Looking for a name for a red-headed philosopher with a Hollywood vibe?
Thanks to JNE for suggesting Russell as Baby Name of the Day.
Conventional wisdom holds that Russell means red, from the French roux, denoting red hair. Roux became roussel – little red – and eventually, just like so many other descriptive terms, became a personal name and a surname.
That’s where it gets tricky. Even if this one came out of the eleventh century Anglo-Norman soup, others adopted it later. German surnames Raus – from a word meaning noise – and Rüssel – from the element hrod, renown, also appearing in Robert – could lead to Russel or Russell in the US. Place name and surname Ruston also sometimes surfaces in this conversation.
Regardless of his roots, in the late nineteenth and through much of the twentieth century, Russell was a staple. He ranked in the US Top 100 from 1889 through 1982. His peak year was 1904, when he reached #48, but Russell hovered around the #50 mark for some time. As of 2008, the name ranked #408 – quite a tumble.
Variants – including the one-l Russel, short form Russ and diminutive Rusty – also appeared in the US Top 1000.
Why did all of the Rus- names fall?
- Def Jam and Phat Farm founder Russell Simmons;
- Australian actor and Oscar winner Russell Crowe, as well as actor Russ Tamblyn, known for many Hollywood roles, like Riff, the leader of the Jets in West Side Story;
- Pioneering comic book artist Russ Manning;
- Athletes and politicians aplenty, from the nineteenth century right through today.
Then there’s Rusty, a cute nickname for an overall-clad tot, but not exactly a name for, say, a Supreme Court Justice. Outside of NASCAR, the most famous Rusty is fictional – son to Clark W. Griswold in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series.
Rusty was Anthony Michael Hall’s breakout, pre-John Hughes, role back in 1983, when Clark first piloted the Family Truckster to Walley World. A different actor wore the name in the sequels.
Today Russell is fading. While nearly every surname name seems current, Russell sounds like Tyler and Carson’s dad, not a potential classmate.
But is that such a bad thing? For many parents, a name like Russell would prove very satisfying – easily recognized, simple to spell, but rarely shared. And between the many men called Russell in years past and those of us the surname on our family trees, it is easy to imagine Russell having meaning for many.