Independent baby name blog & directory, est. 2006.
How popular is the baby name Roald in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Roald and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Roald.
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He married American actress Patricia Neal in 1953 and they had a total of five children together.
Their first baby was named Olivia Twenty. Why?
Olivia Twenty was born in New York on April 20, 1955, and named after her mother’s favorite Shakespearean heroine, the date of her birth, and the fact that Roald had $20 in his pocket when he came to visit Pat in the hospital.
And their second child, originally called Chantal Sophia, ended up getting a name change:
A few days after Chantal had been christened, Roald realized her name rhymed with Dahl and renamed her Tessa.
The last three three Dahl children were named Theo Matthew, Ophelia Magdalena, and Lucy Neal. My guess is that Ophelia is another Shakespeare reference, and that Sophia and Magdalena came from Dahl’s mother, Sofie Magdalene. I’m not sure what inspired the other names.
Roald Amundsen wasn’t the only person racing southward in the early 1910s. English explorer Robert Falcon Scott was also trying to be the first to reach the South Pole.
But Scott’s team arrived in January on 1912 — more than a month after Amundsen’s team. Even worse, during the 800-mile return trek, Scott and all four of his companions died.
Scott’s body was discovered in November, but the news of his death didn’t reach civilization until February of 1913. At that point, he became a national hero.
It’s hard to know how many babies worldwide were named “Robert” in his honor, given both the prevalence of the name and the sheer size of the British Empire at that time, but I have found a pair of unmistakable tributes:
Robert Falcon Scott Simpson, born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1913.
Robert Falcon Scott Grieve, born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1916.
Both babies were born in Canada, but Simpson’s parents were both from England, while Grieve’s were from the U.S. and Scotland.
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to cross the Northwest Passage (1905), to reach the South Pole (1911), and to reach both poles (1925).
His name, Roald, can be traced back to an Old Norse name made up of the words hróðr, meaning “fame,” and valdr, meaning “ruler.” It first appeared on the U.S. baby name charts in 1912:
1915: 6 baby boys named Roald
1914: 7 baby boys named Roald
1913: 5 baby boys named Roald
1912: 10 baby boys named Roald [debut]
Why 1912? Because, even though Amundsen reached the South Pole in December of 1911, the rest of the world wasn’t aware of his accomplishment until after he’d left Antarctica and arrived in Tasmania in March of 1912.
The SSDI shows a similar rise in the number of Roalds born in 1912:
1915: 4 people named Roald
1914: 5 people named Roald
1913: 6 people named Roald
1912: 9 people named Roald
1911: 3 people named Roald
Many of the U.S. babies named Roald during the 1910s were born to parents who had emigrated from Norway.* Amusingly, four or five of these baby Roalds were born into families with the surname Amundson or Amundsen.
Peak usage happened in 1928, the year Roald Amundsen went missing and was presumed dead after a plane crash in the Arctic.**
Finally, though I don’t have any data to back it up, my hunch is that the name Roald also saw increased usage in other regions in the 1910s and 1920s, and perhaps later. Amundsen’s two most famous namesakes are writer Roald Dahl, born in Wales in 1916, and chemist Roald Hoffmann, born in Poland in 1937.
*Similar to the way Bertil became trendy among Swedish immigrants.
**Same thing happened to the name Knute the year Knute Rockne died, also in a plane crash.
Women’s History Month is almost over, so let me squeeze in a post about Fifinella, a rare-but-real name with ties not only to the pioneering female aviators of WWII, but also to Walt Disney, Roald Dahl, Tchaikovsky, and a champion British racehorse.
Fifinella began as a children’s Christmas play. It was co-written by Englishmen Barry Jackson and Basil Dean, with music by Norman Hayes. Fifinella was first performed at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in December of 1912.
The play — sometimes called “Fluffy Nellie” — “included 14 scenes and a harlequinade.” It was also adapted into the book Fifinella, a fairy frolic (1912) by Basil Dean’s then-wife Esther Van Gruisen.
The next year, an English thoroughbred horse was born to dam Silver Fowl and sire Polymelus. The chestnut filly, owned by newspaper proprietor Sir Edward Hulton, was named Fifinella.
Fifinella went on become the last horse to win both the Derby and the Oaks in a single year, 1916.
That’s the same year English author and former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Roald Dahl was born — reason enough, apparently, for him to want to use Fifinella in his very first children’s book The Gremlins (1943), “a story drawing on RAF folklore which held that little creatures were responsible for the various mechanical failures on aeroplanes.”
The gremilns are convinced by a pilot named Gus to make peace with the RAF and join forces with the British to combat a more sinister villain; Hitler and the Nazis. The gremlins are then re-trained by the RAF to repair British aircraft instead of destroy them.
In the book, “fifinella” isn’t a name but a noun referring to a female gremlin. (Baby gremlins are called “widgets.”)
The book was put out by Walt Disney Productions and Random House. Walt Disney had wanted to make the book into a movie, but the movie never happened.
