What gave the baby name Kermit a boost in 1901?

Presidential son Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943)
Kermit Roosevelt (in 1902)

In November of 1900, Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan in the U.S. presidential election.

In September of 1901, less than a year later, President McKinley was assassinated and succeeded by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt’s second son, Kermit, had turned 11 a month before the election, and was still 11 when his father became president of the United States.

His rare first name, Kermit, debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1900 and saw a sizeable boost in usage the very next year. In fact, Kermit was the fastest-rising baby name of 1901 (in terms of relative increase).

  • 1903: 12 baby boys named Kermit [rank: 679th]
  • 1902: 16 baby boys named Kermit [rank: 547th]
  • 1901: 17 baby boys named Kermit [rank: 481st]
  • 1900: 6 baby boys named Kermit
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: unlisted

The earliest decades of the SSA data tend to under-count actual usage, so, for comparison, here’s data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for the same period of time:

  • 1903: 107 people with the first name Kermit
  • 1902: 118 people with the first name Kermit
  • 1901: 64 people with the first name Kermit
  • 1900: 12 people with the first name Kermit
  • 1899: 1 person
  • 1898: 2 people

But there’s more to the story than that, because later spikes in the name’s usage also seem to line up with events in Kermit Roosevelt’s life.

Graph of the usage of the baby name Kermit in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Kermit (SSA data)

From March 1909 to June 1910, Kermit accompanied his father on an expedition to Africa. Various photos of Kermit (including the one below) ran in the newspapers both before and during the trip. The SSA data indicates that the name ranked 175th and 193rd, respectively, in 1909 and 1910 — the only two times it’s ever placed inside the boys’ top 200.

Kermit Roosevelt's photo in a newspaper (Sept. 1908)
Newspaper photo of Kermit (Sept. 1908)

In June of 1914, Kermit married Belle Wyatt Willard, the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Spain. (Kermit and his father had also just returned from a perilous five-month trip to the Amazon basin, but the newspapers didn’t seem as interested in the second expedition as they were in the wedding.) The same year, the name nearly doubled in usage.

In July of 1918, Kermit’s youngest brother, Quentin, was killed in combat during WWI. Months later, in January of 1919, his famous father died suddenly in his sleep. The name Kermit saw a steep rise in usage in 1918, followed by peak usage (in terms of absolute numbers of babies) in 1919.

(Incidentally, dozens of baby boys were named either “Quentin Kermit” or, more often, “Kermit Quentin” during the first decades of the 1900s. One example: Kermit Quentin Turner, born in Oklahoma in 1919.)

For seven months during 1925, Kermit and his eldest brother, Ted, went on an expedition to the Himalayas. The newspapers (again) seemed only moderately interested in the trip, but the name Kermit did see slightly higher usage in the mid-1920s.

And it saw another uptick in 1943, the year that Kermit Roosevelt — who, during the 1930s, had been hit hard by the Great Depression and also became an alcoholic — committed suicide in Alaska after being medically discharged from the U.S. Army.

Kermit’s name — which was also the middle name of his mother, Edith Kermit Carow — ultimately honored Edith’s uncle, merchant and shipowner Robert Kermit.

The surname Kermit is an Anglicized form of the Manx surname Kermode, which in turn is a form of the Irish surname Mac Diarmada. The Irish surname is derived from the Irish personal name Diarmaid, which is of unknown etymology.

What are your thoughts on the name Kermit?


Images: Kermit Roosevelt and Jack, the dog (LOC); “Kermit Roosevelt” in the Warren Sheaf (Sept. 3, 1908)

4 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Kermit a boost in 1901?

  1. I like Kermit. To me, it has a happy, punchy/peppy sound and also has a similar vibe to another name I like, Cormac. Having said that, Sesame Street and its characters still loom large in popular culture, so, for some people, the name might be associated too closely with Kermit the Frog.

  2. @Stuart Foster – You know, I had a paragraph about Kermit the Frog in there until the very end, and then I decided the puppet might be too off-topic. :)

    Kermit first appeared on TV in the mid-1950s. In 1975, Henson was quoted as saying that the character wasn’t named for anyone in particular: “When I first made him, it struck me that he looked like a Kermit. So that’s what I named him.”

    That said…Henson might not have known that the name even existed if it hadn’t been popularized during the preceding decades by Kermit Roosevelt.

    The name has since fallen out of style, and the frog likely has a lot to do with that — at least from the mid-1970s onward. (The Muppet Show started airing in 1974.)

    Source: Rose, Robert L. “How ‘Cold’ Comics Turn Hot.” Calgary Herald 25 Apr. 1975.

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