Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. He served from 1967 until 1991.
Prior to that, he was known for having won 29 of the 32 cases he’d argued argued before the Supreme Court. Most were civil rights cases, including the famous Brown v. Board of Education case that ended legal segregation in public schools in 1954.
The year he died, the name Thurgood debuted on the U.S. baby name charts:
- 1995: unlisted
- 1994: unlisted
- 1993: 5 baby boys named Thurgood [debut]
- 1992: unlisted
- 1991: unlisted
…and it never returned, making Thurgood a statistical one-hit wonder.
So how did Thurgood Marshall get his unusual first name?
It was passed down from his paternal grandfather, who apparently went by either of two names: Thorneygood and Thoroughgood.
The elder Thoroughgood/Thorneygood served in the U.S. Army, and he didn’t know which name to use when he enlisted, so he used both. And he ended up getting two sets of retirement checks because of it.
Thurgood Marshall told TIME: “I was named Thoroughgood after him but by the time I was in the second grade, I got tired of spelling all that and shortened it.”
His maternal grandfather also had a distinctive name: Isaiah Olive Branch Williams. Isaiah and his wife Mary had six children, all with fascinating names — several inspired by Isaiah’s travels abroad with the U.S. merchant marine.
- Avonia Delicia – first name after Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Avon Nyanza – first name also after Stratford-upon-Avon
- Denmedia Marketa – after the family’s grocery store, located on Baltimore’s Denmead Street
- Norma Arica – after the opera Norma and the place where Isaiah first heard it, the Chilean port city of Arica
- Fearless Mentor – because, according to Isaiah:
Most kids don’t open their eyes until they’re at least a few hours old. This one looked me straight in the eye as soon as I came in. He’s a fearless little fellow and Fearless will be his name.
- Ravine Silestria – after a ravine in the Bulgarian/Romanian port city of Silistra
Norma was Thurgood Marshall’s mother. He called Fearless and Denmedia “Uncle Fee” and “Aunt Medi.”