three of the four names increased that year.
Female usage of names similar to Randye (like Randy and Randi) were seeing higher usage in general during this time period, likely thanks to the influence of movie actress Randy Stuart (born Elizabeth Shaubell).
“I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.”
From a 1936 newspaper article about movie actress Veda Ann Borg:
Miss Borg was given a new tag almost the minute she stepped into the studio. It was “Ann Noble.” […] Miss Borg contended that her own name is more descriptive of her personality than Ann Noble. The former model’s argument was convincing. She will be billed as Veda Ann Borg.
(Keavy, Hubbard. “Screen Life In Hollywood.” Wilkes-Barre Record 23 Apr. 1936: 19.)
How in the world did we get from “Jeremy” to “Jezza”?
There is a rule for how this works. Names which have the letter R in them–Jeremy, Catherine, Sharon, Barry, Murray–are trouble for speakers of non-rhotic variations of English to abbreviate. Rhoticity is a linguistic term for describing when the letter is pronounced; in non-rhotic dialects of English, the sound will be discarded unless followed immediately by a vowel. The dialects of England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and, well, New England are all non-rhotic, which is why the word “car” sounds like “cah.”
This isn’t a problem in any of those names if they’re pronounced fully; there’s always a vowel after the R. But to truncate them would be difficult. Typically hypocoristic nicknames are formed by cutting everything but the first syllable and then either leaving that as-is or adding a vowel. That’s how “Daniel” becomes “Danno”: clip to the first syllable (“Dan”) and add a vowel. (The -o ending is most common for male names; -ie is more common for female names.)
The team, led by North Carolina State University’s Terry Gates, named the shark Galagadon nordquistae, a nod to its teeth, which have a stepped triangle shape like the spaceships in the 1980s video game Galaga, and to Karen Nordquist, the Field Museum volunteer who discovered the fossils.
Lorin now often finds himself babysitting while Cali campaigns against atomic power. Symbolically, not long ago she shed the name she’d “hated for 30 years” for one that sounded right. Margo became Cali. “I look at myself differently now,” she says firmly, “except people all across the country think Lorin has remarried.”
The Wayback Machine was named to reference Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine from the popular cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle. In the show, the machine was pronounced as “way back,” which is where the index got its name.
However, Howard did go out of his way to confirm one long-held belief about Willow: that two of the villains were named after famous film critics. The evil General Kael was named after the notoriously ruthless Pauline Kael and the two-headed monster Eborsisk was named after the iconic At the Movies duo of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
And, finally, a pair of snippets from a Colorado Public Radio article about Denver street names. First:
William McGaa [one of Denver’s founding officials] had a debaucherous reputation of his own, drinking and adulterating his way out of favor with the city’s elite. McGaa even named Wazee and Wewatta streets after two of his many wives, both Native American woman from local tribes.
(The settlement of Denver was named in late 1858. McGaa’s son, William Denver McGaa, was born in the settlement in March of 1859 and named after it. His mother was neither Wazee nor Wewatta, but a half-Native American woman named Jennie.)
Second, regarding Denver’s “double alphabetical” streets, which were renamed in 1904:
The pattern is a proper noun name, ideally British, followed by the name of a tree or plant. Albion and Ash, Bellaire and Birch, Clermont and Cherry.
The switch wasn’t without resistance from those wealthy neighborhoods. When Eudora Avenue became Fir Street, residents decried the name as “too plebeian.”
As usual, the disclaimer: Some of the names below were already on the rise. Others may have been influenced by more than just the single pop culture person/event listed. I leave it up to you to judge the degree/nature of pop culture influence in each case.
I was surprised that Adonis and Wade jumped in usage as much as they did.
I was also surprised that Wrigley barely jumped at all in usage. Maybe “Wrigley” reminds too many people of gum?
Where the heck is Usain? Why is Usain not in the data yet? Sure, track and field is relatively unpopular in the United States. Still, I thought Rio might do it — with the help of that viral photo of Usain Bolt cheekily grinning at the competition in the middle of that 100 meter sprint.
Finally, as a former ’80s kid, I did have my fingers crossed for Voltron. Oh well…
How about you? Did any of these rises/falls surprise you?
It’s December 2 — the doubly momentous day on which Britney Spears celebrates her birthday and on which we start another round of the annual Pop Culture Baby Name Game.
Which baby names will see significant movement on the charts in 2016 thanks to popular culture (TV, movies, music, sports, politics, products, current events, video games, etc.)? Below are some possibilities. Leave a comment with the names you’d add — and don’t forget to mention the pop culture influence.