Henning: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 1, 2014

Kenneth Branagh as Wallander in the British series

It’s a surname name with an unusual -ng ending.

Thanks to Jamie for suggesting her son’s name as our Baby Name of the Day: Henning.

Henning is a surname, with multiple possible origins:

  • There’s a Scottish place called Haining, and descendants of earlier Hainingtons took the name as a surname.
  • In Norway, there’s also a place with a similar name.  The second element means meadow, so file it with the Old English -leah.
  • The there’s the connection to Henry.  Pet forms of Henry in English included names like Hankin.  In German, and related languages, similar nicknames led to the surname Henning.

You’ll find Henning on the map in the US from Minnesota to Tennessee, but in Northern Europe, Henning has plenty of history in the first spot.

You might recognize:

  • Crime writer Henning Mankell is best known for creating Kurt Wallander.  The police inspector has jumped from novels to television in Mankell’s native Sweden, and has had a good run.  In the UK, Kenneth Branagh has played the famous character in a series of television adaptations.  The fourth and final season of the British series will air in 2014.  (That’s Branagh as Wallander in the photo above.)
  • Swedish composer Henning Mankell is best known for his early twentieth century compositions, mainly for piano.  His given name was Ivar, but he was known professionally by his middle.  And no, that’s not a typo – he has the same surname as the writer – he’s his grandfather.

Toss in a few Norwegian athletes and a German stand-up comedian, and Henning starts to feel like a name that you’d expect to hear in Northern Europe.

As for bearers of the surname, there’s Doug Henning, a Canadian-born magician big in the 1970s and 80s.  He re-created Harry Houdini’s escape from the water torture chamber on television, earning Emmy nominations. Henning wasn’t just a magician – he created illusions for major performers, like Michael Jackson, to use in stage shows, and was involved with two major Broadway musicals.  (I saw the second one, Merlin, when I was 9 or so.)

There’s also Petticoat Junction’s Linda Kay Henning, Mad Men’s Megan Henning – she plays Judy, sister-in-law to Betty, and a handful of athletes and other notables.

Svea penned a guest blog for Nameberry on stylish names in Sweden a few years ago, and she pegged Henning as a name that could work in Sweden and the US.  And yet, Henning doesn’t feel like a heritage choice, does he?  At least, not in the way that a name like Bjorn or Ville or Nils would.

But has he been heard here?

Yes, as it happens.  Henning has long been on the fringes in the US.  In the 1920s and 30s, there were regularly more than five boys given the name – as many as ten in some years.

He was almost unknown in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, but seven boys received the name in 2010 and five in 2011.

Overall, he’s an unusual, distinctive choice.  In our era of Carson and Sullivan and Brady, Henning feels in step, another surname name borrowed from the family tree – or from the phone book.  But just as Riley has a bit of Irish brogue about him, Henning brings just a hint of the far north with him, too.

He’s an interesting choice – steadily, but infrequently used, and on-trend, but unlikely to be the next big thing.

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