Babies Named for Fort Sumter

Bombardment of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter — the sea fort near Charleston, South Carolina — wasn’t fully built yet in the spring of 1861 when the Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off the Civil War. The Second Battle of Fort Sumter, two years later, reduced the never-finished fort to rubble. (It has since been restored and is now a National Park.)

As with the Battle of Gettysburg, the two Fort Sumter battles had a small influence on baby names. I found about a dozen U.S. babies — all male, all born in the South — named “Fort Sumter”:

  • Fort Sumter Williamson (North Carolina, c1861)
  • Fort Sumter Roebuck (Virginia, c1861)
  • Fort Sumter Richards (South Carolina, 1861)
  • Fort Sumter Earle (Alabama, 1864)
  • Fort Sumter Sparrow (Alabama?, 1867)
  • Fort Sumter Liscomb (Texas, 1869) — but buried as a “John
  • Fort Sumter Brooks (Georgia, 1877)
  • Fort Sumter Sumter (Louisiana, 1881) — yes, Sumter twice
  • Fort Sumter Black (Georgia?, 1881)
  • Fort Sumter Cannon (Georgia, 1884)
  • Fort Sumter Everett (Virginia, 1900)
  • Fort Sumter Falls (North Carolina, 1910)

Notice how only half of them were born in the 1860s. A few — like “Fort Sumter Cannon” and “Fort Sumter Falls” — may have gotten the name simply because of the play on words.

Source: Battle of Fort Sumter – Wikipedia

The Baby Named Astralabe

Here’s the story of an unusual baby name that was bestowed way back in 12th-century Paris.

The parents were French philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard and his brilliant student, Héloïse d’Argenteuil. They started their infamous love affair (“one of the best known love tragedies of history,” according to Britannica*) in the year 1115, and in 1118 they welcomed their only child, a son.

Because he was illegitimate, it fell upon Héloïse to do the naming, and she chose Astralabe — after the Astrolabe, a sophisticated navigational device being used at that time in the Islamic world (which included much of Spain). Astrolabes coud “locate and predict the positions and risings of the sun, moon, planets, and stars.”

In Catholic France, where most babies were named after saints, “Astralabe” was a highly unconventional choice. (One science writer, in 2008, compared Héloïse’s choice to “a woman in a sci-tech backwater today naming her son iPod.”)

Abelard and Héloïse soon married and legitimized Astralabe, but that didn’t stop Héloïse’s outraged relatives from attacking and castrating Abelard. Both went into religious life, though they technically remained married. No one is certain what became of Astralabe, but name-based evidence (a “Canon Astralabe” at Nantes cathedral circa 1150, for instance) suggests that he entered the church as well.

The word “astrolabe” is ultimately derived from the ancient Greek compound noun astrolabos organon, meaning “star-taking instrument.” Astrolabos is made up of the elements astron, meaning “star,” and lambanien, meaning “to take.”

Sources:

*The encyclopedia, not this person.

Arctic Baby Named Charlie Polaris

polaris, boat, north pole, baby name
The Polaris in 1871

The Polaris Expedition (1871-1873) was one of the many ill-fated early attempts to reach the North Pole.

In November of the first year, the ship’s captain, Charles Francis Hall, died — possibly from being poisoned. In October of the second year, the ship’s company accidentally broke up: 19 people were stranded on an ice floe while 14 remained on board.

Among those on the floe were Inuit hunter/interpreter Hans Hendrik (Greenlandic name: Suersaq), his wife Mergut, and their four children — including a newborn. The baby boy had arrived in August of 1871, while the family was still aboard the ship.

No doubt his parents gave him a Greenlandic name, but all the accounts of the expedition only mention the baby’s English name: Charlie Polaris. “Charlie” was for the late captain, and “Polaris” was for the ship.

Baby Charlie and the others were finally rescued in April of 1973 off the coast of Newfoundland, having drifted some 1,500 miles.

