Where did the baby name Rambo come from in the 1980s?

Part of the movie poster for "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (1985).
“Rambo: First Blood Part II”

Vengeful Vietnam veteran John Rambo — the fictional character created by author David Morrell — was portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in the iconic ’80s movies First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), and Rambo III (1988).

The cultural impact of the character was so great that “Rambo” is now a word you can find in the dictionary. One dictionary, for instance, defines the noun Rambo as “a fanatically militant or violently aggressive person.”

How many baby boys were named Rambo after the movies started coming out? Dozens, according to the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1991: unlisted
  • 1990: 6 baby boys named Rambo
  • 1989: 6 baby boys named Rambo
  • 1988: 9 baby boys named Rambo
  • 1987: 7 baby boys named Rambo
  • 1986: 13 baby boys named Rambo
  • 1985: 18 baby boys named Rambo [peak]
  • 1984: 5 baby boys named Rambo [debut]
  • 1983: unlisted
  • 1982: unlisted

How did writer David Morrell settle upon the surname “Rambo” for his tough-guy character? Strangely enough, the inspiration came from a piece of fruit:

In the early stages of composition, I struggled to find a strong name for the character. One afternoon while I was writing, my wife came home from a grocery store and said that she’d found a new kind of apple that she thought was delicious. Apples were the farthest thing from my mind while I struggled to find that character’s name, but politely I took a bite of the apple and discovered that it was in fact delicious. “What’s it called?” I asked. “Rambo,” she replied. This was in Pennsylvania, where the Rambo type of apple is grown and appreciated. Instantly, I recognized the sound of force. It also reminded me of the way some people pronounce the name of a French poet I’d been studying, Rimbaud, whose most famous work is A SEASON IN HELL, which I felt was an apt metaphor for the prisoner-of-war experiences that I imagined Rambo suffering.

The Rambo apple takes its name from 17th-century Swedish immigrant Peter Gunnarsson Rambo. His adopted surname “Rambo” might refer to Ramberget, the prominent hill on the Swedish island of Hisingen (where Peter was born).

The surname Rambo also has several other potential origins:

  • the French surname Rambeau, which can be derived from any of several personal names:
    • Rainbaut (Old French, made up of Germanic elements meaning “counsel” and “bold, brave”),
    • Hrambehrt (Germanic, “crow” and “bright”), or
    • Hrambald (Germanic, “crow” and “bold, brave”); or
  • the German surname Rambow, which can come from any of several place-names in northeastern Germany.

Oh, and here’s an interesting fact about the character’s first name: In Morrell’s original Rambo book, First Blood (1972), there was no first name. :) The scriptwriters are the ones who dubbed Rambo “John,” taking the name from the Civil War-era song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

What are your thoughts on Rambo as a baby name?

Update, 5/2013: Rambo is back! The SSA just released the 2012 dataset, and it reveals that — after an absence of more than 20 years — Rambo is back in the data with 5 baby boys. For the current total number of Rambos, scroll to the bottom of the Rambo data table.


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