River and Sky are newcomers, but this nature name has been around for ages.
Thanks to Annabel for suggesting Forrest as our Baby Name of the Day.
There are a few theories about the origins of the word forest. There’s the Latin phrase forestem silvam, which literally means “the outside woods.” Forestem comes from the Latin word foris – outside, the same source of our word foreign. There’s also a Germanic word, the origin of fir, as in fir tree.
A medieval forest was more than a bunch of trees. It was an area reserved for the king, and ordinary folks’ rights were limited. It was a hot topic over the centuries, with rules and regs detailed in the Magna Carta, as well as other documents.
The surname Forrest simply referred to someone who lived near a forest. What I can’t unravel is when the “rr” spelling stuck.
The first Forrest to arrive in the New World was Thomas Forrest. Despite an aristocratic birth – on his mother’s side, he could trace his family tree right back to a knight who came to England with William the Conqueror – Thomas was a younger son who inherited little wealth. Instead, he made his fortune through investments in the Virginia Company. His wife Margaret and son Peter accompanied him to the colonies.
Other early American Forrests include:
- Another Thomas Forrest served in the Revolutionary War and later in US Congress;
- Uriah Forrest also made his name as a Revolutionary soldier and future member of Congress. Uriah was descended from that original Thomas;
- Then there’s Nathan Bedford Forrest, a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army. Plenty of Southern families gave the names of military commanders for their sons, transforming them into family heirlooms. But not only was General Forrest a military commander for the losing team, he was also an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite that negative association, Forrest remains a hero in his native Tennessee.
Politicians and other notables from the 20th century include:
- Forrest Mars, Sr., inventor of M&Ms;
- Actor Forrest Tucker made his name in Hollywood in action films in the 1940s and 50s;
- Forrest Towns won an Olympic gold medal in track and field in 1936;
- Forrest Gregg had a long, successful career as an NFL player and coach, and has a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Winston Groom’s 1986 novel gave the name to a very different kind of figure. Forrest Gump was of below average intelligence, but off the charts in his capacity for adventure. Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of Forrest in the 1994 movie adaptation.
That same year, Forrest rose to #217 in the US. He’d been ranked in the Top 1000 every year since 1880, but had been falling. The film briefly reversed his trajectory, but not for long. By 2003, Forrest was headed towards obscurity. Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker is perhaps the best known Forest today, but his achievements haven’t done much to boost the name.
The curious thing about Forrest is this: chances are that today’s parents would consider Forest, a nature name, a noun choice with a certain virtuous vibe. But Forrest has a certain style to him – you expect him to be Forrest Something Something IV. This could make him the perfect compromise name between Carter and River – part preppy, part hippie chic.