He’s the given name of The Simpson’s Krusty the Clown, but his past is surprisingly distinguished – and could be considered perfectly on trend.
Thanks to C in DC for suggesting Herschel as our Baby Name of the Day.
You probably won’t meet a little Herschel these days. The name last appeared in the US Top 1000 back in 1963. He’d ranked every year since 1880, a steady presence, charting in the 300s and 400s for decades.
Factor in Hershel, Hersh, and Hirsch and the number grows. Hirsch comes from the German word for deer. There are plenty of animal-inspired appellations in German – Wolfgang, anyone? – but Hirsch is harder to trace back to his beastly roots.
If your last name was Hirsch, it could mean one of the following:
- You and your family kept deer.
- You or a member of your family bore a striking resemblance to a deer.
- Or, and this is where it gets really interesting, your parents were inspired by a blessing Jacob gave to his son Naphtali, comparing him to a deer.
The first is typically German; the third is almost exclusively Jewish; and the second overlaps both categories. We’ll get back to the Bible in a minute, but I was challenged by what it meant to resemble a deer. There’s an old folk belief that stags lived a very long time. It seems possible that Hirsch referred to a fellow who had outlived his peers, but I suppose the more obvious reading is that Hirsch was a quick runner.
Naphtali is one of Jacob’s dozen sons. They’re listed in the Book of Genesis, in the Blessing of Jacob. Some mistranslation may have crept in, but we generally read it as if Jacob is comparing Naphtali to a hind – a female red deer in modern parlance.
Hersh is the Yiddish form of hirsch. Yiddish has roots in German and Hebrew, with bits picked up from other languages over the centuries. It is written with the Hebrew alphabet, making for even more changes as it is translated.
Like Dov and Zev, there’s a history of Hirsh as a given name in recent decades. Hirsh Glick was a Jewish-Lithuanian poet and part of an anti-Nazi uprising in Vilnius.
Hershel and Herschel developed as diminutive forms and became surnames, too. Among the most famous families is a group of musicians-turned-astronomers. William Herschel was born in Hanover in 1738, the son of an oboist in the military band attached to the Hanoverian Guards. The guards came to England in the 1750s; eventually the family would stay there. William thrived, learning English, becoming both a noted composer and an astronomer. William discovered Uranus, as well as two of its moons. His sister, Caroline Lucretia, was his assistant, and discovered comets in her own right, and his son and grandsons became noted astronomers, too.
More modern Herschels include:
- Hershel Danielovitch became Harry Demsky when he immigrated to the US; his son became Kirk Douglas.
- Herschell Lewis, known for his gory horror flicks in the 1960s and 70s.
- College football hall-of-famer Herschel Walker, who went on to a long career in the NFL, too.
But is Herschel wearable for a boy born today? His animal nature suggests he should fit right in with Falcon and Bear. But he still sounds a little fusty – as if “Great Uncle” should precede Herschel. An option for families considering this name might be reverted to Hirsch or Hersh, names that capture the spirit of Dash and Cash and edge a little closer to the name’s origins, too.
First name Herschel, Middle is Barry. In the late 50s Herschel Barry to my freinds sounded like Huckleberry (Hound) Since then have been called Huck.
Now that is a fabulous story! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
hershall creachbaum says
just wanted to say my names hershall lol
He is the first person that I think of. Ironically, it sounds very yuppie-ish 20s guy.
Wicked! Herschel is so fun. I’m not a huge fan of the “Hersch-” sound but it could easily fall in with the “retro-hip” set.
Charlotte Vera says
I like Herschel and could see myself offering him as a suggestion for the middle spot (in honour of my dad, Harry, my grandfather, Henry, and my German heritage), should Mark and I ever have another son. I find Herschel’s sound quite similar to the Sanskrit name Harshal, which I’ve always liked (Harshal means “glad” or “happiness”). With both names I give the r a slight roll.
A cousin’s S.O is named Hershel (I believe he’s Hershel, Jr. or II.) He had a terrible time growing up and the name Hershel didn’t help. Long story short — Hershey was a cute nickname in grade school, but that morphed into HerShe in high school. Now days he generally goes by Coco or just H.
Well, I guess my dad’s enjoyment of football wore off on me to some extent growing up, because all I think is Walker (which is a name I do not entirely get as a given name, but I know one). Anyhoo, I kinda like Herschel. It doesn’t play as too culturally obscure to pull off, since all I think of is football.
Yeah… I just think of chocolate. 😉 I can’t really imagine Herschel on a child, maybe because I’m more familiar with Herschel as a last name than as a first in terms of actual people with the name.
Sarah A says
I really like Herschel, but there are very few Jewish-sounding names I don’t love 😉
Unlike Shoshana and Hadassah with their Biblical origins, I think Herschel would be difficult for a non-Jew to wear.
C in DC says
Thanks for profiling. There’s also William Herschel, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Herschel, astronomer and musician.
I think Herschel could be an interesting choice for someone trying to honor a relative named Charlotte or Cheryl (or even Michelle or Rachel), rather than Charles.
I suspect the nn Hershey might be inevitable, though.
This is my husband’s middle name. It’s a family name. Ironically, that side of the family is neither German nor Jewish. 😉
I do like it a lot, but it’s very Jewish to me, sort of hard to picture on anyone other than a middle-aged-to-old guy at the synagogue.
My second [distant] thought is Herschel Walker.
Heather C says
I just want to mention that I’d never heard of this name before the Walking Dead.
I wonder if the world is ready for Lucretia to make a come back, now that you mention it 😉 Another thought on ‘looking like a deer’ might just having ruddy colouring or that long lean look that deer have (my father is a hunter and he butchers his own game!). Heh don’t forget “Moose” from the Archie comics universe 🙂 Hersh always looks unfinished to me – like it’s missing that essential -ey on the end.