Name of the Day: Omar

by appellationmountain on June 7, 2008

It’s been worn by religious figures, creative types and a poor boy from Missouri. Today, it’s the kind of name that works well for parents searching for a truly culture-spanning choice that is still familiar and accessible.

Thanks to Hugh, for taking today’s Name of the Day in a globetrotting direction with his suggestion: Omar.

Here’s an unexpected fact: Omar has been in the Top 1000 baby names given to newborn males just about every year since 1880. It has a far longer history than many so-called conventional masculine monikers like Kevin and Ian.

It’s both an Old Testament name, and more prominently, an Arabic one. There are also arguments that the name bears similarity to an old German name, but that’s the weakest of the origin claims.

In Arabic, the name means “flourishing” or “life” and is associated with Omar ibn al-Khattab, a companion of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Today, he is known in Sunni Islam as one of the “Four Rightly Guided Caliphs,” the men who succeeded Muhammad as cultural, spiritual and military leaders. From 634 to 644, Omar expanded the Islamic Empire, built dams and canals to increase the food supply and founded the city of Basra. Little wonder that Omar remains one of the most popular names in the Arab-speaking world.

In fact, the astonishing thing about Omar is how very, very popular it is globally. You’ll find Omars throughout Latin America and the US, as well as the Middle East. BabyNameMap counts it as a common name in Belgium and Sweden, as well as parts of Canada. As of 2007, it was the 131st most common name given to boys born in the US – and has been in use here for decades.

John and Sarah Bradley were living in a log cabin in Missouri at the end of the 19th century when they called their baby boy Omar Nelson Bradley. He went on to graduate from West Point and serve more than three decades in the US Army before becoming General of the Army and the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A few years later, the inventor Omar Knedlick was born on a farm in Barnes, Kansas. His contribution to the world? He created the Slurpee.

The popularity of the poet Omar Khayyám is often cited as a reason for the name’s enduring popularity. The humble appellations Virgil and Homer, after all, were once chosen in homage to the legendary poets of antiquity. Khayyám and his best-known work, The Rubáyiát, became familiar to Western audiences when they were translated into English in the mid-19th century. He’s been referenced by Oscar Wilde, Jack London and Salman Rushdie. He’s been quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. and jazz great Charlie Parker.

Today, Omar also conjures up an air of Hollywood glamour. Doctor Zhivago, anyone? The Egyptian-born Omar Sharif actually started out life as Michel. On the small screen, Omar Epps plays a doctor on House,a medical drama on Fox.

And there are no shortages of Omars on the playing fields, especially in baseball. Again, that’s the Latin American influence being felt in both the name and the sport. One common theory for Omar’s popularity is the Moorish influence on Spain, but evidence for this claim is in short supply.

Omar is a shape-shifter. It’s both sophisticated and cosmopolitan; tough and practical. If you’re searching for a name that defies easy categorization, Omar is a likely candidate. It’s at least as portable as John, and with far more style.

In fact, it brings to mind our earlier Name of the Day, Dante. They’re both good name choices for parents trying to honor more than one heritage.

Anyone met brothers called Omar and Dante? We’ll be on the lookout.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Omar García March 21, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Hi there. I wanted to mantion that actually, Omar was first a hebrew name (אוֹמָר‎) which is mentioned in Genesis 36:11. Its meaning is “eloquent speaker”. Omar was Eliphaz’ eldest son. Provided that the Islam emerged much more than 2,000 years later, it is very accurate to say that the name’s origin is completely biblical.

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Sarah A November 4, 2010 at 4:54 PM

I just recently found your site, so forgive the replies that are years late! As an Arab-American Muslim, I happen to know quite a few young and old Omars running around. My husband, who is of primarily Scottish descent, likes this name for all the reasons you mentioned but mostly because his family would be able to spell it, pronounce it, and wouldn’t think it weird. And it would appease my family who would be upset if we didn’t pick an Arabic name when the time comes. My only problem is that I don’t love it. I actually think it’s kind of meh. Who knows though, maybe it will grow on me!

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appellationmountain November 4, 2010 at 7:44 PM

No need to apologize! And I think Omar is one of those outstanding compromise names – highly portable, but without sacrificing his roots.

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appellationmountain June 9, 2008 at 11:17 AM

Lola, I actually stumbled across your list a while back, but forgot to bookmark it. I have now – it’s fabulous!

I did a post on Indiana and Alabama a while back: http://appellationmountain.net/2008/02/05/spotlight-indiana-and-alabama/

But I’ve yet to take on Jasper, and that’s an oversight! He’s on the calendar for July 5. I did mention both Cyrus and Casper in “C is for Boys,” but I think Cyrus deserves a little more attention – he’ll be July 7. Wait – Jess already suggested Cyrus for June 21. D’oh!

So many names, only 365 days in a year!

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youcantcallitit June 8, 2008 at 2:41 AM

I’m thinking Dante, Omar, and Cyrus would be quite the triple threat for brothers!

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youcantcallitit June 8, 2008 at 2:36 AM

Hey Verity. This was a really interesting post. Gosh Omar’s dashing. I’m adding him to my own long list. I actually see him as an alternative to the increasingly popular Oscar?

Lola’s great. You can see her site if you click on “Lola’s List” at the bottom of my page. I forgot about Clarence in True Romance. That makes the name infinitely cooler. Maybe after Clarence you can do Alabama?

Have you done Jasper/Casper/Gaspard yet? Consider that a request. :-)

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appellationmountain June 8, 2008 at 2:17 AM

Clarence Darrow! How could I forget Clarence Darrow?! Sigh. Feeling quite shallow now that my brain went to “Christian Slater characters” instead of “famous advocates of civil liberties.”

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Lola June 8, 2008 at 1:31 AM

The few my brain recalls at the moment is the Angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (played by Henry Travers), Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court associate Justice & Clarence Darrow, (Attached the Leopold & Loeb trial) and of course, Clarence Clemons, saxophonist extraordinaire. But that’s it that I can think of, myself. I’m sure there’s at least a few more. I would love to hear your thoughts on him, I’m finding him very appealing the last three or four months, he’s racing to the top of my lists!
(and yes, Lucretia’s a leftover from my Goth period, I just love her to pieces!

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appellationmountain June 8, 2008 at 1:14 AM

Glad you found your way here, Lola! Great suggestions.

Let’s see … on June 29, we’ll discuss Cosmo: the equivalent of naming your daughter Champagne, or the next frontier for parents who adore the name Milo?

Lucretia will be June 30. I kinda love the sound of this name, but I fear the Borgia/Goth connotations. Maybe there’s more story here – plus you’re right, it’s a daring way to get to Lucy.

And we’ll pick up Clarence on July 3. I was about to dismiss it, and then I remembered that Christian Slater’s very cool character in the 1993 movie True Romance wore this name well. Wonder if there are any other fabulous Clarences out there?

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Lola June 8, 2008 at 12:48 AM

I know an Omar! Only child though, so far. He’s three and living about three blocks from me, Brasilian Mom, Anglo Dad. So the cross-cultural thing really does apply! I was wondering if you would consider covering Clarence, Cosmo & Lucretia (as an alternate way to get to Lucy, perhaps?) Elisabeth fro “You Can’t Call it ”
It” sent me over here and I must say, I am loving this place! Thanks!

Lola

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