Where did the baby name Rafer come from in 1961?

American athlete Rafer Johnson

Rafer Lewis Johnson, born in Texas in 1935, competed in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He won the gold medal with a record-breaking 8,392 points.

He later said, “I never want to go through that again — never.”

The next year, the baby name Rafer appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the very first time:

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 8 baby boys named Rafer [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted

Later the same year, a TV documentary called The Rafer Johnson Story premiered — this could have influenced the usage of the name as well.

The name never became a mainstay on the list, but it has reappeared a few times. One of those times was in 1968, the year Rafer Johnson and several other men caught and disarmed Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles.

So how did Rafer Johnson get his name? Here’s how he explained it in an interview from 2003:

“When my dad was in the fourth grade, one of his best friends was killed,” Johnson said. “When my dad went to the funeral, he found out that this kid, who everyone called Louis, was actually named Rafer. So my dad decided, in fourth grade, he was going to name his first son Rafer.”

Do you like the name Rafer?


Image: Rafer Johnson 1960

3 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Rafer come from in 1961?

  1. CNN’s sports anchor Rafer Weigel (dob 1969) was named after Rafer Johnson…

    So that leads me to wonder if any parents have named their babies after Weigel?

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