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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Reader Q & A: What Are Some Good “Smoosh” Names For Boys?

mismatched-shoes“Smoosh” names or double first names have gone through fashion cycles in the U.S. They have come and gone, but each time they come back, the names change.

For example:

  • The Victorian age had Lou-Ella (or Louella).
  • The 20’s & 30’s had Betty-Jane and Mary-Jane.
  • The mid-century or “Mad Men” era had: Ann-Marie, Mary-Ann, and Mary-Beth

These names are now fashionable again in the U.K., and I think they are finding their way back to the U.S. Double first names such as Emma-Lynn (or Emmalyn) and Grace-Lynn (or Gracelyn) have recently hit the U.S. top 1000 and are gradually going up in popularity.


These names have never been huge (at least in the U.S.) on boys.

I feel they have potential on boys, though, which is why I was psyched when a reader asked about boy combo names in the comments of one of UBN’s pioneer posts, Compound (or Double) First Names.

cycy writes:

I am really torn apart now, I am 6 months pregnant and having a boy. I wanted to give him a compound name that is rather cute but not too common. I wanted the name to be “Kevin-Gio” but my husband thinks it’s kinda weird as a name can I get some feedbacks about that name.

Thank you all

My response:

Combo names can be cute, but finding two names that mesh well together can be a challenge. I consider myself a name person and still struggle sometimes to create my own combinations.

Kevin and Gio are both great names on their own, but in my opinion, don’t quite complement each other. (I’m pronouncing Gio as GEE-oh.)

It could be the rhythm that isn’t right or the fact that both names have very contrasting styles. Kevin is a traditional mid-to-late 20th century name and Gio is a rare-exotic name, a short form of the Italian Giovanni. With similar short names like Kai (#195 on boys and #919 on girls) becoming more popular, Gio has modern appeal.

Therefore, in my humble opinion, a combo like Kevin-Gio comes across like a combo such as Brian-Kai.

Both combos (Kevin-Gio & Brian-Kai) have names that might be fine when used as first and middle names but, when always said and written together, they seem to compete.

I just thought of another similar combo, Eric-Kai which might work with the K sound tying the names together. I might try the Erikai spelling, but that could come across as feminine in Western cultures. Darn this is a challenge!

I suggest deciding between Kevin and Gio and finding a different partner.

I tried switching the name too: Gio-Kevin. I didn’t see (or hear) an improvement.

For Kevin, my first thought was Kevin-Lee. However, if you want something more original, I looked up Gio on Nameberry, and Nameberry readers who liked Gio also liked Levi. Levi is a more current name than Lee, and (in my opinion) also goes well with Kevin.

So for Kevin:


For Gio, as I mentioned, I had some great luck on Nameberry where I found some interesting names under the “people who liked Gio also liked…” heading. The two biggest names (at time of writing) were Quint and Rishi. Both would work with Gio, but I feel Gio (at least they way I am saying it) flows better as the first name.

So for Gio:


I keep using what I call my “playground call-out” test. And the names I feel most comfortable calling on the playground are the Kevin combos: Kevin-Lee and Kevin-Levi. I think.

I can get used to saying Gio-Rishi. I did some research on Rishi. It is an Indian name, and I am using the pronunciation that can be heard here on Pronounce Names.

Gio-Quint looks good to me on paper, but when I try to call that name, I’m not sure I feel comfortable, but that could just be me. I would love to hear from other readers on this.

Readers: What combo names would you suggest for reader cycy’s son?

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Name To Watch: Katniss


Jennifer Lawrence who portrays Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’

Recently I celebrated my last birthday in my 30s. And I was reminded of somethings I read in an article about 40 Effed Up Things About Turning 40. In my case these two things are sadly true*:

20. Other than the Kardashians, I don’t recognize anyone in the tabloids. Who are these people and why are they famous?


36. I say things like, “What’s the name of that actor, you know, he was in that thing?”

And that’s what I was thinking when I suddenly started hearing about this actress who is supposedly this wonderful role model, Jennifer Lawrence.

First I heard about her on a local radio station, and then I heard about her in this Babble article.

And I asked myself, “Who’s she? Why is she famous?”

And then I remembered, she played Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

Katniss stood out as #13 on Nameberry’s Most Popular Girl’s Names of 2013 list.

This top 100 list is very different from the official top 100 baby names from the U.S. Social Security Administration. Nameberry is a popular baby name blog known for their extensive database of about 50,000 baby names. Their readers are way ahead of the baby name fashion curve. Nameberry readers appreciate names a couple of years before the mainstream. Nameberry’s list is made of the top 100 most viewed names on their site.

