Ever wonder about Thelonious Monk’s distinctive first name?
The jazz great inherited the name from his father, Thelonious Monk, Sr., who was born in North Carolina in 1889. No one knows for sure how his father came to have the name, but I’ve seen some good guesses:
- Biographers Jacques Ponzio and Francois Postif think Thelonious comes from Thelonius, a Latinized form of the German name Tillman/Tillmann, which would had been brought to the Carolinas by German missionaries.
- Biographer Robin D. G. Kelley suggests it was based on the name of St. Tillo, a 7th-century Benedictine monk. “In France he is called St. Theau, […] and in Germany he was referred to as Hilonius.”
- Author Sam Stephenson brings up the possibility that it was inspired by “a renowned black minister in nearby Durham, North Carolina, Fredricum Hillonious Wilkins.”
How many baby boys have been named Thelonious since Thelonious Monk became well known? The name started popping up on the Social Security Administration’s baby name list in the 1960s:
- 1968: 9 baby boys named Thelonious
- 1967: unlisted
- 1966: unlisted
- 1965: 10 baby boys named Thelonious
- 1964: 7 baby boys named Thelonious
- 1963: 6 baby boys named Thelonious
- 1962: unlisted
- 1961: unlisted
- 1960: 5 baby boys named Thelonious [debut]
- 1959: unlisted
There were at least 24 more in the 1970s, 11 more in the 1980s, 36 more in the 1990s, and 88 more in the 2000s. That’s a grand total of at least 196 babies named Thelonious over the last fifty years.
- Fitterling, Thomas. Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music. Berkeley: Berkeley Hills Books, 1997.
- Kelley, Robin D. G. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. New York: Free Press, 2009.
- Stephenson, Sam. “Thelonious Monk: Is This Home?” Oxford American 2007 Music Issue: 112-117.