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Category: Sherlock Holmes

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In the Nameberry 9 this week, Appellation Mountain‘s  Abby Sandel discovers some forgotten classics and some interesting  new possibilities among the newsiest names.

It’s been a quiet week for celebrity birth announcements.  If Uma has named her daughter, she isn’t telling.  Reese isn’t due for a while, and neither is Tori.

But there’s no such thing as a quiet week in name news.  Influences are everywhere, and this week’s announcement of the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award nominees got me thinking about the small screen, and the many names boosted by a TV series.

Of course, it isn’t a straight line.  It often takes years to tell which names will have long-term influence, and which will fade away.  Kimora and Miley are sliding.  Others are holding on strong – Alexis is still solidly established in the US Top 50 decades after Dynasty left the air.

It isn’t that we name our children after television characters, not exactly.  And yet the connections are impossible to deny.  Could it be that a popular series is one of the best ways to convince parents that a new name is mainstream, and worthy of consideration?

Most of this week’s newsiest names have a link to the small screen:

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With the possible exception of Jay, no first name has been in more headlines in the past few weeks than Conan.  Which got me to thinking about all the image reversals this name has gone through over the years.  In our first book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, for example, it was listed between Clarabell the Clown and Ebenezer Scrooge as a definite no-no, because of its barbaric associations.

But that in itself was a turnaround from its one-time saintly aura.  The original St. Conan– then pronounced kun-awn– was a zealous 7th century Irish missionary—also known as Mochonna—one of the earliest bishops of the Isle of Man,.  He was followed by a few other minor Irish saints by that name, including St. Conan of Assaroe and St. Conan of Ballinamore.  And in Irish legend, Conán mac Mórna was a member of Finn MacCool’s warrior band.

For centuries the name remained within the confines of Ireland, except for gaining some middle-name recognition via Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, who, though born in Scotland, was of Irish heritage and who, as a struggling young doctor, had so few patients that he took to writing stories to make ends meet

Then, in the 1930s, a pulp magazine writer named Robert E. Howard created a wandering barbarian hero who eventually became a Marvel comic book character in 1970.  At first a sword and sorcery hero in a magical world, within a few years he had morphed into the more familiar muscle man materialized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian.

That remained Conan’s seemingly immutable image until the lanky red-haired O’Brien came on the scene as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1988, occasionally appearing in sketches.  When he got his own late night show in 1993, suddenly the witty Conan O’Brien became CONAN—a single name celeb—overshadowing his hulkier fictional predecessor.

Despite or because of all this, Conan, unlike such Irish mates as Connor and Colin, has never appeared on the US top thousand.  Is it because of the lingering barbarian association?  I’m curious to know if it’s a name you would ever consider using, and if not why. Do you see it as just another Gaelic possibility or forever tied to one of those two personas?

And what about  the other names on that old  J&J taboo list?   Some of them have managed to escape their stereotypes:  Felix is no longer only a cat or fussbudget, little Lulu a comic strip character, Olive Popeye’s girlfriend, or Oscar still just a grouch. And there are signs of hope for Kermit, Casper, Linus and Grover.

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