Katniss is in the top 15 on Nameberry (or at least as of October 2013), but doesn’t even make the top 1000 on the Social Security list.

Considering that Katniss is a unique name from pop culture, that was previously unknown, don’t be surprised to see it make the top 1000 on the Social Security list within the next year or two.
This places Katniss with Blythe and Clover, other names on the UBN Watch List report. All three names are outside the top 1000, but due to pop culture could easily rise in ranks to make the top 1000 for 2013.

However, Katniss’ birth numbers don’t look all that promising yet. In the table below are the number of babies named Katniss in the U.S. each year. Please note, for privacy reasons, the Social Security Administration doesn’t count a name in its database if it is given to fewer than five babies in any given year.

Year # Newborn Girls
2002 fewer than 5 if any
2003 fewer than 5 if any
2004 fewer than 5 if any
2005 fewer than 5 if any
2006 fewer than 5 if any
2007 fewer than 5 if any
2008 fewer than 5 if any
2009 fewer than 5 if any
2010 fewer than 5 if any
2011 fewer than 5 if any
2012 12


I wasn’t surprised that there were fewer than 5 Katniss’ born in the entire U.S. before 2008, the year The Hunger Games novel was published. But I expected to see the name creep into the data in 2008 or 2009.

Katniss did make it’s first appearance in the data in 2012, however, and might just start to climb quickly.

To get some more insight, I checked out how Katniss ranks on BabyCenter, a popular parenting website that has their own ranking system for baby names. I have found that often a name’s popularity on BabyCenter  is different from its popularity on the U.S. Social Security list.

BabyCenter doesn’t show a ranking for Katniss, but shows that Katniss has gone up sharply between 2012 and 2013.

The name has also been mentioned by other baby name experts dating back to 2010:

That settles it! Katniss is going on our next Watch List Report, a list of names that I am watching. I add to the list every year and continually track each names’ birth numbers every year.
To get the latest copy of the Watch List Report, and other email updates from UBN, enter your email address below.

Katniss is not on the latest Watch List Report, but will be on the next Watch List Report which will come out after the newest U.S. Social Security list is released to the public sometime in May.
If you sign up for the current Watch List Report, you will automatically get the next Watch List Report, as long as you don’t unsubscribe before May.

Katniss might be a long shot for 2013, but is still going on the list as a long-term prospect, just like Wallis from the 2011-2012 Watch List report.

Readers: Do you feel Katniss has mainstream potential?

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* The other things mentioned in the article about turning 40, like Bengay on the nightstand and an aching back, are definitely not true for me. I swear the author talks like she is turning 60, not 40.
Call me in denial, but I don’t feel that much differently than I did at 29.

Great-grandmother Names: Ocie


Brittany’s great-grandmother Ocie is on the bottom right-hand side of the photo. She has two children on her lap.

I was thrilled that Brittany shared her great-grandmother’s unusual name.

Here is how Brittany remembers her great-grandmother Ocie:

My great-grandmother’s name was Ocie (OH-see). I never knew her, but she was an amazingly strong woman born in 1905 from an illegitimate union between a Scots-Irish settler and a Cherokee woman, and raised by her biological father and stepmother.

She went on to have 12 children of her own, 11 girls and finally one little boy. So much of my idea of my great-grandmother has been formed by one single black-and-white photo of her sitting on a rugged front porch in a simple apron peeling potatoes, her high cheekbones accentuated by the light on her face as she focuses on the potato in her lap.

One of the most intriguing things about this ancestor is her name. It’s not short for anything, and I’ve never heard it anywhere else. Ocie=strong, wild, but also sweet and nurturing.

Always excited to discover a new-to-me name, I did some research.

From what I learned, many name sites consider Ocie a boy name, but based on comments from people named Ocie (or have relatives named Ocie) at Baby Names Hub, Ocie is a unisex name.

On Baby Names Hub, of 37 commenters (or commenters’ relatives) named Ocie, 17 were female. Of the remaining commenters, there were four (4) who did not identify their gender, one (1) that was a commenter’s dog, and the rest (15) were male.

Of the six (6) user submitted photos on Baby Names Hub, all were male. Five (5) looked like modern photos of black or African men and one (1) was a vintage photo of a caucasian man.

While user-submitted data on Baby Name Hub may not be completely representative of all people named Ocie, this site gave some information about people with the name, which is a small group to begin with.

In the US there were 2,878 people named Ocie as of 2011. The majority (92%) of these people were over 55 and there were almost none (0%) under 12.

