Newsy Names: Charmian, Colin & Gene

Newsy Names: Charmian, Colin & Gene

By John Kelly

This past September, we paid our respects to some of Hollywood’s greatest stars and marveled at a visionary’s dreams of the stars. Let’s have a look back at some of the big names in the news – and a look into what the origins of their names can illuminate about them.


Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a Catholic saint this month. St. Teresa was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxihu. Anjezë is the Albanian form of Agnes, anticipated her spiritual calling: It’s Greek for “holy” or “pure.” St. Teresa chose her religious name after the 19th-century French nun Thérèse de Lisieux.

Some think Teresa comes from the Greek for “harvest” or “huntress.” Others think it is from the Greek Thera, the name of some volcanic islands in the Mediterranean. The story goes that the wife of St. Paulinus of Nola (354-431 AD) was born on one of those islands and so took her name from them. The origin is unclear, but Teresa is a well-traveled name – fitting for St. Teresa, who made her impact far and wide.


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has made headlines by protesting the pre-game National Anthem over racial inequality. Many athletes have followed suit, which some consider a victory for Colin’s cause. Victory indeed: Colin is a French pet name for Nicholas, a Greek name that literally means “victory-people.” The Greek word for – and goddess of – “victory” is nike, which lives on in the athletic brand.


Acting legend Gene Wilder sadly passed away this month. Born Jerome Silberman, Wilder took Gene, a short for Eugene, after Eugene Gant, a character in a Thomas Wolfe novel, and Wilder after writer Thornton Wilder. Eugene is from the Greek Eugenios, “well-born” or “noble.” Jerome, meanwhile, is from the Greek Hieornymos, “holy name.” Gene Wilder came from a humble background, but as many remembrances made clear, he was a class-act as an artist and person. And his name will surely be long “worshiped” by his many fans.


Another luminary we lost last month was Charmian Carr, perhaps best known for playing Liesl von Trapp in The Sound of Music. A rare name, Charmian is from the Greek kharma, which means “joy” and “delight” – which Carr certainly was to watch on screen. Liesel is a German diminutive of Elizabeth, a Hebrew name meaning “pledged to God.”


Leaders from around the world honored Shimon Peres, the Noble Peace Prize-winning Israeli president and statesman who died this month. Born Szymon Perski, Shimon certainly proves he lived up to the meaning of his name thanks to his life and legacy. Shimon, along with Simon and Simeon, is from a Hebrew word (shama) meaning “hearing” or “hearkening” – just as Shimon closely listened to the many people he spent his life serving. Szymon is the Polish form of Shimon/Simon.


Elon is another Hebrew name. It means “oak tree.” This name was in the news thanks to Elon Musk, the tech and business titan who announced his grand vision for colonizing Mars by the 2060s. While his project has many skeptics, no one can doubt that Elon is steadfast, like an oak tree, when it comes to his celestial master plans.


While Musk seeks new beginnings on other planets, Angelina Jolie sought an ending to her famed marriage to Brad Pitt. Angelina, a diminutive of Angela, traces back to the Greek root for angel, angelos, a “messenger” or “envoy,” used to translate the Hebrew word for Old Testament messengers of Yahweh. Messenger and envoy are apt for Jolie, given the extensive humanitarian work she’s done across the globe, including her United Nations ambassadorship. Some of her other admirers, however, may dwell on the origin of Jolie, a French nickname from joli, “pretty,” originally “festive.” The English jolly is related.


Brad Pitt may not be feeling so jolly these days. Born William Bradley Pitt, the name Brad, shortened from Bradley, started as a surname which in turn began as an English place-name. It means “broad clearing” or “meadow,” joining the Old English brad (“broad,” and source of the same word) and leah (“clearing,” also seen in names like Ashley). His given name, William, passed into English from the French Guillame, a Germanic name meaning “will helmet”; it has the sense of “resolute protection.”


Perhaps Lester Holt Jr. would have preferred to moderate the breakup of #Brangelina rather than the fiery square-off he oversaw between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the first presidential debate. But Lester, as a name, is no stranger to conflict. Like Bradley, Lester originates as a surname. Its spelling sounds like the proper pronunciation of the place it hails from: Leceister, England. Leceister was the site of a Roman military fort and its name preserves this: An early document records it as Ligora-ceastre, a “fort” of the Ligora, an ancient Celtic tribe or river. “Fort” or “camp” is castra in Latin, and Old English borrowed the word into all sorts of places, from Gloucester to Manchester to the name Chester.


Finally, golfing great Arnold Palmer passed away this month. His name is an old Germanic one. It brings together erne, “eagle,” and wald, “power” – a truly perfect name for this giant of the fairways.

Do any of these names in the news appeal to you? Are there others that belong on this month’s list?

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.