Newsy Names of October: Bob, Dylan, and Oisin

Newsy Names of October: Bob, Dylan, and Oisin

By John Kelly, mashed radish

From Nobel Prizes to the World Series, October 2016 gave us many surprises, and some great inspiration for October baby names. Here’s a look back at some of the names in the news last month, and some of the surprises hiding inside their origins.


Musician Bob Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Bob, a traditional pet form of Robert, may seem like a humble moniker for this living legend, but the name, from the Old High German Hrodberht, aptly means “bright-fame.” Dylan has said he changed his surname to Dylan in tribute to poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan, a Welsh name, comes from a root word for “sea,” expansive like the artist’s long career.


This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, for his efforts to end his country’s long-running war with the Farc. Juan, the Spanish variant of John, hails from the Hebrew Johanan: “God is gracious.” Gracious indeed, the Nobel committee found Santos to be, as did many of his fellow Colombians.


While Bob and John are familiar to many Westerners, Yoshinori is well-known in Japan. Yoshinori Ohsumi – or Ohsumi Yoshinori, as Japanese presents the surname first – took home this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his cell biology discoveries. While it’s tricky to translate Yoshinori exactly, the name has the sense of “right rule” or “noble virtue.” This Nobel Prize winner has truly lived up to his name.


Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who lost his son in Iraq War, came into the spotlight during the Democratic National Convention. He since hit the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Khizr, a variant of al-Khidr, is an Arabic name many believe to mean “the Green One.” In the Quran, al-Khidr is a mystic prophet, and his name has thus been associated with wisdom. As for Khizr Khan, one place he’s known for finding wisdom is the US Constitution, pocket copies of which he famously keeps on hand.


Khizr, of course, wasn’t the only prominent political figure in the news this October. James Comey, Director of the FBI, was in the hot-seat after he announced he was – and then was no longer – investigating new emails from Hillary Clinton. James, some scholars believe, is essentially the same name as Jacob. They come from Latin’s Iacobus, from Greek’s Iakobos, in turn from the Hebrew Yaakov. Some suppose Yaakov means “heel,” alluding to the biblical story of Jacob grabbing his twin brother Esau’s heel after birth. Others think it means “supplant,” referencing another tale that Jacob cheated the older Esau of his birthright.


Many Americans sought escape from James, Khizr, and all of the run-up to Election Day with David S. Pumpkin, played by Tom Hanks in a delightfully surreal Saturday Night Live sketch. Like James and John, David is also a widespread, biblical name that comes from Hebrew. David, from Dawidh, means “beloved,” which perfectly describes Tom Hanks and his endearingly kooky Halloween character.


While no one ever welcomes a nasty storm, some Irish people were happy to see Oisín on the list of names for the 2016-17 UK and Ireland windstorm season. Oisín is a popular male name in Ireland. It alludes to Oisín, the greatest poet in Irish legend. His name literally means “little deer,” alluding to a myth that a druid turned his mother into a deer. While the Irish are pleased to see their names represented, many aren’t so chuffed to see people mispronounce it: It sounds more like oh-SHEEN, not OY-sin.


The Standing Rock Sioux of North Dakota have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would run through sacred lands and risk polluting their water. Some of their protests, sadly, have met with violence, precisely the opposite of what Dakota means. Dakota, the name of a Sioux language and people, means “friendly” or “allies.” Dakota became popular as a given name in the 1990s.


After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series, which led off in late October. No doubt Clark, the young bear official mascot of the team, was jubilant. Clark is named for Clark Street, home to Wrigley Field. The given name Clark, though, started out as a profession-based surname. Way back when, Clarks were clerks, originally scholars and record-keepers in the Middle Ages. Clerk ultimately goes back to the ancient Greek kleros, a twig used to draw lots. In Greek translations of the Old Testament, this word was used of the Levites, whose lot in life was to be priests. Priests, historically, were known for the learning, hence the eventual scribal associations of the word clerk. So if you give a bear a hundred years, it apparently learns to read and write.