He’s a surname pick with a supercool namesake.
With congratulation to S.J. on her new son, our Baby Name of the Day is Elwood.
Back in 1978, when everyone was watching Saturday Night Live, Dan Akroyd and John Belushi introduced a new duo, The Blues Brothers. It was one of the first SNL skits to spawn a successful movie spin-off. John played Joliet Blues, called Jake, while Dan answered to Elwood.
One half of the duo had an impact on baby naming. We give Twilight lots of credit for the rise of Jacob, but that’s just wrong. Jake entered the Top 100 in 1974, and was lifted by pop culture uses in the 1980s – from Sixteen Candles’ handsome Jake Ryan to Joliet Blues.
And yet Elwood has languished. He occupied the US Top 1000 every year from 1880 through 1969, but has been seldom heard since. Just 17 boys received the name in 2011.
There are two possible origins for Elwood. The first – and most obvious – is the he derives from ellern – elder tree in Old English – and wudu – wood. This makes him a place name akin to Ashley. The first Elwood was likely in Gloucestershire, but there are plenty now, including half-a-dozen in the US. It is also possible that Elwood comes from an Old English given name, drawing on that incredibly powerful element ælf – elf. Ælfwald and Ælfwold both appear in the historical record, as does Æthelwald, an eighth century king of Northumbria. Or, as is so often the case, both influences combined to create a name in steady use.
Other than the Blues brother, the most famous Elwood is another fictional figure, Elwood P. Dowd, friend of giant, invisible rabbit Harvey. The 1944 play Harvey spawned a 1950 movie. Both were successful – the play, written by Mary Chase, garnered a Pulitzer, and the film remains a classic. James Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd, a fellow with an imaginary friend. His eccentricities are accepted to varying degrees by those in his life. The person who cannot abide Elwood’s invisible BFF is his sister, Veta, an ambitious sort bent on curing her brother. The movie ends well, with even Veta convinced that Elwood’s outlook on life has merit.
But here’s the burning question: Blues is cool and Dowd is quirky and admirable, but could you name a baby boy Elwood? Woody is the obvious nickname, and while it has some drawbacks, it also has some serious potential. There’s the filmmaker and the Cheers bartender who shared his name with the actor who portrayed him. (Though Harrelson was born Woodrow and Allen legally changed his named from Allen Koningsberg to Heywood Allen.) There’s also the heroic cowboy from the Toy Story trilogy, a reference that will be front of mind to generations of children and parents alike.
Overall, Elwood is somewhere between an unconventional hipster choice – the masculine equivalent of Opal – and names that are just plain unfairly forgotten. He’s half-edgy cool and half-humble homespun. There’s a lot to admire about Elwood.