The unusual name Wanderlei popped up in the U.S. baby name data in 2009:
2009: 5 baby boys named Wanderlei [debut]
So far, that’s the only time it’s made an appearance (though the very similar name Vanderlei has shown up twice, also starting in 2009).
What was the influence?
Brazilian mixed martial artist Wanderlei Silva, who made a name for himself in the U.S. thanks to the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
After being part of the UFC in the late ’90s, he re-joined in mid-2007 — at a time when the company was growing in popularity and getting mainstream media coverage. His first bout in the Octagon was against Chuck Liddell at the end of 2007. He lost that match, but won his next one against Keith Jardine in mid-2008.
I’ve never heard Silva pronounce his own first name, but the sports announcers call him VAN-der-lay. (Interesting side note: The letter “w” doesn’t naturally occur in Portuguese, so you’ll only see it in personal names and foreign words.)
You might be surprised to learn that the first name Wanderlei — along with the spelling variants Wanderley, Vanderley, and Vanderlei — are not exactly uncommon in Brazil. Other people with the name include, for instance, former soccer players Wanderley Paiva and Vanderlei Luxemburgo.
These first names come directly from the corresponding Brazilian surnames, all of which derive from a single Dutch surname: Van der Ley.
And the Dutch surname can be traced back to a single man: Gaspar van der Ley, “a well-known 17th century officer from the Dutch West India Company” who settled in Brazil during the period (1630-1654) when the Dutch controlled a large part of northeastern Brazil. (His first name is also spelled Caspar and Kaspar, depending upon the source.)
What does the surname Van der Ley mean? It’s a variant of yet another surname, Van der Lee, the original bearers of which would have lived near a canal called “De Lee” or “De Lede.” The second component of the name is derived from the Middle Dutch word lede or leide, which referred to dug or excavated watercourse (as opposed to a natural one).
What are your thoughts on the baby name Wanderlei?
A while back, I stumbled upon a register of people who were associated with Oxford University in the late 1500s and early 1600s.
Interestingly, the author of the register decided to include a chapter dedicated to first names and surnames, and that chapter included a long list of male forenames and their frequency of occurrence from 1560 to 1621.
The author claimed that, for several reasons, these rankings were “probably…more representative of English names than any list yet published” for that span of time. One reason was that the names represented men from “different grades of English society” — including peers, scholars, tradesmen, and servants.
So, are you ready for the list?
Here’s the top 100:
John, 3,826 individuals
Peter (and Peirs/Pers), 175
Alexander, 98 (tie)
Arthur, 98 (tie)
Joseph, 78 (tie)
Lewis, 78 (tie)
Griffith (and Griffin), 60
Abraham, 54 (tie)
Leonard, 54 (tie)
Morris (and Maurice), 51
Bartholomew, 46 (3-way tie)
Oliver, 46 (3-way tie)
Timothy, 46 (3-way tie)
Martin, 44 (tie)
Rice, 44 (tie)
Toby (and Tobias), 34
Bernard, 28 (3-way tie)
Gregory, 28 (3-way tie)
Isaac, 28 (3-way tie)
Jasper (and Gaspar), 26 (3-way tie)
Josiah (and Josias), 26 (3-way tie)
Randall (and Randolph), 26 (3-way tie)
Austin (and Augustine), 22 (tie)
Jarvis (and Gervase), 22 (tie)
Matthias, 20 (tie)
Reginald (and Reynold), 20 (tie)
Joshua 18 (3-way tie)
Marmaduke, 18 (3-way tie)
Valentine, 18 (3-way tie)
Fulke, 17 (tie)
Sampson (and Samson), 17 (tie)
Clement, 16 (4-way tie)
Ferdinando, 16 (4-way tie)
Herbert, 16 (4-way tie)
Zachary, 16 (4-way tie)
Cuthbert, 15 (3-way tie)
Emanuel, 15 (3-way tie)
Vincent, 15 (3-way tie)
Adrian, 14 (3-way tie)
Elias, 14 (3-way tie)
Jonah (and Jonas), 14 (3-way tie)
Allan, 12 (6-way tie)
Ames, 12 (6-way tie)
Barnaby (and Barnabas), 12 (6-way tie)
Gerard (and Garret), 12 (6-way tie)
Lionel, 12 (6-way tie)
Mark, 12 (6-way tie)
Abel, 11 (3-way tie)
Erasmus, 11 (3-way tie)
Roderic, 11 (3-way tie)
Did the relative popularity of any of these names surprise you?
The author did note that “the more common names occur more frequently than they ought to…from the tendency to confuse less common names with them.”
For example, a person called ‘Edmund,’ if he is frequently mentioned in the Register, is almost certain to be somewhere quoted as ‘Edward,’ ‘Gregory’ as ‘George,’ ‘Randall’ or ‘Raphael’ as ‘Ralph,’ ‘Gilbert’ as ‘William,’ and so on.
Now here are some of the less-common names, grouped by number of appearances in the register: