How Did Thurgood Marshall Get His Name?

Thurgood Marshall, 1967Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. He served from 1967 until 1991.

Prior to that, he was known for having won 29 of the 32 cases he’d argued argued before the Supreme Court. Most were civil rights cases, including the famous Brown v. Board of Education case that ended legal segregation in public schools in 1954.

The year he died, the name Thurgood debuted on the U.S. baby name charts:

  • 1994: unlisted
  • 1993: 5 baby boys named Thurgood [debut]
  • 1992: unlisted

…and it never returned, making Thurgood a statistical one-hit wonder.

So how did Thurgood Marshall get his unusual first name?

It was passed down from his paternal grandfather, who apparently went by either of two names: Thorneygood and Thoroughgood.

The elder Thoroughgood/Thorneygood served in the U.S. Army, and he didn’t know which name to use when he enlisted, so he used both. And he ended up getting two sets of retirement checks because of it.

Thurgood Marshall told TIME: “I was named Thoroughgood after him but by the time I was in the second grade, I got tired of spelling all that and shortened it.”

His maternal grandfather also had a distinctive name: Isaiah Olive Branch Williams. Isaiah and his wife Mary had six children, all with fascinating names — several inspired by Isaiah’s travels abroad with the U.S. merchant marine.

  • Avonia Delicia – first name after Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Avon Nyanza – first name also after Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Denmedia Marketa – after the family’s grocery store, located on Baltimore’s Denmead Street
  • Norma Arica – after the opera Norma and the place where Isaiah first heard it, the Chilean port city of Arica
  • Fearless Mentor – because, according to Isaiah:

    Most kids don’t open their eyes until they’re at least a few hours old. This one looked me straight in the eye as soon as I came in. He’s a fearless little fellow and Fearless will be his name.

  • Ravine Silestria – after a ravine in the Bulgarian/Romanian port city of Silistra

Norma was Thurgood Marshall’s mother. He called Fearless and Denmedia “Uncle Fee” and “Aunt Medi.”

Sources:


3 Albanian Baby Names: Liridona, Liridon, Ilirida

albanian flagThe collapse of communism (and the economy) in Albania in 1991-1992 triggered a mass exodus.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees fled to other countries — primarily nearby countries like Italy and Greece. But some refugees ended up in entirely different parts of the world, such as the United States.

Evidence of this 1991-1992 wave of Albanian immigration can be see in the sudden appearance of several rather patriotic Albanian baby names to the U.S. baby name data:

Year Liridona Liridon Ilirida
1994 unlisted 5 baby boys unlisted
1993 9 baby girls
(5 in NY)
11 baby boys
(5 in NY)
unlisted
1992 21 baby girls
(12 in NY)
10 baby boys
(5 in NY)
5 baby girls [debut]
1991 29 baby girls [debut]
(18 in NY)
13 baby boys [debut]
(8 in NY)
unlisted
1990 unlisted unlisted unlisted

(“Unlisted” means the name was used fewer than 5 times — the minimum for inclusion on the national list.)

The Albanian names Liridon, Liridona and Ilirida are all based on the Albanian word liri, which means “freedom, liberty.” The one-hit wonder name Ilirida refers specifically to the “Republic of Ilirida,” a theoretical secessionist state of Macedonia proposed/declared in early 1992 by Macedonian politician Nevzat Halili (who is an ethnic Albanian).

While I think it’s most likely that these names were bestowed by recent Albanian immigrants, it’s also possible that they were used within Albanian-American families. (New York City has the largest Albanian population in the country.)

And no doubt these names became even more popular in countries that absorbed larger numbers of Albanians. In Switzerland, for instance, both Liridon and Liridona and broke into the national top 100 (!) in 1991:

Year Liridona (Switz.) Liridon (Switz.) Ilirida (Switz.)
1995 16 baby girls 21 baby boys 6 baby girls
1994 32 baby girls 19 baby boys 2 baby girls
1993 60 baby girls 50 baby boys 4 baby girls
1992 114 baby girls
(rank: 77th)
84 baby boys 19 baby girls [debut]
1991 181 baby girls
(rank: 47th)
125 baby boys
(rank: 79th)
0
1990 37 baby girls 63 baby boys 0
1989 11 baby girls 29 baby boys 0

The variants Liridone and Liridonë also show up in the Switzerland data — Liridone over 40 times in the ’80s and ’90s, Liridonë a handful of times in the ’90s.

