The name Jemal debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1968:
- 1972: 24 baby boys named Jemal
- 1971: 30 baby boys named Jemal
- 1970: 52 baby boys named Jemal
- 1969: 204 baby boys named Jemal [rank: 549th]
- 1968: 47 baby boys named Jemal [debut]
- 1967: unlisted
- 1966: unlisted
In fact, it was the top debut name of 1968. The next year, it became one of the highest-charting single-appearance baby names in the U.S. top 1,000 — the very highest for boys, if you ignore the glitch-name Christop.
So what was the influence?
Jemal David, an African-American character played by actor Otis Young on the single-season TV western The Outcasts (1968-1969).
The series was set in the decade following the Civil War, when “people of all creeds and colors were part of the West” (according to the narrated introduction). The two protagonists, both bounty hunters, were an unlikely pair: Jemal, an ex-slave freed by the Proclamation, and Earl Corey, a former slave owner from Virginia.
Young’s Jemal David was possibly television’s angriest African American protagonist; a defiant man who refused to forget the indignities and humiliations of slavery. He also never let his partner’s racism go unchallenged.
There was even an episode called “My name is Jemal” that drew extra attention to the name:
The similar name Jamal also saw a big boost in usage thanks to the character. But, unlike Jemal, which quickly petered out, Jamal’s usage continued to increase for several decades.
What are your thoughts on the name Jemal? Which spelling do you prefer?
- Bogle, Donald. Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
- The Outcasts (TV series) – Wikipedia
- Terrace, Vincent. Television Introductions: Narrated TV Program Openings since 1949. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2014.