In 2012 nine (9) newborn girls and zero (0) newborn boys were named Ocie.

This is one of those names that never became extremely popular but was in the bottom of the US top 1000 from the 1880s – 1930s on both genders.

When the name was in the top 1000, it was always slightly more popular on girls.

Ocie can be found on Nameberry’s post, The Lost Names of 1880.

Information on Ocie’s meaning is hard to come by. Some participants on name forums have speculated that Ocie could be short for other names like Oceanus. One Baby Names Hub commenter was named Ocielia (oh-SEE-lee-yuh), and was named after her grandmother who was named Ocie.

I don’t usually advocate made up names, and I suspect Ocielia might be invented (or extremely rare). Because I like similar names (such as Cecilia and Ophelia), I like the sound of Ocielia and would hate to discourage anyone from using it.

My only hesitation would be that Ocielia might get confused with similar, better known, names—a possible drawback. But the 40-something commenter never mentioned any practical problems and said she loves her name.

Thank you Brittany for sharing your great-grandmother’s fascinating name.

Readers: If you would like to share the story behind your great-grandparent’s name, please feel free to contact us.

Your submission could be featured as guest post on Upswing Baby Names. We are thrilled to receive photos, but please note that we will not publish recent photos of living great-grandparents for privacy reasons. For living great-grandparents we suggest childhood or young adulthood photos. If a photo is not submitted, we will search Flickr for a photo relevant to the name.

Photo credit: Brittany’s personal photo

Spotlight on: Casimir


Kazimierz Pulaski

Casimir seems ideal for a celebrity baby, perhaps the son of an experimental musician like Beck whose real son is named Cosimo.

Like Cosimo, Casimir is quirky, yet smart. Casimir has Slavic origins and roots in Poland, where Casimir is the name of four kings and a saint. The name derives from the polish Kazimierz. Common meanings attributed by baby name books and websites are “proclaimer of peace” or “announcing peace” or “the one who reveals or establishes peace”.

But the complete meaning may be less altruistic. The “kazic” element means “to destroy”. Most modern name sources like to focus on the “mir” element which means “peace”. This is why I don’t like to get too hung up on name meanings. They tend to get distorted over centuries, and I would hate to dismiss a great name due to a questionable meaning.

The pronunciation is KAZ-i-meer.

The name is almost obscure in the U.S. today. Last year, there were 23 newborn boys named Casimir in the U.S. The name peaked in the U.S. in pre-World War II days. Casimir appeared in the U.S. top 1000 from 1895 to 1938. But it never became extremely popular. Its highest rank ever was #393 in 1917.

In real numbers, a #393 ranking in 1917 represented 0.0214% of births or 205 newborn boys. The current day equivalent (a name given to about 0.0214% of boys in 2012) would rank in the bottom 500s which would represent about 430 newborn boys.

I suspect Casimir’s peak in the U.S. from 1917-19 correlates with the peak in polish immigrants to the U.S., which was around the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I cannot prove this link since the exact immigration numbers for Polish Americans are unknown.

One early Polish settler to the U.S. was Kazimierz Pułaski, who was a military commander in the Revolutionary War and was considered a national hero. Kazimierz is a form of Casimir and he was also known as Casimir Pulaski.

Last year, popular name blog Appellation Mountain featured Casimir. Appellation Mountain creator, Abby Sandel, gives a great synopsis of the name’s history. What I found fascinating from the Appellation Mountain post was the fact that Casimir had been somewhat popular in France, where it peaked in the 1930s. And then in the 1970s, the name became synonymous with an orange dinosaur from a popular kids’ TV show, which probably led to its demise in France.

Casimir might appeal to parents who like the exotic Leopold, a name that shares the three-syllable, stress on the first syllable rhythm and history among European royalty and saints.

But while Leopold is grounded by the mainstream “Leo”, Casimir sounds like nothing that’s trendy today. This might make Casimir too bold for even those parents daring enough to consider Leopold.

The feminine form, Casimira, may be the more promising name among modern parents. Just like Leopold is grounded with stylish “Leo”, Casimira is grounded with stylish “Mira” which could be becoming more mainstream. Mira has risen steadily on girls in the last couple of years, reaching #665 in 2012.

Perhaps Leopold and Casimira, called Leo and Mira would make a great brother-sister set.

But for those who want something dynamic, dashing, and artsy with cultural substance, I wholly endorse Casimir. For those who like nicknames, Mir (pronounced Meer) is really slick and focuses on the “peace” part of the name’s meaning.

Readers: Which name do you prefer? Casimir or Casimira?

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