Thanks to Sarah for suggesting the surprisingly evergreen Dean as our Baby Name of the Day.
Sarah actually suggested Dean because it sounds the same as deen, an Arabic word that translates roughly to religious, and has – I think – something of an intellectual, spiritual vibe. The similarity makes Dean a culture-spanning choice.
But really he’s a fairly common English language name. I can’t find his first use, but he’s always appeared in the US Top 1000, and he ranked in the Top 100 from 1956 through 1969.
Three notable figures help propel the name to popularity:
- Born Dino Crocetti, Dean Martin was a member of the Rat Pack who found success in movies, music, and television from the 1940s into the 1970s. His legend endures, as do hits like “Volare” and many of his classic film appearances;
- James Dean made Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden in 1955, and Giant one year later. In 1956, he died in a car crash at the age of 24. Dean became the first actor to win a posthumous Oscar, and endowed his name with a perpetual cool;
- Second only to the Beach Boys, surfer duo Jan and Dean consisted of Jan Berry and Dean Torrence. They peaked in the early 1960s with hits like “Dead Man’s Curve.” The curve is a real stretch of road outside of LA, and the pair’s career was cut short when Berry nearly died in a car accident on Dead Man’s Curve. Torrence went on to a career as a Grammy-award winning designer of album cover art.
It was James Dean’s untimely demise that catapulted his surname into the Top 100, but there’s more than one origin for Dean:
- As a last name, it likely comes from the Middle English dene and Old English denu – valley. Plenty of places on the map share the name;
- Alternately, the Late Latin decanus referred to the commander of ten soldiers, from the Greek deka – ten. The church borrowed the term, and it became deien in Old French. By the sixteenth century, it referred to a college administrator. This makes Dean another occupational surname possibility;
- Dino is best known as Fred Flinstone’s pet dinosaur, but it is also a diminutive in Italian for names like Agostino and Valentino, as well as an independent given name.
Other notable Deans from the past century or so include:
- Dean Acheson served as Secretary of State under President Truman. Acheson developed the Marshall Plan, as well as much of Cold War foreign policy in the 1940s and 50s;
- There’s a character by the name in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Dean Moriarty was based on Neal Cassady, a major figure of the era;
- Dean Cain took up Christopher Reeve’s cape as Superman on the small screen;
- Tori Spelling’s husband Dean shares the spotlight in their reality TV series;
- Dean Koontz churns out bestselling supernatural horror stories;
- Fellow Gryffindor Dean Thomas attends Hogwarts with Harry Potter;
- Supernatural’s Dean Winchester, along with his brother Sam, hunts demons, spirits, and other things that go bump in the night.
The name also shows up in the middle spot:
- Richard Dean Anderson was television’s mullet-sporting can-do guy MacGyver;
- Harry Dean Stanton was Molly Ringwald’s ne’er-do-well dad in Pretty in Pink and creepy polygamist cult leader Roman Grant in Big Love;
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan has appeared in Grey’s Anatomy and Supernatural.
The biggest strike against Dean is the number of dads who currently answer to the name. But that also helps explain his current rank – #305 – in the US. He might not qualify as a stylish choice, but he remains a solid option.