History-inspired baby names found via other sources, such as the U.S. Census, the SSDI, birth records, and so forth. These are either from before 1880 (pre-SSA), or they were too rare overall to show up in the SSA data (sub-SSA).
British soldier and politician Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, is best remembered for being the commander of the Anglo-allied army that (with the assistance of the Prussian Army) achieved victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Alexander I, the Czar of Russia, was to call him ‘Le vainqueur du vainqueur du monde‘, the conqueror of the world’s conqueror, and the world’s conqueror was, of course, Napoleon.
But, even before that, Wellesley had gained fame for his victories during the Peninsular War. And, afterward, he served as British Prime Minister (primarily from 1828 to 1830, but also for a few extra weeks in 1834).
Thousands of baby boys across the United Kingdom (and beyond) were named in his honor starting in the early 1810s. Some examples..
Arthur Wellesley Wellington Waterloo Cox, b. 1860 in England
Interestingly, Wellesley wasn’t born with the surname Wellesley. He was originally a Wesley. Sometime in the late 1790s, “the Wesley family reverted to the old Anglo-Norman spelling of Wellesley.” Arthur first signed his name “Arthur Wellesley” in May of 1798 (while he was stationed in India).
French military leader Napoléon Bonaparte may have spent his life trying to conquer a continent, but that life began and ended on islands.
He was born (as “Napoleone Buonaparte”) on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1769 — the same year that France took Corsica from the Republic of Genoa (now part of Italy). He died while in exile on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena in 1821.
In between, Napoléon: attended military school on the mainland, began serving in the French Army, rose to prominence during the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars, became the de facto leader of France in 1799, declared himself Emperor in 1804, and proceeded to build a vast empire via the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).
Needless to say, a large number of babies all over the world have been named “Napoleon” since that time.
I don’t want this post to get too crazy, though, so I’ve decided to collect namesakes from just two locations — France and the U.S. — and to stick to the years during which Napoléon was active.
Napoléon’s namesakes in France
Thousands of French babies were named in honor of Napoléon from the mid-1790s to the mid-1810s.
In contrast with namesakes in other countries (like the U.S. and England), most of his French namesakes were given only his first name — not both names — and it was typically combined with one or more traditional French names (e.g., “Louis Napoléon,” “Jean Baptiste Napoléon”).
With that in mind, I went out of my way to find combinations that were a bit more varied…
Napoléon Baillot, b. 1793 in France
Jacques Napoléon Desiré Campa, b. 1795 in France
Napoléon Stéphanie Joseph Therin, b. 1797 in France
Napoléon Joseph Buttin, b. 1799 in France
Napoléon-Jean Demeester, b. 1800 in France
Napoléon Nicolas Senelar, b. 1801 in France
Guillaume Napoléon Pelletier, b. 1802 in France
Willebrod Napoléon Désiré Degrave, b. 1803 in France
Charlemagne Napoléon Lambert, b. 1804 in France
Napoléon Louis François Richounne, b. 1805 in France
Napoléon Parfait Furpille, b. 1806 in France
parfait means “perfect” in French
Bienaimé Napoléon Le Cagneux, b. 1807 in France
bienaimé means “beloved” in French
François Desiré Prosper Napoléon Loiseau, b. 1808 in France
Napoléon La Paix Lemasson, b. 1809 in France
la paix means “peace” in French
Gustave Napoléon Fichet, b. 1810 in France
Esprit Napoléon Houdry, b. 1811 in France
esprit means “spirit” in French
Napoléon Bonaventure Dusautier, b. 1812 in France
Auguste César Napoléon Decoene, b. 1813 in France
Napoléon-Etienne Vernoni, b. 1814 in France
Fructueux Napoléon Artigue, b. 1815 in France
fructueux means “successful” in French
Almost all of the namesakes in this group were boys, but a handful were girls with feminized forms of the name (like Napoléonne, Napoléonide, and Napoléontine).
Several dozen more boys — most of them born early on — were given only the surname:
Jacques Dominique Bonaparte Venkirch, b. 1796 in France
Augustin Bonaparte Joseph Galle, b. 1797 in France
Jean Baptiste Bonaparte Mollard, b. 1798 in France
Séraphin Adolphe Bonaparte Decorne, b. 1799 in France
Alexis Sébastien Bonaparte Poirée, b. 1801 in France
Napoléon had usually been called “General Bonaparte” or “citizen Bonaparte” before mid-1802, when the people of France went to the polls to decide: “Should Napoléon Bonaparte be consul for life?” Millions voted yes, and, after that, “he was generally known as Napoléon rather than Bonaparte.”
Napoléon’s namesakes in the U.S.
Napoléon didn’t wage any wars on North American soil (though he did sell a lot of that soil in 1803, when he let go of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million). Nonetheless, U.S. newspapers paid close attention to him:
Americans were clearly impressed by Napoléon’s achievements, judging by the hundreds of U.S. namesakes born in the late 1790s and first decades of the 1800s. Many of these babies received both his first name and his surname:
A few of the people named Bonaparte (but not Napoléon) did have other given names — like Lucien, and Jerome — that could have been inspired by other members of the Bonaparte family. I found a Josephine Bonaparte Evans (b. 1815), for instance, who was probably named after Napoléon’s first wife.
