Unusual Real Names: North Western, Safety First

Back in the early 1970s, two uniquely named men — North Western and Safety First — both lived in the same retirement village in Seal Beach, California.

North Western explained that Western was his family name and his parents named him North after another old family name.

He said he had some problems explaining the name when he used to commute in the Chicago area aboard the Northwestern Railroad.

According to various records, North Western was born in Winnipeg in 1901, had a son also named North Western in Chicago in 1931, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1938.

Safety First, whose family name was First, was actually given the name on his birth certificate by his parents, who liked the idea of safety.

First, 77, said he had problems over the years, such as the time he was cited before a Los Angeles judge for a defective windshield. Upon giving his name the jurist snapped, “I want your name, not your traffic slogan.”

According to the SSDI, Safety M. First was born in Pennsylvania in 1894.

(A like-named cardiologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma — Dr. Safety R. First — was born in 1920 and appeared on Robert Q. Lewis’ TV program “The Name’s the Same” in 1954.)

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How did Cara Delevingne get her name?

British fashion model Cara Delevingne in 2014.
Cara Delevingne

Here’s a baby name explanation I’ve never come across before: in-flight magazine!

British property developer Charles Hamar Delevingne — talking last month to the Irish Times at an event celebrating the centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (which his father, Hamar, helped negotiate) — let it slip that he’d named his famous fashion-model daughter Cara Delevingne after the Aer Lingus in-flight magazine Cara:

I remember I used to go backwards and forwards to Dublin a lot, and the name of the Aer Lingus magazine was Cara. I loved the name.

Cara was first published in 1968. The magazine’s title comes from the Irish word cara, meaning “friend.” Cara was discontinued in December of 2020 due to “the impact of Covid-19,” but the airline plans to re-introduce it as a digital publication in the future.

Cara Jocelyn Delevingne (pronounced DEL-ah-VEEN) was born in 1992. Her middle name presumably honors her maternal grandfather, Sir Jocelyn Stevens.

And let’s not forget the distinctive name Hamar. According to one source, Hamar’s birth name was Thomas Hubbard Hamer Greenwood, but he chose to go by “Hamar” — an altered spelling of the maiden name of his Welsh paternal grandmother (Mary Hamer, 1795-1838).

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Image by U.S. Embassy London from Wikipedia

Baby Name Story: Xiaoai

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China

On May 12, 2008, China’s Sichuan province was struck by a strong earthquake that ultimately killed tens of thousands of people

Zhang Xiaoyan, who was eight months pregnant at the time, wasn’t one of the victims. But she did end up trapped under a pile of rubble for 52 hours. “For two days, rescuers passed food and water to Zhang through a small hole as they struggled to find a way to free her.”

A month later, her baby girl was delivered via Caesarean section.

The girl was originally going to be named “Yingao”, meaning “to welcome the Olympics”, which Beijing hosted in August that year.

But after the quake, the couple decided on “Xiaoai”, or “little love”, to honour those whose care helped see them through the disaster.

In Chinese, xiao means “little” and ai means “love.” (Both words also have other meanings, though, depending upon the characters being used.)

Other Chinese babies that were named with earthquakes in mind include Zhongde, Zhensheng, Lutian, and Yuanyuan. And other Olympics-inspired Chinese baby names include Aoyun, Shen’ao, Beibei, Jingjing, Huanhuan, Yingying, and Nini.

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Image by h87010511 from Pixabay

Baby Name Story: Skye

In March of 2006, a Scottish woman named Shirley Anne Hodge went into labor amid wintry weather that turned the 40-minute drive to Ayrshire Central Hospital into a trek that “took four hours and involved three vehicles, including a helicopter.” (The other two vehicles were an ambulance and a police jeep, both of which got stuck in snow.)

After the airlift, she gave birth to a baby girl at the hospital.

The baby’s name? Skye.

My hunch is that the name was a nod to the helicopter ride, though my source didn’t state that explicitly.

(Another potential influence might be Scotland’s Isle of Skye.)

Source: “Pregnant woman in airlift drama.” BBC 12 Mar. 2006.

Baby Name Story: Garance

Madder (Garance in French)
Madder (Garance in French)

American journalist/editor Garance Franke-Ruta was born in the summer of 1972 in southeastern France, then “raised by artistic parents in Mexico and New Mexico.”

Here’s how Garance (pronounced gah-RAHNSS) explained the origin of her unusual first name (links added by me):

The river Durance runs through the Vaucluse, and I was named Garance in honor of that sound and the main character in Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis, one of the classics of French cinema. The character, played by Arletty, uses Garance as a stage name, though her real name in the movie is Claire Reine.

The French word garance refers to several things: the madder plant, the dye made from the root of the madder plant, and the “deep reddish purple” color of that dye.

What are your thoughts on the name Garance?

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P.S. Garance was also the name of one of the days (Brumaire 23/November 13) of the French republican calendar, which was used during the French Revolution.