By Linda Rosenkrantz
The nominees for the 2018 Emmy awards have now been announced, and from our name perspective, there were some striking entries on the list. The following ten actors have particularly unusual names with intriguing backstories—whether they happened to start out with those names on their birth certificates or not.
A first generation American, Adina Porter is the daughter of a father from Sierra Leone, Africa and a Bermuda-born mother. Her first acting teacher was Butterfly (there’s a name!) McQueen of Gone with the Wind fame. Her character was reporter Beverly Hope in Cult. The name Adina is of Hebrew origin, and means “slender, delicate” and is not an uncommon girls’ name in Israel. It appeared on the US popularity charts only once in recorded years—1880.
When Aidy Bryant, known for her spot-on impressions of such figures as Adele, Roseanne, and Sarah Huckabeee Sanders, was born in 1987, her given name of Aidan was (and still is) highly unusual for a girl. A classic Irish name, Aidan took off for boys in the early 90s, rising from #90 in 1900 to a peak of #39 in 2003. It’s now at #221, while the more popular Aiden spelling ranks at 17. Chelsea Clinton chose the authentic Irish spelling for her son.
Actress/writer/web series creator of Awkward Black Girl and star of Insecure was christened Jo–Issa Rae Diop, her father a pediatric surgeon from Senegal. The name Jo–Issa is a combination of the names of her two grandmothers: Joyce and Isseu; her middle name is after an artist aunt. The Arabic name Issa has been trending in France since 2000—it’s now at #110 there.
Comedian, actor and rapper Katt Williams was born Micah Sierra Williams (and passed the name Micah on to his son). Micah is the name of a biblical prophet and was frequently used by the 17th century Pilgrims. Parents looking for an alternative to Michael have brought it to #107. The cooler nickname name Katt is more often seen as Kat, an increasingly used short form of the girls’ names Katherine, Kathleen, Katrina et al—an alternative to Kitty.
Mandy Patinkin, supporting actor, drama, Homeland
A guy named Mandy? Sure, if your given name is Mandel, as it is for the actor best remembered for his gorgeously named character Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, and later as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on Chicago Hope. Mandel is a German/Yiddish word meaning almond, rarely heard outside the conservative Jewish community (where Mendel is more common). We don’t expect to see many if any boys named Mandy either.
Merritt Wever, supporting actress limited series/TV movie, for Godless
Wever was born Siobhán Merritt, dropping her Irish first before making a strong impression as the endearingly upbeat Zoey in Nurse Jackie—for which she earned a previous Emmy. Meritt—which could almost pass for a virtue name—is more commonly spelled Merritt and in that form reached the Top 400 for boys at the turn of the last century.
Samira Wiley (shown) is known for playing Poussey Washington in Orange is the New Black and now has been nominated for her role as Moira/Ruby in The Handmaid’s Tale. Samira is a pretty Arabic name that is also spelled Sameera. It was on the French popularity list from 1965 to 2005, peaking at #107 in 1980 and is currently a Top 100 name in Portugal.
Actress Thandie Newton, the android madam Maeve Millay in Westworld—and partly responsible for the rise of the name Maeve—was born Melanie Thandiwe Newton, the daughter of a Zimbabwean princess named Nyasha. The name Thandiwe means “beloved” in the African Xhossa, Zulu, Swati and Ndbele languages. Thandie would make a charming nickname name.
This is the fourth Emmy nomination for his role as the hilarious Titus Andromedon on Kimmy. Why the extra ‘s’ on Titus? Maybe to match his surname? We’ll have to ask his parents. With the more usual spelling, Titus is a Roman, New Testament and Shakespearean name that’s rapidly increasing in popularity along with other s-ending Latinate names—it’s #299 in the US and 168 on Nameberry.
By far the Zippiest Name Emmy goes to Zazie Olivia Beetz, the German-American actress who is being honored for her role as Vanessa “Van” Keefer in Atlanta. Zazie is a French diminutive of Isabelle, and was the title character of Raymond Queneau’s novel Zazie dans le metro, which was made into a Louis Malle film.