Pride Month Heroes: Baldwin, Essex and Cleve

Inspirational activists

By John Kelly

June is Pride Month, an occasion to celebrate sexual and gender diversity and champion LGBTQ rights. It’s also an occasion for us to highlight an array—a rainbow, if you will—of LGBTQ heroes whose names make for some inspirational choices for your baby boy or girl.

Audre

Memorably describing herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde challenged us to address the intersections of our different identities in her art and activism. Born Audrey, she dropped the Y from her given name as a child, attracted to the way it balanced out the E of Lorde. This indeed distinguishes Audre from Audrey, a Top 200 name for most of the 20th century (#46 in 2017) and borne by both early saints and Shakespeare characters. Aptly, it means “noble strength” in Old English.

Bayard

Like Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin’s fight for civil rights intersected with his fight for gay rights, intimate as he was with their connection as a gay black man who dedicated his life to tireless activism. His behind-the-scenes efforts being increasingly recognized today, Bayard’s work is great inspiration to pick his uncommon name. It’s from the French for “bay colored”—that is, reddish-brown like a bay horse, including a magical one in medieval French lore. Bayard briefly stepped into the Top 1000 in the 1890s, and for Rustin’s sake, is ready for a revival.

Baldwin

James Baldwin was a novelist also well known for his non-fiction Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955. While these essays probe issues of race in the US and Europe, his second novel the following year, Giovanni’s Room, depicts the depth and complexity of love in a gay relationship. With its surname appeal and relative rarity adding to its literary and LGBTQ legacy, Baldwin is a strong selection for a boy or girl. As with Audre, its origin is fitting, from Germanic roots meaning “bold, brave friend.” It was a popular name in the Middle Ages.

Cleve

In 1987, Cleve Jones and several of his LGBTQ activist peers conceived the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the expansive work of community art commemorating the lives of people who died of AIDS or related complications. The quilt is huge, but the name Cleve is a short, truncated from its more formal-sounding, surname-place-name parent Cleveland. Consider Cleve for a less presidential and municipal—and more inspirational—boy’s name, an alternative to the stiffer upper lip of Clive.

Essex

Essex is a prominent county just northwest of London, its name deriving from the ancient kingdom of the East Saxons. Essex is also the given name of Essex Hemphill who was another poet exploring themes of his experience as both a racial and sexual minority. Let’s look past the fact that Essex contains the word sex, which we’ll admit could be a nickname nightmare, and focus on the name’s other great qualities. It’s an English place-name. It’s different and unique, never on the charts. It’s got a handsome look and sound. And, with the likes of Essex Hemphill, has a noble namesake. TV personalities J.P. and Ashley Rosenbaum were on to it, choosing Essex for their baby girl in 2016.

Kimball

Only into his 30s, Kimball Allen has already made a name for himself as an LGBTQ author and activist, first making a literary splash with his 2012 one-man play Secrets of a Gay Mormon Felon. The name Kimball might make a splash, too, as boy’s name—maybe even for a girl for parents interested in Kimberley kin. It’s a Welsh name (literally “war chief”) that just dipped its toe in the Top 1000 in the 1950s, perhaps due to some prominent public figure bearing it as a surname. Kimball is indeed more familiar as a last name, though it has made several fictional appearances as a first, such as Rudyard Kipling’s Kimball O’Hara.

Michelangelo

Talk about legacy. Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance master who gave us the David, Pietà, and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, needs no introduction. But Michelangelo Signorile may. He’s an Italian-American radio host and author of the influential 1993 book Queer in America: Sex, The Media, and the Closets of Power. Michelangelo is an Italian blend of Michael and angel, referring to the cross-faith archangel Michael. In the name’s native country, it consistently hovers just above the Top 100 mark, sometimes associated later with director Michelangelo Antonioni. The name offers a certain brio for baby-namers seeking some Italian pride—and also gay pride, thanks to Signorile’s envelope-pushing work on outing.

Urvashi

Urvashi Vaid is the activist’s activist. Her efforts to achieve greater social justice and equality include helping found LPAC, the first lesbian Political Action Committee—only one of many firsts in her career. Urvashi is Indian-American, and she shares her name with a powerful spirit in Hindu lore (and a number of famous Indian actresses). The name is said to come from Sanskrit roots meaning “she who controls the hearts of others.”

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7 Responses to “Pride Month Heroes: Baldwin, Essex and Cleve”

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lee_augusta Says:

June 25th, 2018 at 8:17 am

Thank you for this post! I would add Martha (as in Martha P. Johnson, the Black transwoman who started the stonewall riots).

wandsworth Says:

June 25th, 2018 at 8:58 am

Excellent post!

MonikerWanderer Says:

June 25th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Michelangelo the Renaissance sculptor was also very likely also gay. I’m surprised that was left out.

emmievis Says:

June 25th, 2018 at 10:45 am

Very interesting! I actually didn’t know of three of the people mentioned in this post. Cleve is a handsome name, though I prefer Clive.

Coddiwomple Says:

June 25th, 2018 at 6:10 pm

This is the type of post I would like to see more often from Nameberry.

aoife_rose Says:

June 26th, 2018 at 3:10 pm

@lee_agusta The woman you’re speaking of was actually named Marsha P. Johnson 🙂

brittanyanitarose Says:

June 28th, 2018 at 1:04 am

Agree with previous posters Marsha should definitely be included here! There’s a few others Brenda for Brenda Howard as well (or Howard even).

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