James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sat Feb 22 21:34:17 UTC 2003

In a message dated 02/22/2003 8:47:13 AM Eastern Standard Time,
fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU writes:

> I believe that the now-common first name Gary did not exist until a press
>  agent came up with the name Gary Cooper for an actor.  I also believe that
>  Wendy originated in Barrie's _Peter Pan_.  Are there other examples of
>  "coined" names catching on and becoming popular?

There is Gary, Indiana (having just watched the new Music Man production on
TV, how can I overlook it).

Earlier, there is a song, I believe an Irish folk song, called "Garry Owen"
that was the official or semi-official song for Custer's 7th Cavalry in the

Others?  Perhaps "Pamela", which may have (I'm not sure) originated in a
novel entitled "Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded"

Was Edsel Ford's first name derived from the misrendering of the name
"Attila" performed by the minstrels who composed the Niebelungenlied?

A real stretch:  "Judith" (my wife's name) first occurs in the book of Judith
in the Apocrypha.  That book, to me at least, reads like an allegory, with
"Judith" from "Judah" or "Judea" being an allegorical name for the Jewish

The King Arthur legends have inspired several common names.  Now there is
evidence that a real person existed (a war-leader, though, not a king) named
Arthur, and several other characters in the legends can be identified, e.g.
Merlin.  However, there are two  characters in the legends whose names are
commonly used today yet who are almost certainly the invention of minstrels:
Lancelot and Morgan-le-Fay.  (As for Guinivere, while there doesn't seem to
be any evidence a person of that name existed, it is certainly not unlikely
that General Arthur was married.)

There really was a Troy and probably a Trojan War (or several).  How many of
the personal names in the Iliad and the Odyssey (did I spell it right this
time?) are those of real people and how many were invented by minstrels such
as Homer?  The following names from Homer are popular:  for girls, Helen,
Penelope, and to a lesser extend Cassanda; for boys Hector and Ulysses.
"Electra" is rarely encountered (though it is the name of two different
Lockheed passenger planes), but its English equivalent "Amber" is not
uncommon.  However, "Amber" may well derive from the hair color, not the
Trojan legends.

A note on the Greek and Roman pantheon: Diana is common.  So is Phoebe, but I
don't know if that name is from the pantheons.  Venus is likely to become
popular thanks to Venus Williams.  For boy's names, perhaps Hercules (Agatha
Christie's "Hercule Poirot").  But that's about it.

                  - Jim Landau

PS why is there a typeface named "Arial" but not one named "Caliban"?

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