The weird and wonderful world of names

Written by    Last updated: March 7, 2007

Each name has its own story to tell and each person who carries the name adds a layer to its rich complexity, whether it be on a public or a personal level…

baby names


In the 1980s Ashley became the first unisex name to break into the top 10 of the name charts.  It has now become a feminine name and has its origins as a surname derived from place names in England.


The legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was one of the earliest African‐Americans to change his name. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., but decided on a much publicised name change in 1964, which coincided with his conversion to Islam. He felt that his given name was a ‘Slave name’ and said of his name change, ‘I don’t have to be what you want me to be; I’m free to be what I want’.


The Hollywood actor Dustin Hoffman was named after Dustin Farnum, an actor of early western movies.  Believing that she was going to give birth to a girl, Hoffman’s mother had to unexpectedly come up with a boy’s name instead. The lady on the hospital bed next to her was reading a movie magazine which had Dustin Farnum on its cover and that’s how he ended up with the name.


The Fred Society founded by Fred Daniel in 1983 offered membership to anyone whose first or middle name was Fred, Winifred or Frederica. Over 3000 ‘Freds’ joined forces to combat the image fostered by Fred Flintstone and advertisements depicting Freds as bumbling clerks and fast‐selling salesmen.


When asked by Star Jones (host of The View) what it was like growing up with an unusual name, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow replied that when she was young she wanted to change her name to Cindy (from the Brady Bunch). She stayed with Gwyneth and went on to win the Oscar for best actress in 1999 for her role in the movie ‘Shakespeare in Love’.


This is the most common name in the western world.  It has its roots in the Hebrew name Johanan, meaning ‘God is gracious’. It is found in many European languages in various forms, including Johann, Jean, Juan, Ian, Ivan, and Evan.

Marjo and Meryl

They are both ‘neo names’ made by combining two first names. For instance, Marjo, merges Mary and Joseph together, while Meryl Streep’s showbiz name was created by combining the sounds ‘mer’ from her first name Mary and ‘el’ from the first initial of her middle name, Louise.


Before picking Rudolph as ‘the red‐nosed reindeer’, writer Robert May had considered two other names. The name Rollo, was rejected as sounding too cheerful and Reginald, for being too British. He finally decided on Rudolph, the preference of his 4 year old daughter, and the rest is Christmas history.


The famous English author, Rudyard Kipling, got his unusual name from a lake near Stoke‐on‐Trent. Kipling’s parents visited the place during their courtship and decided to name their son Rudyard after the place where they fell in love. The village by the same name near the lake is now linked with the author’s name.


The real first name of Tiger Woods is Eldrick. His father gave him the nickname “Tiger” in honour of a South Vietnamese soldier his father had fought alongside with during the Vietnam War. In recent years more than 1200 boys have been given the name Tiger as their first or middle name.


The Native American name belongs to the Siouan tribe and means ‘first‐born daughter’. It has seen a rise in popularity along with other Native American names. Two famous celebrities with the name are Hollywood’s Winona Ryder and country‐western singer, Wynonna Judd.

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