Sources:

P.S. The ship’s original name was Periwinkle, and it was part of the Potomac Flotilla during the final months of the Civil War.

Miss Zane Grey

According to a newspaper article from 1911, many people assumed that Zane Grey was a woman because of his first name:

Zane Grey, who is spending the summer at Cottage Point, Lackawaxen, Pa., complains that his unusual first name is the cause of much misunderstanding and that he has received numerous letters addressed to “Miss” Zane Grey and requests for the lady’s photograph.

But “Zane” wasn’t his actual first name. It was his middle name, taken from his mother’s maiden name.

His full name at birth was Pearl Zane Grey. He was born in early 1872 in the Ohio town of Zanesville, which was named after his maternal ancestor Ebenezer Zane.

The name “Pearl” is usually considered feminine, but it seems to have been used for males in Zane’s family; he had a male cousin named Pearl. He disliked the name and dropped it when he began his writing career.

Various sources claim the name “Pearl” was chosen because, around the time of Zane’s birth, newspapers were describing Queen Victoria’s mourning attire as pearl gray. (He was born a few weeks after the tenth anniversary of Prince Albert’s death.) I did some research, though, and couldn’t find a single American newspaper from that era that mentioned pearl gray in association with the queen.

What are your thoughts on the name Zane? Do you view it as masculine or feminine?

P.S. The Zane Grey-inspired television show Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater (1956-1961) gave rise to five (!) other TV shows. These spin-offs were behind several baby name debuts, including Hoby, Case and Cully.

Source: “Authors and their work.” Sun [New York] 14 Jul. 1911: 7.

Baby Born at Sea, Named ‘Atlantic’

On March 24, 1889, the Danish steamship Danmark began its journey from Europe to America with hundreds of Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian emigrants on board.

But the Danmark was discovered in distress in the mid-Atlantic by the British cargo ship Missouri on April 5. The Missouri first tried towing the Danmark, but when that proved impossible, the captain decided to throw all cargo overboard in order to make room for the 700+ passengers and crew on the slowly sinking Danmark.

In the early morning of April 7, rescued Danmark passenger Kristine Linne (an 18-year-old Danish woman traveling to America to meet her husband) gave birth to a baby girl aboard the Missouri. The baby was named Atlantic Missouri Linne.

The Missouri backtracked to the Azores, reaching São Miguel Island on April 10. Half of the Danmark survivors (primarily single men) were dropped off. The other half (primarily families) remained on the ship. Extra provisions were brought on board.

In the meanwhile, Americans kept their fingers crossed. Some quotes from the New York Times:

  • April 13: “The Inman Line steamer City of Chester…arrived here today. She reports that April 8, in latitude 46 degrees north, longitude 37 degrees west, she passed the Danish steamer Danmark […] The Danmark had been abandoned by her crew. […] She was apparently sinking.
  • April 14: “The mystery surrounding the disappearance of seven hundred or more persons on board the steamship Danmark, whose deserted hulk was seen in midocean on April 8, remains as deep as it was when the news of the disaster first reached this city.”
  • April 16: “Many dreary hours were spent yesterday in waiting for news from the 700 people on the lost ship Danmark, but none came.”
  • April 17: “No news of the missing Danmark passengers was brought by incoming vessels yesterday.”
  • April 18: “Another day has passed without any news of the fate of the passengers and crew of the Thingvalla steamer Danmark.”

On April 22, the Missouri finally arrived in Philadelphia with 365 survivors from the Danmark. As you can imagine, this was front page news on April 23.

The New York Times reported that the newborn’s name was ‘Atlanta Missouri Linnie.’ The Missouri‘s captain was quoted as saying she was “born during a howling storm, which rocked the vessel and caused the sea to break over us.”

I’m not sure where little Atlantic Missouri ended up, but the majority of the emigrants were headed West to places like Minnesota and the Dakota Territory (which was split into North and South later the same year).

About a decade later, the Missouri was used as a hospital ship during the Spanish-American War.

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