This might be my favorite photo on the entire internet.
The shot, which depicts a playful little Texas boy pretending to ride a dead catfish on someone’s front porch, was taken by photographer Neal Douglass in April of 1941.
The Portal to Texas History calls it “Mrs. Bill Wright; Boy Riding Catfish.” So I’m guessing that “Mrs. Bill Wright” was the boy’s mother. But there’s no other identifying information, so I don’t know the boy’s name, nor do I have any way of tracking it down.
So let’s turn this into a name game!
First, let’s suppose our little catfish-rider was not named “Bill” (or “William,” or “Willie,” etc.) after his father. With that rule in place, here are the questions:
What do you think Mrs. Bill Wright named her son?
What would you have named him?
Just for reference, popular names for Texas newborns in the late ’30s included:
For extra credit, what do you think the boy named his catfish? And, what would you have named his catfish? ;)
In the 1950s, Ramón Sanchez was a Mexican-American student attending elementary school in southern California.
By the second grade, his name had been Anglicized to “Raymond.” Similarly, students named Maria and Juanita had become “Mary” and “Jane.”
Then a new student named Facundo [fah-COON-do] arrived.
When he came to school we noticed they called an emergency administrative meeting. You could kind of hear them talking through the door, you know, “What are we going to do with this guy, man? How are we going to change his name?”
Someone suggested that they shorten Facundo to “Fac,” but it was decided that “Fac” was too close to a dirty word.
You can’t be saying ‘Fac where’s your homework,’ ‘Where’s Fac at,’ you know what I mean?
And so, at Ramón’s elementary school, Facundo ended up being the only kid who never got his name changed.
The Spanish/Portuguese name Facundo comes from the Roman name Facundus. In Latin, facundus means “eloquent, fluent.”
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:
A few weeks back, a reader named Caitlin emailed me a cool list of well-known names that were decreasing in usage. Her list included:
Andrew, now ranked 40th — lowest ranking since 1963
Michael, now ranked 12th — lowest ranking since 1942
David, now ranked 23rd — lowest ranking since 1924
She also generously told me that I could share her findings (thank you Caitlin!).
The names that intrigued me most were the “lowest ever” names: names that had been in the data since 1880, but that saw their lowest usage ever (in terms of rankings) in 2017. Three of the boy names on her list — Paul, Richard, Robert — were “lowest ever” names, so I decided start with these and search for others.
I checked hundreds of potential candidates. Many (like Andrew, Michael, and David) hit a low in 2017, but it wasn’t their all-time low. Many others (like Stanley, Alvin, and Clarence) hit a low recently, but not as recently as 2017.
In the end, I was able to add 15 names to the list:
Allen. Ranked 401st in 2017; peak was 71st in the 1940s/1950s.
Dennis. Ranked 544th in 2017; peak was 16th in the 1940s.
Edgar. Ranked 353rd in 2017; peak was 51st in the 1880s.
Edwin. Ranked 332nd in 2017; peak was 52nd in the 1910s/1920s.
Frank. Ranked 373rd in 2017; peak was 6th in the 1880s/1890s.
Gerald. Ranked 824th in 2017; peak was 19th in the 1930s.
Glenn. Ranked 1,288th in 2017; peak was 55th in the 1960s.
Herman. Ranked 2,347th in 2017; peak was 44th in the 1880s/1890s.
Jerome. Ranked 857th in 2017; peak was 93rd in the 1930s.
Jesse. Ranked 186th in 2017; peak was 37th in the 1980s.
Lloyd. Ranked 1,570th in 2017; peak was 51st in the 1910s.
Martin. Ranked 281st in 2017; peak was 62nd in the 1960s.
Marvin. Ranked 559th in 2017; peak was 44th in the 1930s.
Paul. Ranked 225th in 2017; peak was 12th in the 1910s/1930s.
Raymond. Ranked 293rd in 2017; peak was 14th in the 1910s.
Richard. Ranked 175th in 2017; peak was 5th in the 1930s/1940s.
Robert. Ranked 65th in 2017; peak was 1st in the 1920s/1930s/1950s.
Wayne. Ranked 816th in 2017; peak was 29th in the 1940s.
Interestingly, all 18 have spent time in the top 100. And one, Robert, is still in the top 100. (How long before Robert is out of the top 100, do you think?)
A handful of girl names also saw their lowest-ever rankings in 2017. I’ll post that list next week…
In June of 1982, the Toledo Blade ran a short article about two local brothers who “enjoy the distinction of having initials which spell their names.” One was Thomas Owen Matzinger (T.O.M.), the other was James Irvin Matzinger (J.I.M.). Their dad Mike said it was “just as well” that he didn’t have any more kids, because he couldn’t think of any other sets of names to fit the pattern.
