What gave the baby name Christiaan a boost in 1968?

South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard (1922-2001)
Dr. Christiaan Barnard

The baby name Christiaan (pronounced KRIS-tee-ahn) — the Dutch and Afrikaans form of Christian — saw peak usage in the U.S. in two different years: 1968 and 1970.

  • 1972: 22 baby boys named Christiaan
  • 1971: 30 baby boys named Christiaan
  • 1970: 43 baby boys named Christiaan
  • 1969: 24 baby boys named Christiaan
  • 1968: 43 baby boys named Christiaan
  • 1967: 8 baby boys named Christiaan
  • 1966: unlisted

The name’s 1968 upswing represents the second-steepest rise among baby boy names that year (after Dustin).

Here’s the graph:

Graph of the usage of the first name Christiaan in the U.S. since 1880.
Usage of the first name Christiaan

What was calling attention to the name Christiaan in the late ’60s and early ’70s?

South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who made headlines worldwide after performing the first human heart transplant on December 3, 1967, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

Dr. Barnard led a team of 20 surgeons as they transplanted a heart from the body of donor Denise Darvall (a 25-year-old woman who’d been fatally injured in a car accident) into the body of recipient Louis Washkansky (a 55-year-old man terminally ill with heart disease).

The operation was considered a success, even though Washkansky died of pneumonia 18 days later.

The transplant attracted unprecedented media coverage, turning Dr. Barnard into an overnight celebrity:

Charismatic and photogenic, he appeared on magazine covers, met dignitaries and film stars, drawing crowds and photographers wherever he went.

Dr. Barnard performed a second human heart transplant on January 2, 1968 — just one month after the first. The second recipient, 59-year-old Philip Blaiberg, not only survived the operation, but lived for another 19 months and 15 days before dying of organ rejection in August of 1969.

The success of this second operation “secured the future of heart transplants.” It also likely caused the usage of Christiaan to peak again in 1970.

(That said, news about Dr. Barnard’s personal life may have also been a factor. He divorced his wife of twenty years, Aletta, in mid-1969 and married a 19-year-old Johannesburg socialite named Barbara Zoellner in early 1970.)

I’m not sure how many of the baby boys named Christiaan during the late ’60s and early ’70s were taught to pronounce their names KRIS-tee-ahn, as I couldn’t find any clips of U.S. newscasters using the Afrikaans pronunciation. Even talk show host Dick Cavett defaulted to the American pronunciation, KRIS-chen, when Dr. Christiaan Barnard appeared on The Dick Cavett Show [vid] in May of 1970.

What are your thoughts on the name Christiaan?


Image: Adapted from Professor Barnard photo by Jac. de Nijs via Nationaal Archief under CC0.

3 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Christiaan a boost in 1968?

  1. As soon as I saw the title I thought, “The only Christiaan I know is that heart surgeon dude from South Africa.” So this checks out!

  2. Christiaan was a very common name in the Netherlands until the early 1990’s, especially as a middle/second name. Nowadays Chris is more popular.

    Anyway, I wanted to know what dr. Christiaan Neethling Barnard (1922-2001) named his own children. He was married and divorced 3 times! His last wife alledgedly divorced him because she found Viagra in his travel bag – turned out he was cheating with a newer, younger model…

    1. Aletta Gertruida “Louwtjie” Louw (1924-2011, married 1948-1969)
    Jeanne Deirdre (1950-)
    André Hendrik (1951-1984) > Adam Daniel and Ashley Jeanne

    2. Barbara Zöllner (1951-1998, married 1970-1982)
    Frederick Christiaan (1971)
    Christiaan Alexander (1974)

    3. Karin Setzkorn (1963-, 1988-2000)
    Armin Adam (1990)
    Lara (1997)

    PS Christiaan’s brother Marius Stephanus Barnard (1927-2014) was a cardiac surgeon too and worked on his brother’s team. He spent the rest of working life advocating for critical illness insurance for all South Africans. His only son (he also had two daughters) is named Adam, who just like his younger cousins Armin Adam and Adam Daniel likely is named after their grandfather Rev. Adam Hendrik Barnard (1875-1958).

    PPS There’s a pretty famous song in the Netherlands inspired by this doctor: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dokter_Bernhard

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