Where did the baby name Rockne come from in 1931?

"Rockne Killed" headline in the New York Daily News (Apr. 1931).
“Rockne Killed” newspaper headline

In 1931, the name Rockne debuted in the U.S. baby name data. It was the top debut name for baby boys, in fact.

  • 1933: 9 baby boys named Rockne
  • 1932: 14 baby boys named Rockne
  • 1931: 17 baby boys named Rockne [debut]
  • 1930: not listed
  • 1929: unlisted

The number of babies named Knute increased that year as well:

  • 1933: 8 baby boys named Knute
  • 1932: 10 baby boys named Knute
  • 1931: 19 baby boys named Knute
  • 1930: 9 baby boys named Knute
  • 1929: 11 baby boys named Knute

If you know college football, you already know where these names come from: Knute (pronounced kah-NOOT) Rockne.

Football coach Knute Rockne (1888-1931)
Knute Rockne

Rockne was born in Norway in 1888, and his family immigrated to America in 1893. He became the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame in 1918. Today, he’s considered one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

On March 31, 1931, 43-year-old Rockne was killed when the wooden Fokker Trimotor* he was flying in crashed in Kansas. The crash was thought to be caused by the deterioration of the plane’s wooden wings.

Rockne was the first American celebrity to die in a commercial airplane crash, and news of his death stunned a Depression-mired nation. The ensuing mourning was truly a national event.

Tens of thousands of people attended his funeral. The service was broadcast live via network radio.

But here’s the silver lining: The crash resulted in significant improvements in aircraft design, as manufacturers were suddenly put under pressure to build safer, all-metal airplanes.

Also named for Rockne in 1931 was Rockne, Texas. Several months after the crash, the local schoolchildren were asked to vote between the potential community names Rockne (for Knute Rockne) and Kilmer (for poet Joyce Kilmer):

The boys voted for the football coach and the girls voted for the poet resulting in a tie. The next day Edith Goertz changed her vote giving the community its name, “Rockne”.

So where does the surname Rockne come from? Originally spelled “Rokne,” it’s a habitational name that refers to the family’s farmland in Voss, Norway.


  • Coughlin, Dan. “Now He Tells Me.” Cleveland Leader 22 Oct. 2009.
  • Davies, Richard O. Sports in American Life: A History. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
  • Marks, Paula Mitchell. “Rockne, TX.” Handbook of Texas Online. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  • Nelson, Marian H. Early History of Rockne, Texas.

Image: Knute Rockne, George Grantham Bain Collection, LOC

*A few years earlier, in 1929, a baby born in a Fokker Trimotor was named Airlene

2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Rockne come from in 1931?

  1. Huh, there was a little boy named Rockney at the park the other day, I wonder if it was after the coach…I do live around the university. At first I thought they were saying Rocky, which is unusual enough, but it was definitely Rockney.

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