My guess is that Mike was joking, because there are several other sets of initials that could work with an M-surname like Matzinger, one of which, T.I.M., is just a letter away from T.O.M.
In fact, there are at least a couple of combinations that would work with every type of surname.
So today, in honor of the Matzingers of Toledo, I’ve come up with a long list of name-spelling initials. They’re sorted by third initial (that is, the first letter of the last name) so you can scroll straight to the set that matches up with your own surname.
Initials that Spell Names & Nicknames
Surname starts with:
Potential full initials (& example combo):
A.D.A. (Adelaide Diane A.) A.N.A. (Anastasia Nadine A.) A.S.A. (Asa Scott A.) A.V.A. (Ava Virginia A.) B.E.A. (Beatrix Elaine A.) E.V.A. (Eva Veronica A.) G.I.A. (Gia Idonea A.) I.D.A. (Idabelle Daria A.) I.N.A. (Ina Nigella A.) I.R.A. (Ira Ralph A.) I.S.A. (Isabel Simone A.) K.I.A. (Kia Ianthe A.) L.E.A. (Leah Elizabeth A.) M.I.A. (Mia Imelda A.) N.I.A. (Nia Ilona A.) O.D.A. (Odalys Delfina A.) O.R.A. (Ora Ruth A.) U.M.A. (Uma Magnolia A.) U.N.A. (Una Normina A.)
D.E.B. (Deborah Ethel B.) J.E.B. (Jeb Evan B.) L.I.B. (Libbie Ione B.) R.O.B. (Robert Orville B.) S.E.B. (Sebastian Everly B.) S.Y.B. (Sybil Yvette B.) T.A.B. (Tabitha Araminta B.) Z.E.B. (Zebulon Ezekiel B.)
B.E.C. (Becky Eowyn C.) M.A.C. (Mackenzie Anne C.) N.I.C. (Nicole Isabelle C.) V.I.C. (Victor Ivan C.) Z.A.C. (Zackary Arlo C.)
J.E.D. (Jedidiah Easton D.) R.O.D. (Rodney Orrin D.) T.E.D. (Theodora Eugenia D.) Z.E.D. (Zedekiah Ezra D.)
A.B.E. (Abraham Benjamin E.) A.C.E. (Ace Corbin E.) E.V.E. (Eve Violet E.) F.A.E. (Fae Adina E.) I.K.E. (Isaac Keith E.) J.O.E. (Joseph Owen E.) L.E.E. (Lee Ethan E.) M.A.E. (Maebelle Alice E.) M.O.E. (Morris Oscar E.) R.A.E. (Raelene Alicia E.) S.U.E. (Susan Ursula E.) Z.O.E. (Zoe Ocean E.)
C.A.L. (Callum Audley L.) D.E.L. (Delaney Estelle L.) G.I.L. (Gilbert Ishmael L.) H.A.L. (Harry Archibald L.) L.I.L. (Lillian Iva L.) M.A.L. (Malcolm Angus L.) M.E.L. (Melanie Eloisa L.) M.O.L. (Molly Odette L.) S.A.L. (Sally Angelica L.) S.O.L. (Solomon Osborn L.) V.A.L. (Valerie Annette L.) W.I.L. (Willy Ingo L.) Z.E.L. (Zelda Erin L.)
C.A.M. (Cameron Aidan M.) D.O.M. (Dominic Orson M.) J.E.M. (Jemima Eleanor M.) J.I.M. (James Irvin M.) K.I.M. (Kimberly Imogene M.) L.E.M. (Lemuel Emerson M.) P.A.M. (Pamela Alys M.) R.A.M. (Ramsey Archer M.) S.A.M. (Samuel Aaron M.) S.I.M. (Simon Isidore M.) T.A.M. (Tammy Anita M.) T.I.M. (Timothy Isaac M.) T.O.M. (Thomas Owen M.)
B.A.X. (Baxter Andrew X.) D.A.X. (Dax Alec X.) D.E.X. (Dexter Edison X.) J.A.X. (Jaxon Antony X.) L.E.X. (Lexie Eliza X.) M.A.X. (Maximus Alvin X.) P.A.X. (Pax Amelia X.) R.E.X. (Rex Elias X.) R.O.X. (Roxanna Opal X.) T.E.X. (Tex Emmanuel X.)
A.M.Y. (Amy Michelle Y.) G.U.Y. (Guy Urban Y.) I.V.Y. (Ivy Verity Y.) J.A.Y. (Jay Adam Y.) J.O.Y. (Joyce Ondina Y.) K.A.Y. (Katherine Addison Y.) M.A.Y. (May Augusta Y.) R.A.Y. (Raymond Adrian Y.) R.O.Y. (Royce Oberon Y.) S.K.Y. (Skylar Kerry Y.)