Eugenie boasts a current, European style. So why is her brother trapped in fashion limbo?
Thanks to Charlotte for suggesting Eugene as our Baby name of the Day.
Fiction puts Eugene in coke-bottle glasses and floods. Grease‘s class nerd is Eugene Felsnic. In Tangled, the dashing Flynn Rider was born Eugene. Eugene is the name you hide, or at least shorten to Gene, as in Kelly. Comedian Jim Carrey‘s full name is James Eugene, and he’s quipped that his middle name keeps him humble: “You can never get too cool with a name like Eugene.”
And yet, Eugene never left the US Top 1000. He was a Top 100 pick from 1880 through 1957, reaching the Top 20 in the 1920s. And why not? He’s been worn by popes and saints, and has a serious literary pedigree. The meaning is a good one, too – eu means good, and gene refers to born – Eugene is well-born.
He’s international, used in nearly every European culture. In 1697, Prince Eugene of Savoy sent the Ottoman Turks packing at the Battle of Zenta, and his impressive military record didn’t stop there. It is easy to imagine Eugene sounding like a powerful, capable name – a hero’s name.
Then there’s Eugene Onegin, a classic of nineteenth century Russian literature. Eugene is, indeed, well born. He scorns love only to realize it too late; he kills a dear friend in a duel dictated by social convention. Tchaikovsky adapted Pushkin’s poem as an opera in 1879, staying faithful to the original. While Onegin doesn’t end well, the popularity of both forms of the story has endured, and surely helped push Eugene into broader use.
A century back, Eugene must have just been an ordinary name for an ordinary guy. Think of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs and its sequels, all successful on Broadway in the 1980s. Simon’s character, Eugene Jerome, is loosely based on the author’s own life. He’s an appealing figure, played by a young Matthew Broderick in the film adaptation of Biloxi Blues, the second installment.
Another example of Eugene’s ordinary, every guy status? He’s Betty’s dad in Mad Men, and the name she and Don give to their youngest child.
He’s a place name, too, thanks to Eugene Skinner. Born in New York in 1809, Skinner went West, eventually reaching Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Skinner was a ferry operator, postmaster, and county clerk. As a city developed, it was eventually named in his honor. While we have Charlotte and Adelaide, you’d rather expect Eugene to be Skinnerville instead. But it isn’t – it is Eugene, home to the University of Oregon, birthplace of Nike shoes.
Famous Eugenes abound. My favorite is Eugeniusz Lazowski, a Polish doctor who created a fake typhus outbreak in order to quarantine a Jewish community during World War II, saving more than 8,000 lives.
What you won’t find are many youngsters called Eugene, though Nancy has recommended him for parents seeking something classic but not overly used. Just as Ralph and Stanley and Walter have made their comebacks, it would be a mistake to count Eugene out. His history is considerable, and he doesn’t deserve his current pocket protector persona. We’re one cool fictional character away from Eugene’s reinvention.