By Linda Rosenkrantz
Though its current associations might run more to barbecues, picnics and parades, Memorial Day conjures up a load of historic references dating back to its post-Civil War origins, as well as some more contemporary traditions.
There are several blogs-worth of noteworthy Civil War generals’ names alone—Alpheus, Americus, Cassius, Gustavus, Lafayette, Napoleon, Pleasant, Romeyn, for starters– but for now we’ve included just a few of the most intriguing, as well as some less obvious Memorial Day names associated with the holiday.
BLUE and GREY—The colors of the uniforms of the Union and Confederate soldiers fighting the Civil War (the Confederate soldiers sometimes referred to the Yankees disparagingly as ‘bluebellies’), Blue and Gray are among the current coolest of the unisex color names. Blue Ivy is the much-discussed name picked by Beyoncé and Jay-Z for their daughter; actress Jenna von Oy recently named her daughter Gray.
CATHAY—Cathay Williams—aka William Cathay—was one of many women who passed as men to serve as Civil War soldiers. A former slave, she was the first African-American woman to enlist. Cathay is an evocative old term for China used by Marco Polo that could make an interesting choice—if it weren’t in danger of being constantly confused with Cathy.
CHARLESTON—The first known commemoration of Memorial Day—formerly called Decoration Day— was in Charleston, South, Carolina in 1865, organized by African-Americans who had recently been freed from slavery. Actor Joey Lawrence named his daughter Charleston—an offbeat path to the nickname Charlie.
ERASMUS –Erasmus Darwin Keyes was a businessman and general who led one of the Union Army Corps. Erasmus still carries the scholarly image of the Dutch Renaissance theologian, but the middle name Darwin is a more modern sounding possibility—it’s been on the list almost every year since records started to be kept, reaching as high as Number 297 in 1938.
GREEN—Green Berry Raum (love that middle name!) was a Union army brigadier general in the war who went on to preside over the IRS and write a number of books. Green is another vibrant hue available to the boys.
HARRIET/ARAMINTA–Harriet Tubman , who was born Araminta and known as ‘Minty,’ of slave parents, escaping via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, worked for the Union Army as a scout and spy, later becoming active in the women’s suffrage movement. Harriet is beginning to be revived after a long rest; Araminta a pretty British import deserves more love.
INDY—The Indianapolis 500 car race, nn Indy, is held every year on the Memorial Day weekend. Indy is a logical short form for India, Indiana, Indio, et al—but could it stand on its own, a la Mindy and Cindy?
LOGAN— General John A. Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the organization for Northern Civil War Veterans, helped bring attention to the Memorial Day event nationwide. Logan made a giant leap this hear when it reached #5.
POPPY—In 1915, a poet named Moina Michael wrote about the poppy, “It seems to signal to the skies/That blood of heroes never dies,” then conceived of the idea of the wearing of red poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died serving their country. Peppy Poppy is now at #689 and climbing, it’s At 13 in the UK.
SHILOH –The Battle of Shiloh was a major Civil War conflict, fought in Tennessee in April of 1862, with Ulysses S. Grant leading the Union troops to victory. Brought into the spotlight by the Jolie–Pitt daughter, Shiloh, which also has biblical references, entered the popularity list in 2007, the year following her birth.
SOJOURNER—Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree—and called Belle—Sojourner Truth was an outstanding defender of women’s rights who helped recruit black troops for the Union army during the Civil War. She changed her name saying “The Spirit calls me and I must go.” Sojourner might appeal—perhaps as a middle—to parents who like names such as Journey and Traveler.
SPEED—Speed Fry was a lawyer and judge who served in both the Mexican-American and Civil Wars. With a name that sounds straight out of a 21st century comic book.
STRONG—Strong Vincent was a Northern lawyer who was fatally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. Names don’t get any stronger than this.
ULYSSES—one of the names most associated with the American Civil War is that of Ulysses S. Grant, born Hiram Ulysses. The commander of the Union forces that triumphed over the Rebs, he went on to become the 18th president of the United States. Both presidential and literary, Ulysses is a little weighty, though ex-SNLer Anna Gasteyer boldly picked it for her son.