Where did the baby name Roald come from in 1912?

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)
Roald Amundsen

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to cross the Northwest Passage (1905), to reach the South Pole (1911), and to reach both poles (1926).

His name, Roald, can be traced back to an Old Norse name made up of the words hróðr, meaning “fame,” and valdr, meaning “ruler.” It first appeared on the U.S. baby name charts in 1912:

  • 1914: 7 baby boys named Roald
  • 1913: 5 baby boys named Roald
  • 1912: 10 baby boys named Roald [debut]
  • 1911: unlisted
  • 1910: unlisted

Why 1912? Because, even though Amundsen reached the South Pole in December of 1911, the rest of the world wasn’t aware of his accomplishment until after he’d left Antarctica and arrived in Tasmania in March of 1912.

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) shows a similar rise in the number of Roalds born in 1912:

  • 1915: 4 people named Roald
  • 1914: 5 people named Roald
  • 1913: 6 people named Roald
  • 1912: 9 people named Roald
  • 1911: 3 people named Roald

Many of the U.S. babies named Roald during the 1910s were born to parents who had emigrated from Norway.* Amusingly, four or five of these baby Roalds were born into families with the surname Amundson or Amundsen.

Peak usage happened in 1928, the year Roald Amundsen went missing and was presumed dead after a plane crash in the Arctic.**

Finally, though I don’t have any data to back it up, my hunch is that the name Roald also saw increased usage in other regions in the 1910s and 1920s, and perhaps later. Amundsen’s two most famous namesakes are writer Roald Dahl, born in Wales in 1916, and chemist Roald Hoffmann, born in Poland in 1937.

*Similar to the way Bertil became trendy among Swedish immigrants.
**Same thing happened to the name Knute the year Knute Rockne died, also in a plane crash.

Sources: Roald Amundsen – Wikipedia, SSA

2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Roald come from in 1912?

  1. The fact that Amundsen reached the North Pole in December 1911 and died in a plane crash in 1928 also made an impact on Roald as a name in Norway.

    The link below shows how the name first peaked in 1912, after the first event, and how it then peaked further after his death in 1928:

    Regarding statistics for England & Wales, here are two sets of data with the number of baby boys named Roald. I should caution that a couple of Roalds in the overall data were actually named Ronald, so there might be less Roalds in these two sets of data.

    1910 – none
    1911 – 1 baby boy
    1912 – none
    1913 – none
    1914 – 1 baby boy

    1926 – 1 baby boy
    1927 – none
    1928 – none
    1929 – 3 baby boys
    1930 – 3 baby boys

    Looking at it, it does appear to be that there is a kind of a lessened impact of the name resulting from the events involving Amundsen in England & Wales.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.