Where did the baby name Orenthal come from in 1968?

Football player Orenthal James "O.J." Simspon
Orenthal “O.J.” Simspon

Last week’s post about baby names inspired by the O. J. Simpson trial reminded me that we haven’t yet talked about O. J. Simpson’s first name, Orenthal. So let’s do that today.

Here’s how Simpson explained his name to LIFE magazine in 1968, while he was still a student at the University of Southern California:

“I had an aunt,” he recalls, “who got to my mother and named me Orenthal and my cousin Ercale. Then she turned around and gave her own kids common names like Stanley, Stewart and Pam. The only thing she ever told me about Orenthal was that it was the name of some French or Italian actor. I don’t know, maybe she was loaded or something when she came up with it.”

That same year, Simpson won the Heisman Trophy.

And, right on cue, we see the name Orenthal pop on the national baby name charts:

  • 1976: 25 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1975: 25 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1974: 18 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1973: 10 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1972: unlisted
  • 1971: 10 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1970: 18 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1969: 23 baby boys named Orenthal
  • 1968: 10 baby boys named Orenthal [debut]
  • 1967: unlisted
  • 1966: unlisted

The next year he was the #1 NFL draft pick. He went on to have a successful professional football career that lasted over a decade, including a particularly impressive 1973, which looks like it gave the name a second boost.

After retiring from football, Simpson worked as a sports broadcaster and as an actor. He had a small part in Roots, for instance.

But his reputation was irreparably tarnished with the events of the mid-1990s. Usage of the name declined in the ’80s and it was off the national list entirely during the ’90s. (It’s been back on the list a couple of times since, though).

What do you think of the name Orenthal?

Source: Bonfante, Jordan. “The Best College Halfback–Just Call Him O.J.” LIFE 27 Oct. 1967: 72-74.

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