The gremlins “did live on in the form of military insignias,” though.
Walt Disney himself granted at least 30 military units permission to use gremlins as mascots/insignias during WWII, and even “assigned several artists to create these one-of-a-kind designs on a full-time basis.”
Units with gremlin mascots included the 17th Weather Squadron of San Francisco, the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School, and the Royal Canadian Air Force ‘Sky Sweepers.’
But the most famous gremlin mascot, Fifinella, belonged to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), an paramilitary unit of 1,000+ women who flew non-combat flights in order to free male pilots for combat service.
(She had been an unofficial mascot of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which in August of 1943 merged with another group of female pilots to become the WASPs, even before permission was granted.)
The WASPs put Fifinella’s image on everything from patches to letterheads to matchbook covers. The Fifinella mascot even made an appearance in a mid-1943 LIFE article about the WASPs.
After the WASPs were disbanded in late 1944, ex-WASPs created the Order of Fifinella, an group that was both social (e.g., organizing reunions) and political (e.g., working to gain recognition as veterans).
Finally, one last Fifinella reference: In late 1945, Austrian tenor Richard Tauber recorded an English version of “Pimpinella – Florentine Song” (1878) by Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. One of the many lyrical changes he made was replacing the name Pimpinella with the name Fifinella. (Here’s Richard Tauber singing Fifinella.)
So the name Fifinella has been around for at least a century. It’s been associated with theater, literature, sport, war, feminism and music. Has it ever been used as the name of a human being?
Yes, but rarely. I’ve only found a handful of Fifinellas, and all of them were born outside the United States:
Fifinella Downes (later Clarke), Australia
Fifinella “Fif” Beatrice Evans, d. 2007, England
Fifinella Flavell, b. 1923, England
Fifinella Hill (later Gratwick), Australia
Fifinella Lewis, b. 1914, Ireland
Fifinella Mallard (later Newson), 1901-1969, England
Fifinella Charlotte Agatha Nelson, d. 1947, Australia
Fifinella Patricia Russell (later Ceret), b. 1927, Ireland
Fifinella Silcox (later Mccluskey), b. 1948, England
So it’s definitely an unusual name. It’s also quite whimsical, and it has a ton of nickname potential (Fifi, Fina, Nell, Nella, Nellie). Do you like it? Would you ever consider using Fifinella as a baby name?
The male names below appeared in the Open Domesday database just once, except where noted. (For the record, I overlooked entries in which one person’s name was used to refer to another person, e.g., “Aelfric’s uncle.”)
The most-mentioned name within each letter group is in bold.
If you make it all the way to the bottom, your reward is a top ten list. :)
Which male were mentioned most often in the Domesday book? The #1 name was William, followed by Robert and Ralph:
1. William (166)
2. Robert (127)
3. Ralph (124)
4. Aelfric (88)
5. Alwin (76)
5. Hugh (76)
7. Roger (73)
8. Godwin (72)
9. Walter (64)
10. Godric (59)
Though the names in the book aren’t necessarily representative of name usage in England overall, it does make sense than William took the top spot. The Domesday Book was created a couple of decades after the Norman Invasion, at a time when the name William was very fashionable, thanks to William the Conqueror.
Reader “C in DC” recently e-mailed me with a great namestorm idea–explorers. She mentioned Zebulon Pike to start things off. Here are ten more explorers I’d add to the list:
Abel The Tasmanian Devil has Dutch sailor Abel Tasman (1603 – 1659) to thank for his name. Tasman was the first European to reach both New Zealand and Tasmania (which was eventually named after him).
Portuguese sailors feared Africa’s dangerous Cape Bojador…until Gil Eannes became the first to sail beyond the Cape (in 1434) and return. His groundbreaking journey marked the beginning of European exploration of Africa and, later, India.
British explorer Henry Kelsey (1667 – 1724) was likely the first European to have seen the buffalo herds, grizzly bears and prairies of inland Canada.
Swiss-Algerian explorer Isabelle Eberhardt (1877 – 1904) converted to Islam and dressed as a man in order to live and travel in Northern Africa around the turn of the century.
American explorer Jedediah Smith (1798 – ca. 1831) was the first Eurpoean-American to reach California via the overland route.
Scottish doctor and surveyor John Rae (1813 – 1893) surveyed thousands of miles of previously unexplored territory while living in the Canadian Arctic. And he did it all on foot, with the help of his Inuit-inspired snowshoes.
English explorer Mary Kingsley (1862 – 1900) was the first European to visit remote parts of Gabon, on the west coast of Africa.
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872 – 1928) was also an ambitious fellow. He was the first person to reach the South Pole, the first person to reach the North Pole, and the first person to traverse the Northwest Passage.
French explorer Robert de LaSalle (1643 – 1687) was the first European to travel the length of the Mississippi River. He named the entire Mississippi basin Louisiane (Louisiana) in honor of King Louis XIV.