Sundance: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 26, 2013

English: sundanceAthletes Kerri Walsh and Casey Jennings gave this radiant name to their son in 2010.

Thanks to Olive for suggesting Sundance as our Baby Name of the Day.

At first Sundance seems like a hippy-rific nature name.

But there’s an awful lot to think about with Sundance, beyond the celestial nature of the name.

A sun dance – two words – is a Native American ritual, a religious ceremony widely practiced by indigenous peoples of the Great Plains, typically in the summertime.  There were plenty of variations, but dancing, music, and fasting were regular features, and ritual piercing was also common.  When the West was won, the US government cracked down on the ritual, dismissing as barbaric.  The spiritual aspects lace Sundance with a certain meaning – whether that’s a positive association, or too close to cultural appropriation is tough to call.

After all, my first thought is the film festival.

Park City, Utah’s Sundance Film Festival is the large indie film festival in the US, and it spills over into other communities, too.  Screen legend Robert Redford is widely known as the festival’s founder, but the story is the tiniest bit more complicated.  Redford established the Sundance Institute back in 1981, a nonprofit organization to support the art and craft of filmmaking.  A few years later, the Sundance Institute took over the struggling US Film Festival.

The rest is history, and today even those of us far removed from Hollywood glamor recognize Sundance, and the many movies, filmmakers, and actors it has helped launch.

One of Redford’s more memorable roles inspired the name of the Institute and Festival.  Back in 1969, he and Paul Newman starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  It was a Western, based on the real-life Hole in the Wall Gang.  The parts about robbing trains and escaping to Bolivia were true-to-life, as was the ambiguous ending of the pair, who probably died in a gunfight.  It’s a classic flick, the kind that regularly makes best-of lists.  (Another great name from the movie is Etta, Sundance’s Spanish-speaking schoolteacher girlfriend, who helps the duo navigate their escape to South America.)

The real Sundance Kid was born Harry Alonzo Longabaugh in 1867.  Is it me, or is there something slightly uncomfortable about naming a kiddo after an outlaw?  In fairness, it isn’t known if Longabaugh ever killed anyone, but he was a gunfighter, and his gang was responsible for several deaths.

Still, cowboy names are stylish, from Wyatt to Cole to Duke.  And a very few real people have answered to the name:

  • American Idol season six contestant Jason Head usually answered to Sundance.
  • Following the movie’s success, Sundance inspired a few parents in the 1970s.  Six boys received the name in 1971, and ten in 1978.

While Summer, Sunday, and Soleil all lean girl, this leaves Sundance feeling surprisingly masculine.  He’s a surprising choice as a given name, and a rare one, too.  But Kerri and Casey weren’t the first to hear Sundance and imagine it on a child.  Kerri explained their unusual choice shortly after Sundance’s arrival, and I’ll admit it – she made fall a little bit in love with the name, too.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

CW December 27, 2013 at 7:50 PM

I’ve met one Sundance with a personality big enough to live up to the name! I think it’s a great choice!

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waltzingmorethanmatilda December 27, 2013 at 3:51 AM

I never heard of it as a baby name before, but I love it! A beautiful piece of Americana.

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