Sources: Albanian Diaspora – Wikipedia, Swiss Statistics

Soviet Leader Influenced U.S. Baby Names in 1959

Nikita Khrushchev, 1959Nikita Khrushchev was the leader of the Soviet Union for over a decade during the early Cold War (from 1953 to 1964).

Between the time the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik in 1957 and sent Yuri Gagarin on the first manned space flight in 1961, Khrushchev became first Soviet head of state to visit the U.S.

Upon the invitation of president Dwight Eisenhower, Khrushchev and his family flew to Washington, D.C., on September 15, 1959. They visited New York, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania before flying back to Moscow on the 27th.

Though Khrushchev famously never made it to Disneyland, he did manage to make an impression upon expectant parents:

Year U.S. girls named Nikita U.S. boys named Nikita
1961 39 21
1960 56 25
1959 44 19 [debut]
1958 16 unlisted
1957 13 unlisted

The baby name Nikita had appeared on the U.S. charts as a girl name before, but in 1959 it showed up for the very first time as a boy name.*

These days the usage of Nikita is about equal for males and females — 93 baby girls and 92 baby boys got the name in 2015. But there was a spike in female usage in 1985, thanks to the song “Nikita” by Elton John. (American radio listeners similarly interpreted Luka as a girl name a couple of years later.)

The name Nikita can be traced back to the Ancient Greek word for “victor,” niketes, which is based on the more familiar word nike, meaning “victory.”

And eight years after the name Nikita debuted, another Russian arrival, Svetlana Stalina, showed up and added yet another Soviet-inspired baby name to the mix…

Sources: Nikita Khrushchev – Wikipedia, Timeline: Nikita Khrushchev’s Trip Itinerary
Image: © TIME

*To debut on the SSA’s baby name list, a name has to be given to least 5 babies of one gender or the other within a single calendar year.

Babies Named for Jeanne d’Arc

Joan of Arc, Jeanne d'ArcJeanne d’Arc (1412-1431), known as Joan of Arc in English, was a French peasant, Christian mystic, and teenage warrior during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between France and England.

Well, she wasn’t a “warrior” exactly, as she never actually fought in battle. She was more of an “inspirational mascot, brandishing her banner in place of a weapon.”

In any case, she ended up being captured by the enemy, convicted of heresy and witchcraft (among other things), excommunicated from the church, and burned at the stake — all before the age of 20.

But a few decades later the verdict was overturned, the excommunication was invalidated, and she was declared a martyr.

And during the centuries that followed, her reputation grew — especially among the French.

Despite all this, the well-known St. Joan didn’t officially become a Roman Catholic saint until the early 20th century. She was canonized in May of 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.

The same year, the full French form of her name, Jeannedarc, debuted on the U.S. baby name charts and reappeared several more times during the same decade:

  • 1927: unlisted
  • 1926: 5 baby girls named Jeannedarc
  • 1925: unlisted
  • 1924: 6 baby girls named Jeannedarc
  • 1923: 6 baby girls named Jeannedarc
  • 1922: unlisted
  • 1921: 6 baby girls named Jeannedarc
  • 1920: 5 baby girls named Jeannedarc [debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

And that’s not all. Records show that more than a few of the babies simply named Jeanne and Joan in the 1920s had as middle names “d’Arc” and “of Arc.” Two examples:

  • Jeanne D’Arc Florabel Menard, daughter of David and Georgiana Menard, born in Vermont in 1924.
  • Joan of Arc Mary Agnes Chabot, daughter of Thomas and Zelia Chabot, born in Vermont in 1923.

A disproportionate number of these 1920s babies named Jeanne d’Arc and Joan of Arc were born in the Northeastern U.S. to families of French (Canadian) extraction.

Interestingly, St. Joan herself only used the medieval spelling of her name, “Jehanne,” and never included the surname “d’Arc,” which was a form of her father’s surname. In fact, if she’d been forced to use a surname, she likely would have chosen her mother’s, Romée, as per hometown tradition. The surname Romée denoted someone who had made a pilgrimage (though not necessarily to Rome).

