He’s a Germanic name with Italian flair, and a longer history of use than you might guess.
Thanks to Ashleigh for suggesting her son’s name as our Baby Name of the Day: Alonzo.
Does Alonzo strike you as invented? Nothing could further from the truth. He’s yet another Germanic compound name, as old as Robert.
The name was originally closer to Adalfuns, from the familiar adal – noble – and funs – brave or ready. The names became Alphons and Alphonso and Alphonse and Alfonso. In the history books, he’s most commonly Alphonsus. He’s the curious case of a name that succeeds wildly in nearly every European language except English.
There’s also the Germanic Hildefons or Hadufuns, which became the Spanish Ildefonso and was worn by a seventh-century archbishop of Toledo who became known as Saint Ildephonsus. Some speculate that they’re all versions of Adalfuns.
But each and every one of those names is a little bit clunky – more like Ignatius or Alfred than the smooth Alonzo.
I can’t pin down the moment Alonzo shed his f, but it seems to have happened naturally in both Italian and Spanish. Alonso seems to have evolved in Spanish, while the z-spelling is an Italian innovation.
Medieval rulers galore answered to various forms of the name:
- The Kingdom of Asturias – now part of Spain – was ruled by its first Alfonso in the 700s.
- Alfonso I ruled Aragon and Navarre in the early twelfth century.
- The first king of Portugal took the throne in twelfth century, too – and he was known as Afonso.
Dozens of rulers followed.
The name made a brief appearance in thirteenth century England, when King Edward I named his ninth child Alphonso. No, Edward wasn’t an original name nerd. Instead, Edward was married to Eleanor of Castile. Eleanor’s uncle was Alphonso X, King of Castile, and the boy’s godfather. Alphonso was considered his father’s heir, expected to become king of England one day. But he died at the age of ten, and his baby brother became Prince of Wales – and eventually King Edward II.
Literary uses are plentiful, too:
- In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Alonso is the King of Naples.
- Don Quixote was Alonso Quixano until he renamed himself in Cervantes’ enduring novel.
- TS Eliot gave the name to one of his cats in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – and the name was carried over into Andrew Lloyd Weber’s smash hit musical.
The name had a good run in nineteenth century America, charting just outside of the Top 100, with several notables answering to the name, including:
- Ezra Cornell, university founder, gave the name to his son. Alonzo Cornell went on to serve as Governor of New York in the 1880s.
- Nineteenth century Episcopal church leader Alonzo Potter had an interesting family tree. His brother was Horatio; he had sons called Clarkson and Eliphalet.
- Alonzo Erastus Horton was a real estate developer in San Diego. Horton Plaza still bears his name, as does the adjacent shopping mall.
In more recent events, I automatically think of Alfonso Riberio – the actor who played Will Smith’s preppy cousin Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But the most famous Alonzo is almost certainly Alonzo Mourning. The hoop star played for the Miami Heat, and now works for the organization. Mourning is a junior known as Zo. He gave the name to his son, Alonzo III.
At #555 in 2011, Alonzo is fading from use. But with his zippy z and an NBA star to boost his reputation, Alonzo remains more popular than Alonso or Alfonso. And he’s a surprising, zippy pick – somewhere between a vintage revival and a stylish modern name.