How popular is the baby name Bertil in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Use the popularity graph and data table below to find out! Plus, see all the blog posts that mention the name Bertil.

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Popularity of the baby name Bertil


Posts that mention the name Bertil

What popularized the baby name Oscar in Scandinavia?

Oscar I of Sweden (as crown prince, in 1823)
Oscar I of Sweden

For a number of generations, the name Oscar has been particularly popular in Scandinavia — that is, the countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Why?

The simplest answer is King Oscar I of Sweden. But the more accurate answer, in my opinion, is Napoleon.

The story starts with Scottish poet James Macpherson, who, during the early 1760s, published a series of epic poems. He claimed that they were his translations of 3rd-century Scottish Gaelic poems by a bard named Ossian, but many of his contemporaries were suspicious of this claim. (The current consensus is that they were composed by Macpherson himself and based largely upon Irish mythology. The name Ossian, for instance, is Macpherson’s interpretation of the Irish name Oisín.)

Despite the controversy, Macpherson’s poems became extremely popular throughout Europe. And they were very influential: “[I]t is arguable that these poems constitute one of the canonical Ur-texts of the romantic nationalisms which spread across the Continent” over the century that followed.

French military officer Napoleon was among the prominent admirers of Macpherson’s poems.

Incidentally, Napoleon had tried his hand at writing. One of his unpublished novels, Clisson et Eugénie, written in 1795, was based in part upon his relationship with then-fiancée Désirée Clary.

He ended up marrying a different woman, Josephine, in March of 1796.

And former fiancée Désirée went on to marry a different French military officer, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, in August of 1798.

Oscar Bernadotte (as a child, circa 1806) who later became Oscar I of Sweden
Oscar Bernadotte (circa 1806)

Désirée gave birth to the couple’s only child, a boy, in July of 1799. The baby was named Joseph François Oscar Bernadotte. “Joseph” was in honor of the baby’s uncle, Joseph Bonaparte — Napoléon’s brother, who happened to be married to Desiree’s sister. “François,” I presume, was a patriotic nod to France. And “Oscar”? Included at the suggestion of godfather Napoleon, the name Oscar referred to a heroic character from Macpherson’s poems. (Oscar was Ossian’s son.)

Later the same year, Napoleon became First Consul of the French Republic.

In May of 1804, he declared himself Emperor. Soon after, he promoted Bernadotte (and seventeen other generals) to the rank of Marshal of the Empire.

Bernadotte continued fighting in the Napoleonic Wars throughout the rest of the decade.

Then, in August of 1810, Bernadotte was unexpectedly invited to become heir-presumptive to the Swedish throne. The king of Sweden at the time, Carl XIII, was elderly and had no male heir.

(Why would the Swedes ask a Frenchman with no royal blood to rule their country? For several reasons, including: he had strong ties to Napoleon, he had proven military and administrative abilities, and, not least of all, “he already had a son to ensure the succession.”)

Bernadotte accepted. Several months later, he moved his family to Sweden. converted to Lutheranism, and was legally adopted by the king — thus becoming the country’s crown prince.

He became the de facto head of state right away, playing a key part in the formation of the Sixth Coalition (which fought against Napoleon from 1813 to mid-1814) and gaining control of Norway to create the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway (later in 1814).

In 1818, Carl XIII passed away. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte — under the regnal name Carl XIV Johan — ascended to become King of Sweden and Norway. His wife Désirée became queen, and their son Oscar became crown prince.

Oscar I of Sweden (in the 1850s)
Oscar I of Sweden

More than a quarter century later, in 1844, Carl XIV Johan (Bernadotte) himself passed away, and Oscar succeeded his father as King of Sweden and Norway.

This explains the popularity of the name Oscar in the countries of Sweden and Norway, but what about Denmark? Usage started to increase there in 1848, when King Oscar sided with Denmark (instead of Germany) in the territorial dispute over Schleswig and Holstein.

Usage of the name is still strong in all three countries today. In 2021, the baby name Oscar/Oskar ranked 14th in Sweden, 2nd in Norway, and 1st in Denmark.

Outside of Scandinavia, it came in 8th in England and Wales, 27th in Scotland, 30th in Ireland, and 44th in Northern Ireland.

Speaking of England and Ireland…the name Oscar became trendy in England during the 1880s and 1890s thanks to Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. Not long after he was born, in late 1854, his mother wrote to a friend: “He is to be called Oscar Fingal Wilde. Is not that grand, misty, and Ossianic?”

What are your thoughts on the name Oscar?

Sources:

P.S. The House of Bernadotte remains the royal family of Sweden to this day. Descendants of Carl XIV Johan include Prince Bertil (b. 1912) and Princess Estelle (b. 2012).

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

Where did the baby name Bertil come from in 1912?

Princess Margaret and baby Bertil (in 1913)
Princess Margaret and Bertil

Crown Prince Gustaf VI of Sweden and his wife, Margaret, welcomed their fourth child, a baby boy, in February of 1912. They named him Bertil.

The same year Prince Bertil was born, the name Bertil appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1914: 31 baby boys named Bertil
  • 1913: 17 baby boys named Bertil
  • 1912: 16 baby boys named Bertil [debut]
  • 1911: unlisted
  • 1910: unlisted

Bertil was the second-highest debut that year, after Woodroe (inspired by Woodrow Wilson, who was elected president in November).

But the early SSA numbers tend to skew low, so here’s some data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for a different perspective. (I’m only counting people with the first name Bertil, and I’m ignoring the feminine variants Bertille and Bertilla.)

  • 1914: 51 people named Bertil
  • 1913: 37 people named Bertil
  • 1912: 40 people named Bertil
  • 1911: 19 people named Bertil
  • 1910: 32 people named Bertil

Just about all of the surnames I saw for Bertils in the SSDI were Swedish. Even more interesting, the SSA data indicates that many of these Bertils were born in Minnesota, Illinois and Massachusetts — states with large Swedish communities:

By 1910 the position of the Midwest as a place of residence for the Swedish immigrants and their children was still strong, but had weakened. Fifty-four percent of the Swedish immigrants and their children now lived in these states, with Minnesota and Illinois dominating. Fifteen percent lived in the East, where the immigrants were drawn to industrial areas in New England. New York City and Worcester, Massachusetts, were two leading destinations.

I think it’s safe to conclude that this usage of Bertil was occurring among Swedish immigrants (and their descendants) exclusively.

So what’s the etymology of Bertil? According to the Handbook of Scandinavian Names, the names Bertil and Bertel (which debuted the very next year) are “forms of the first element in German names like Berthold, from bert ‘bright, shining.’ The site Behind the Name simply says Bertil is a form of Berthold, meaning “bright ruler.”

Surprisingly, Bertil isn’t the first U.S. baby name debut we can link to Swedish royalty. Ebba, which debuted in 1888, was inspired by Princess Ebba Bernadotte — baby Bertil’s great aunt.

P.S. Bertil’s siblings were named Gustaf, Sigvard, Ingrid, and Carl. Curiously, none of them had a discernible influence on the U.S. baby name data like their brother did.

Sources:

Image: Prins Bertil och hans mor