Names From America’s Last Frontier

The Alaskan Flag

The Alaskan Flag

Jewel, the Folk/pop/country singer, may have a name that seems a bit earthy-crunchy to some people, but her name isn’t off-the-wall by modern standards. To the public, a name like Jewel doesn’t seem any more original than other nature names like Summer and Skye.

This might be largely thanks to the singer. Many may forget that her name seemed unique when she first entered the public eye 20 years ago.

Jewel was one of those names that was never very common, but was surprisingly on the lower end of the popularity chart over a century ago. It peaked in the 200’s from 1898 to 1936 and then declined. By mid-century Jewel fell off the charts completely, leaving the U.S. top 1000.

If not for the famous namesake, the name may have drifted into obscurity, but Jewel did launch her name back into the public consciousness, and as the singer’s career took off in the 1990’s, her name found its way back to the popularity charts.

However, Jewel’s newfound notoriety wasn’t enough to push her name into the same mega-hit status as her songs. As a baby name, Jewel only made the top 200 once—not in the 1990’s—but, back in 1904. The highest the name ranked in the 1990s was at #557 in 1999. The name is still in the top 1000, however, and in 2012 was at #809.

Now that Jewel’s homesteading family in Alaska has their own reality show, the names of her family members, some of which may seem more unusual than Jewel’s, have gotten some publicity.

The singer’s life seems almost mythic with stories about her growing up in Alaska in a cabin without any plumbing. This lifestyle is the focus of the Discovery Channel reality show, Alaska: The Last Frontier.

Jewel’s family continues to live a counterculture lifestyle and they share counterculture names. The main characters are Jewel’s father, the family patriarch, Atz Kilcher, his son Atz Lee, Atz Senior’s brother Otto and his son Eivin (sounds like Ivan).

But names of the main characters aren’t my favorites from the show. Although I admit to having a soft-spot for Otto, the name’s not new to me. Otto is on UBN’s Watch List Report, which you can download here.

Here are the names I feel have promise.

Etienne – is absolutely lovely. He is the 9 year-old son of Atz Lee and his wife Jane. While this name (pronounced ay-TYEN) has a lovely rhythm and sounds nothing like popular U.S. boy names, it has familiar roots. You see, Etienne is nothing more than the French form of mid-century favorite Steven.

Stellavera (Stella+Vera) – is Atz and Otto’s sister. Combo names are once again fashion-forward and Stella is heading into the top 50, at #62 in 2012. Vera is the less popular of the two, but at #500 is climbing quickly. With both names being stylish, why not combine them and double the style? The resulting Stellavera has a rhythm similar to mega-hit Isabella. This is one of my favorite combo names.

Sunrise – is perhaps a bit wacky and beats out Jewel in the hippy department, but there’s just something sweet and alluring about this name. This is another sister of Atz and Otto. I’m not sure I could bring myself to name my child Sunrise, but I like seeing it on someone else, even a middle-aged woman.

This family has lived in Alaska for four generations, starting with Yule Kilcher who set up a subsistence farm in Alaska when he fled Switzerland to escape the Nazis in 1936. Eventually Yule Kilcher became a delegate to the first Alaskan Constitutional Convention.

The Kilcher family is full of unconventional enterprising people with unconventional enterprising names.

Readers: Which Alaskan frontier name is your favorite?

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Comments

  1. I have loved the name Etienne FOREVER! Unfortunately my hubby does not.

  2. I had no idea the show even existed! Interesting.

    Really liking Stellavera.

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