Other famous men named Napoléon Bonaparte (including Napoleon III) also had namesakes, but it was the original Napoléon Bonaparte who put these two unusual names on the map.
So…what do they mean?
The Italian forename Napoleone has obscure origins, so the meaning isn’t known for certain. One popular theory is that it’s made up of the elements Neapolis, the original name of Naples, and leone, meaning “lion.” When Bonaparte was born in 1769, the name was “relatively common around Genoa and Tuscany,” though it was spelled a variety of ways (e.g., Nabulio, Nabulione, Napulione, Napolionne, Lapulion). The name had been used in his family before; his father’s uncle, for instance, was also named Napoleone.
The Italian surname Buonaparte, on the other hand, is much more straightforward: it’s made up of the elements buona, meaning “good,” and parte, meaning “part, share, portion.”
Was anyone in your family tree named after Napoléon?
“Lola was supposed to be Sophia, but on the way to the hospital in the taxi cab, the driver was listening to the radio — the 70s station — and ‘Copacabana’ by Barry Manilow was playing,” the mom of three recalled.
“I heard that [lyric], when he said, ‘Her name was Lola,’ and I said to Mark, ‘Lola Consuelos would be a really cool name.’ And he said, ‘If she’s a girl, let’s name her Lola.’ And that was it,” she shared.
Parrots, those irrepressible mimics of the animal world, are some of the few creatures known to have individual names: each bird has its own signature call that others use when addressing it and that the bird uses itself in avian “conversation.”
Dolphins and humans are, so far, the only other members of this select club of animals who use names for individuals. Scientists think this ability is related to the intensely social lives of all three of these creatures.
From Through It All, the autobiography of Christine King Farris (older sister of Martin Luther King, Jr.):
My full name is Willie Christine King. Hardly anyone knows my first name. I am rarely called by it. “Willie” was chosen as a way to pay homage to the Williams side of my family; it was given in tribute to my maternal grandfather, Reverend A. D. Williams.
Also in the sports realm, Nile was named after Nile Clarke Kinnick Jr., the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Iowa who died in World War II.
From a write-up of a name study conducted by Carnegie Mellon researchers:
As the popularity of one name, say Emily, peaks, parents may decide to forgo that name and pick a similar one, like Emma. By following this strategy, they are instilling in their new daughter a name that is socially acceptable by its similarity to the popular name but will allow her to stand out in the crowd by putting a unique twist on her identity. Many parents may be thinking the same thing and the number of little girls named Emily will decline while those named Emma will increase.
Russian-American silent film actress Alla Nazimova (pronounced nah-ZEE-moh-vah) was most popular in the U.S. in the late 1910s and early 1920s.
After becoming a theater star in Russia in the early 1900s, she moved to New York and made her Broadway debut in 1906. Then she successfully transitioned from stage to screen:
In the 1910s Nazimova became one of the first Broadway actresses to match and even surpass her stage success when she became a screen star, reportedly drawing the highest salary in Hollywood from Metro, and creating the type of European exotic with which Pola Negri and, in a different way, Garbo and Deitrich would later become identified.
She was often credited simply as “Nazimova.” Her film company, founded in 1917, was also named Nazimova:
The name Nazimova has never surfaced in the U.S. baby name data, but I’ve found several dozen U.S. females named Nazimova. Most were born around the time the actress was at the height of her fame. Some examples…
Nazimova Ratleff (née Bordenave), b. 1917 in Louisiana
Alla Nazimova was born in Yalta in the late 1870s. Her birth name was Mariam Edez Adelaida “Alla” Leventon. Her stage surname, Nazimova, is said to have been inspired by the character Nadezhda Nazimova from a Russian novel called Children of the Streets.
What are your thoughts on Nazimova as a given name?
P.S. Nazimova’s goddaughter, Anne Frances “Nancy” Robbins, also became an actress — under the name Nancy Davis. Nancy married fellow actor Ronald Reagan in 1952, and went on to serve as First Lady of the United States during most of the 1980s.
White, Patricia. “Nazimova’s Veils: ‘Salome’ At The Intersection Of Film Histories.” A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema, edited by Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra, Duke University Press, 2002, pp. 60-87.
A handful of boys conveniently born into Burnside families were simply named “Ambrose” or “Ambrose E.” (like Ambrose Everett Burnside, b. 1860).
Here’s how one newspaper summed up Ambrose Burnside’s life a few days after he died:
He was not remarkably brilliant as a statesman, but he was eminently successful as a leader of fashion, and the style of whiskers to which his name has been given will probably exist among the dandies long after his breech-loading rifle [the Burnside carbine] and record as a Senator are forgotten.
His distinctive facial hair — bushy side-whiskers with a clean-shaven chin — was initially known as “burnsides.” At some point, the syllables switched places and the term morphed into “sideburns.”