Dallas: Baby Name of the Day

Dallas2

Place names are stylish, and this one has a surprisingly robust history of use.

Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting Dallas as our Baby Name of the Day.

Here’s a surprise: Dallas has always ranked in the US Top 1000 for boys’ names.  Yup.  Every single year from 1880 right through 2013.  He’s usually ranked somewhere between the 200s and 400s – making him just rare enough that he feels surprising, but just common enough that you may have met one.

What explains his long history of use?

Odds are that it isn’t our affection for Texas – though Austin has fared well over the years, and Houston is not unknown.

Instead, those early babies named Dallas probably took their name from the same place as the city – it’s a surname, originally Scottish.  It translates to something like meadow dwelling, from the Gaelic dail and fas.  As surnames go, it’s not the most common – but there have been plenty of notable bearers.

It isn’t clear which notable bearer inspired the city’s name.

  • George Mifflin Dallas was vice president of the United States under President James Polk.  He’s usually considered the logical reason for the city’s name, and the timing works out – Polk and Dallas took office in 1845, shortly after the city was surveyed.  Except that Dallas was from Philadelphia, and never visited the area.
  • George’s brother was a big cheese, too – Commodore Alexander Dallas was stationed in the Gulf of Mexico.  A ship and Fort Dallas in Florida were both named after him.
  • George and Alexander were the sons of former US Treasury Secretary, also named Alexander Dallas.  The elder Alexander inspired places and ships to be named in his honor, too.

They’re the obvious possibilities, but they’re not the older ones.  John Neely Bryan, the founder, never explained, at it was also the surname of at least one early settler.

Today, though, it’s tough to separate the name itself from Bryan’s town.  It’s the ninth biggest city in the US, a bustling metropolis built by the railroad, the oil industry, and more since.

Part of the mystique is, of course, down to the small screen.  Can’t you hear the theme song?

As a television show, Dallas was a sensation.  The title sequence showed it all – gleaming skyscrapers, cattle and horses, oil rigs, the Cowboys stadium.  Acres of ranch land, and yes, Stetsons!  The question “Who shot J.R.?” consumed the American public for months in 1980.

The series ran from 1978 to 1991, and it did influence use.  In 1977, the name ranked #432 for boys.  It rose to #359 in 1978, and reached #298 in 1980.

Dallas was rebooted in 2012, and here’s an interesting thing: there was a second Dallas effect, but instead of increasing usage for boys, Dallas caught on for girls, charting in the US Top 1000 for girls for the first time in 2012.

As of 2013, Dallas ranked #610 for girls and #302 for boys.

If this one is on your family tree, or if you have ties to Texas to celebrate, Dallas might make a surprisingly wearable choice for a son or a daughter.  Frills-free, cowboy-cool, less expected than Daniel or Alice, but not completely unknown, either.

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4 Comments

Don’t forget Bryce Dallas Howard! I live in Dallas so I wouldn’t use of myself, but I see the appeal. This got me to thinking, what names would I use to reference a city without using the name of the city itself. I know two couples who met in New York and later moved away, and wanted to honor the city where they’d met in their kids’ names. One couple named their oldest Hudson, and the other names their child Hattan (from Manhattan).

I know two! A 19 year old man and a 17 month old girl. Now I’m wondering if the show had anything to do with either of their names (we’re in Ontario, Canada).