Rafer Lewis Johnson, born in Texas in 1935, competed in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He won the gold medal with a record-breaking 8,392 points.
He later said, “I never want to go through that again — never.”
The next year, the baby name Rafer appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the first time. Eight baby boys were named Rafer in 1961:
- 1962: unlisted
- 1961: 8 baby boys named Rafer [debut]
- 1960: unlisted
Later the same year, a documentary called The Rafer Johnson Story premiered on TV — this could have influenced usage of the name as well.
The name didn’t become a mainstay on the list, but it has reappeared a few times since, including in 1968, the year Rafer Johnson and several other men caught and disarmed Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles.
How did he get his name? He says: “My father named me after a childhood friend of his who had died in grade school.”
Do you like the name Rafer?
- “Rafer Johnson takes decathlon.” Leader-Post 7 Sep. 1960: 25.
- Johnson, Rafer and Philip Goldberg. The Best that I Can Be. New York: Doubleday, 1998.