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?

Photo credit 


  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.

  3. Why aren’t Atz Lee and Jane’s kids on the show? Where are they? They never talk about them.

    • Cecil Sayer says:

      Atz Lee and Jane act like they are ashamed of their kids. Why?

      • If you watch the show you will know that Atz Lee and Jane’s kids were on earlier shows. They are young children and they are very protective of them. They are also very proud of them. There have been people who have wandered up to the homestead houses uninvited. People have also put up addresses and gps coordinates to houses on different web sites. The Kilchers are just regular people living in a small Alaska town working hard to take care of their families and homes. There are no security details. There are however many round of ammo loaded into weapons expertly pointed at the interlopers I am most certain.

  4. Just wondering if Jane and Atz Lee have other children other than Etinne.

  5. My husband and I love the show and are planning a trip to Alaska someday. Everyone on the show is wonderfully inspiring!

  6. Deborah Aldhizer says:

    I love the show !

  7. lynda sue leroy says:

    I love the entire family they give us a show and we get to explore how they live and survive off the grid. As for their children they should be protective of them when they are old enough they will tell their parents they are ready for the exposure to be on the show I hope it last that long. I love Findley he is adorable and his parents take awesome care of him. Just love the whole concept of the family also am a big fan of Jewel.

  8. Im sorry I just have to comment regarding Diannes somewhat judgmental and jaded comment. Why on Earth would someone jump to a conclusion like “they act like they’re ashamed of their kids” just because they choose not to put their young children on a Televisions show? Do people stop to think that maybe just maybe they are doin the right thing, protecting their children from strangers that may see them as an opportunity to cause harm? That scenario is far more likely than a parent being ashamed of their children because they choose not to exploit them for a few bucks. What the hell is wrong with people like you? Jumping to ludicrous and potentially defaming conclusions about people you don’t know. These are the kind of women that spread mean and nasty rumors about other parents at their childrens school The kind of woman that feels better about themselves by hurting others. Disgusting. Why would someone want to be that negative and mean.

    • i could’nt agree more, they have every right as parents to protect their children, that is a parental choice, when the kids are older they can lead normal lives and not be hounded by the media, good for them

  9. Bertie Simmons says:

    My favorite reality show. The Kilcher Family has become my family, but I’m can’t begin to live like that. At 72, it’s a little late to BEGIN anything. Love that yall honored long time family friend, Findley, with a namesake. And Eiven and Eve sounds so nice together. I laugh out loud, sorry, when Atz Lee and Jane hunt together and he continues to tell her (ie) don’t shoot me. I understand why. It’s a very serious situation but it cracks me up. From you Texas fan, Bertie

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