Celebrity Babies: Reese Witherspoon’s boy Tennessee James

September 29, 2012 Linda Rosenkrantz

The revelation of Tennessee as the name of Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth’s baby boy came as something of a surprise to the celebrity babies‘ name-watching world—but perhaps it shouldn’t have been, what with other recent starkids named Alabama, Indiana and Arizona.  And a simple Google search will tell you that though Reese was born in New Orleans, most of her childhood was spent in Tennessee, her mother’s native state, explaining why it was meaningful to her.

Although the name Tennessee’s two notable most namesakes, playwright Williams (born Thomas) and country singer ‘TennesseeErnie Ford, are male, Tennessee actually had some popularity as a girl’s name in the late nineteenth century, appearing in the Top 1000 five times between 1880 and 1890.  It reached as high as Number 580 in 1884—though granted that accounted for only fourteen girls—the same year that Missouri, Nevada and Florida were also on the girls’ list.  (The nickname Tennie, on the other hand, reigned for more than forty years.)

Place names have been around for decades, but they seem to be growing in popularity in the celebrisphere, becoming increasingly exotic. Just recently, Chris Hemsworth christened his daughter India, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats named their son Egypt, Mike Tyson called his boy Morocco and Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon turned that one into an adjective, naming one of their twins Moroccan.  Continents away from yesterday’s Bronx and Brooklyn.

Witherspoon’s name choices for her three children have been quite diverse.  The first, Ava, born in 1999 and inspired by Ava Gardner, proved to be powerfully influential.  Even though Aidan Quinn had revived it way back in 1989, followed by Heather Locklear in 1997, it was Ava Elizabeth Philippe who sent the name spinning into orbit. Ranked at 259 in the year of her birth, by 2007 it was the seventh most popular name in the country, given to more than 18,000 babies that year.

Brother Deacon Phillippe, born in 2003 and named for a distant ancestor of his father Ryan Phillippe, a renowned Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who had gotten that nickname via his solemn demeanor, didn’t have as sensational an impact. But Deacon did make it to the Top 1000 the year following his birth, and has remained there ever since.

Tennessee Toth is the first of the three siblings to have an alliterative name, something prized in both Old Hollywood and New, from Greta Garbo to Marilyn Monroe to Amy Adams. Lots of celebrity parents like the idea of double-initial names—there’s Brooklyn Beckham, Sadie and Sunny Sandler, plus Sylvester Stallone gave all five of his kids S names, Travis Tritt—himself an alliterative, as is wife Theresa —passed the pattern on three times, and director Robert Rodriguez blessed his children with the names Rebel, Racer, Rocket, Rogue and Rhiannon.

But back to the subject at hand.

Little Tennessee can share the nickname Tenny with Russell Crowe’s boy Tennyson.  Though, who knows?  Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon goes by one of her middle names, so maybe he’ll simply be called James.

So what do you think of Tennessee?  Any place names you like better?  Anyone use on for their child?


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