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.
I love the name Eugene. It is my grandfather’s name and my son’s name. It is a strong name, not too popular, but not so strange people don’t know how to pronounce it. I also think it is cute to have a toddler answer to an “old man” name.
I’ve never been a fan of the sound. I love other forms though — Y/Evgeni, Owa(i)n, Ewan, etc. I think I’d even rather use Tyrone than Eugene.
Sarah A says
I kind of love Eugene. It’s my FIL’s name and my husband’s middle name, though my FIL goes strictly by Gene. It has just the right amount of clunky cool for me. Alas, Eugene is a terrible association in my family (mom’s abusive stepdad) so I’ve instead toyed with Eugenia for a girl. My hubby actually even suggested mashing up Eugene and Elaine (my grandmother’s name) and using Eulaine for a girl or Eulane for a boy! I think I just love Eu- names and I love Eugene.
My father is named Gene, just Gene. He had a teacher in who insisted on calling children by their “proper” names, so she called him Eugene. My dad hated it, and refused to answer her when she called him that Eugene.
I actually like the name, but after hearing my dad’s story for decades, I won’t be naming a child Eugene. It’s so much easier finding a girl’s name that honors my dad: Genoveva, Genevieve, Genevra…
You’re right about feminine forms of Gene. I like Jeanne and Jeannie. And Jeanne Marie!
C in DC says
This is one of those “old man” names to me. You can have Eugene, Stanley, Melvin. Eugene Levy also give this a little boost. Since I used to work with health data, what I also see with this one is “eugenics”.
I went to high school with a guy named Eugene. He was a few years older, graduating in 1997. I must admit, I had quite the crush on him. Eugene was incredibly intellegent, effortlessly preppy-cool, and exceedingly handsome. I’m not sure of where his name came from, but wonder if it was as the Eugenes Charlotte Vera discussed, as he is Korean. All in all, I’ve had rather a soft spot for Eugene since the autumn of 1996.
Charlotte Vera says
Thanks for featuring this! I used to teach a Sunday School class that contained two Eugenes — one male and one female. The kids were all Koreans living in Canada, and “Eugene” had been selected by their parents due to its similarity to the Korean Yoo Jin. I’m not exactly sold in it as a girl’s name, but I think that Eugene is a fine name for a boy. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him out and about more often.
I’ve always been a big fan of the name Eugene, and have never understood why it’s so maligned. It’s my father’s middle name, and the only name in our family that has been passed down through the generations. I haven’t used it for either of my sons, but I have Eugenie picked out as a middle name if I have a daughter, although I would consider using it as a middle name for another son too. I thought the name the British actress Billie Piper gave her second son – Eugene Pip – was old school perfection! 🙂
Eugene makes me think of eugenics. Not a fan.