Sources: Joan of Arc – Wikipedia, Joan of Arc – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com, 7 Surprising Facts About Joan of Arc

2 Mystery Baby Names: Ardis & Irva

Not only were the girl names Ardis and Irva the dual top baby name debuts of 1899, but they were also tied for the 5th-highest debut of the late 1800s, according to SSA data:

  1. 38 baby boys: Hobson in 1898 (influence: war)
  2. 35 baby girls: Manilla in 1898 (influence: war)
  3. 25 baby boys: Admiral in 1898 (influence: war)
  4. 23 baby boys: Corbett in 1892 (influence: boxing)
  5. 19 baby girls: Ardis and Irva in 1899 (influence: ?)
  6. 18 baby girls: Ebba in 1888 (influence: royalty)

So far I haven’t been able to figure out what caused either debut, though. Maybe you guys can help me out?

Here’s what I know so far…

Ardis

According to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), the number of people named Ardis jumped from at least 10 in 1898 to at least 86 in 1899. (The SSDI is a better source of raw-number data than the SSA for the late 1800s and early 1900s.)

  • 1901: 47 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1900: 59 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1899: 86 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1898: 10 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1897: 15 people with the first name Ardis

The SSDI data also indicates that the usage of Ardis was highest during three successive months: July (12 births), August (17 births), and September (12 births).

Getting back to the SSA data…when Ardis was at peak popularity from the 1910s through the 1940s, it was particularly trendy in the Midwest (especially Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin). This regional preference may have existed in 1899 as well, though it’s hard to tell.

Finally, a novel with the name Ardis in the title — Frank R. Stockton’s Ardis Claverden — existed in 1899. It had been published in 1890, though, so it probably didn’t cause the debut. (Unless it was serialized in the newspapers a decade later…?)

Irva

The SSDI shows that the number of people named Irva jumped from at least 7 in 1898 to at least 64 in 1899:

  • 1901: 14 people with the first name Irva
  • 1900: 18 people with the first name Irva
  • 1899: 64 people with the first name Irva
  • 1898: 7 people with the first name Irva
  • 1897: 5 people with the first name Irva

The name Erva also debuted in 1899. Alternative spellings sometimes point to an audio influence like talkies or television, but the debuts of Irva and Erva predate most of these technologies.

So does anyone out there have any theories on either Ardis or Irva?

(And if you like doing baby name detective work, check out these other open cases!)

Babies Named After “This Girl Tron”

Tron, Vietnamese girl, wooden leg, LIFE magazine, 1968Viet, Hoang, Phuong, and other Vietnamese baby names flooded onto the U.S. baby name charts in 1975, thanks to an influx of refugees.

But the female name Tron arrived conspicuously early, in 1969:

  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: 7 baby girls named Tron
  • 1968: unlisted

Then it fell off the list again, making it a one-hit wonder.*

Where did Tron come from?

A 12-year-old Vietnamese amputee named Nguyen Thi Tron, who was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in November of 1968. The cover showed Tron watching her new wooden leg being made at a government rehabilitation center in Saigon.

She and two friends, Nhien and Hai, had wandered into a “free-fire zone” to collect firewood and wild vegetables when an American helicopter happened to fly by and open fire. Nhien took shelter under an oxcart, but Hai got shot in the abdomen (she later recovered) and Tron in the leg.

I’m not sure what became of Tron. Her own view of the future was bleak (“I have only one leg. I can do nothing.”) but she did aspire to become a seamstress one day.

Regardless, her name lives on via the baby name charts. In fact, “Tron” is likely the first name to debut on the U.S. charts in connection with the Vietnam War.

*It was a one-hit wonder as a female name only. As a male name, Tron has appeared in the SSA data dozens of times.

Source: Moser, Dan. “The Edge of Peace.” LIFE 8 Nov. 1968: 26-36.
Image: © LIFE

Baby Names to Watch – Lyanna, Juno, Jupiter, Onyx, Solace

lyanna mormontHere are five names that have gotten some attention recently. Do you think this attention will translate into higher-than-expected usage in 2016? (I say “higher-than-expected” because all five are already on the rise.)

  • Lyanna: The 10-year-old Game of Thrones character Lyanna Mormont was introduced to viewers in June.
  • Juno & Jupiter: NASA’s space probe Juno entered orbit around Jupiter in July. (Jupiter’s jump in usage last year coincides with the release of the movie Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones.)
  • Onyx & Solace: Alanis Morissette announced the arrival of her daughter Onyx Solace via Instagram in July.

Which of the five do you like best?