Name of the Day: Jarvis

by appellationmountain on January 13, 2009

He’s a medieval curiosity with a surprising nature tie – and he’s more popular than you might imagine.

Thanks to JNE for suggesting our Name of the Day: Jarvis.

Yet again, we have the Normans to thank for this name. Legend has it that Saint Gervasius was martyred in Milan around the year 165. The very real Saint Ambrose discovered his remains in the 300s, and the name was bestowed – usually as Gervais or Gervase – for the next several centuries.

You may recognize the ger element – it’s that popular Germanic bit meaning spear. The second half is open to debate. What we know for certain is that the Normans imported him to England, and over time he became Jervis and Jarvis. He also became far more popular as a last name than a first.

Like many a medieval moniker and plenty of surnames, Jarvis was sometimes bestowed in the nineteenth century – possibly to honor a family member or perhaps because of romantic associations with times gone by. In the US, we find Jarvis charting in the US Top 1000 a few times between 1880 and 1949.

But then the unexpected happened – Jarvis caught on! Starting in 1950, he moved steadily up the US rankings, reaching #347 in 1988. He’s falling now, and came in at #901 in 2007.

Laura Wattenberg has talked about the fact that it doesn’t take a major celebrity to launch a baby name; this may be one of those cases. Here are my three candidates for ramping up Jarvis’ profile:

  • James C. Jarvis was a thirteen year old midshipman in the US Navy decorated for extraordinary bravery in battle. (He lost his life to save his ship.) The USS Jarvis brought soldiers in the Pacific home from World War II;
  • In the 1930s, disc jockey Al Jarvis hosted “The Make Believe Ballroom” on KFWB in Los Angeles. He played himself in a light-hearted 1949 movie.
  • That same year, a thriller called Strange Bargain featured a character named Malcolm Jarvis.

It also happens that Jarvis fit reasonably well with boys’ names in use at the time. James held the #1 spot; Jerry was in the Top 25; and Louis, Curtis and Francis were all popular.

Today, Jarvis sounds vaguely English, probably because of Jarvis Cocker. Former frontman for the Britpop band Pulp in the 1990s, he released a solo album – titled simply Jarvis – in 2006.

But perhaps Jarvis’ most appealing quality is his tie to a South Pacific Island. Since 1974, it has been maintained as Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge. While it is closed to most visitors, it has an interesting history and was briefly colonized under FDR’s administration in the 1930s. Apparently the owners of the ship that discovered the island in 1821 were Edward, Thomas and William Jarvis. The name stuck.

If you fear Jasper is about to become the next big thing, Jarvis is one that will probably suit your appetite for the seldom heard. With his medieval origins, heroic backstory and ties to a shorebird sanctuary, Jarvis is a surprisingly versatile pick for a daring parent.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

appellationmountain January 21, 2009 at 4:01 PM

Allison, I know a great guy with the last name Purvis! Thanks for the link, too.

I’m not sure about nicknames for Jarvis – Jar doesn’t work. I think you’d have to be content to use it as is, or maybe shorten it to Jay. And Jay is a bit anonymous for my tastes.

JNE, I think the vowel shift is one of the most interesting things in English. I remember when the royals named a daughter Eugenie. It sounded so lovely when I heard English broadcasters announce her name, and so awkward on my tongue.

Halfway between hipster and hillbilly – I love that description, Cat!

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Allison January 14, 2009 at 6:08 PM

Works better on pets than people for me. Jarvis, Otis, Clovis, are all offbeat, quirky names that tickle me for some reason, but I would never consider them for a boy. I think I’ll name my next cat Purvis.

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Allison January 14, 2009 at 3:20 PM

Falls into my category for offbeat, quirky names for cats. Jarvis, Clovis, Otis. I think they’re better suited for pets, but they all make me smile! I think I’ll name my next cat Purvis. I found a fun website when I was searching names that end in -is: http://www.pokemyname.com

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Cat January 14, 2009 at 3:52 AM

I think Jarvis is very interesting, as evidenced by the fact that I asked you to do it as well! I honestly wouldn’t use it myself, but I think it’s an interesting name, nonetheless. The general consensus seems to be halfway between hipster and hillbilly, a weird juxtaposition for sure.

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Shannon January 13, 2009 at 11:08 PM

Not one I would use myself but I’d be interested to see others using it. When I heard it, I thought of The Member of the Wedding.. it was the name of the brother who was getting married.

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Lola January 13, 2009 at 6:27 PM

Interesting indeed! I’ve honestly never really thought about Jarvis, in any way, shape or form. I’m not sold on him entirely but I do think he’s got possibilities. :) Jarvis feels rather spiffy and I would not be surprised to see him take off. I’ll come down on the side of “hey, I like him” and give him a solid :thumbsup:! :)

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JNE January 13, 2009 at 6:18 PM

I’m fond of Jarvis. Thanks for the history – had no idea about the island in the south pacific. I wonder if the change from Jervis to Jarvis was due to a spelling simplification – in England the ‘er’ is often pronounced ‘ar’ (think Derby, said “Darby”). Not quite sure what it is that draws me to Jarvis, but it rings quirky and masculine for me, and I like that. One issue is nns, there aren’t any I can think of that are appealing. Any thoughts?

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Christina Fonseca January 13, 2009 at 6:07 PM

Being a native Californian, Howard Jarvis, tax reformer, is the first thing that comes to mind. Probably because I have yet to meet a Jarvis, I cannot separate my long-ingrained image of Old Politician from the name itself.

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