He’s a little bit modern invention, and a smidge hickster, too.
Thanks to Anna for suggesting Delmer – a family name! – as our Baby Name of the Day.
Five boys were named Delmer in 2011. That’s barely a blip.
But most years from the nineteenth century into the 1950s, Delmer charted in the US Top 1000. Even if he wasn’t ever very popular, it’s fair to say that Delmer was once more common. Check out the photo of brothers called Delmer and Kermit.
But he’s faded in recent years.
Where does he come from?
- Delmer, Delmar, and Delamar are all found as surnames. They probably trace back to a personal name with Germanic roots.
- Delmore is another spelling of the surname, worn in the first spot by celebrated poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz. Both Saul Bellow and Lou Reed paid homage to Schwartz in their work.
- Del or Dell comes from an English word for valley – think of the “Farmer in the Dell.”
- Del mar means “of the sea” or “by the sea.” It certainly explains how the coastal California town of Del Mar got its name. As for how we ended up with Delmar, Wisconsin – and West Virginia and Iowa – well, surely there’s a story there. It is said that Delmar, Iowa got its name from a train conductor. When the first train reached the intersection, the conductor spelled Delmar from the first initials of the six female passengers on the train. I couldn’t find the passengers’ names, though …
- Del does have a history of use in Welsh given names. Delwyn is a masculine choice from the elements del – pretty – and gwyn – fair. Mer also appears in Welsh names as a reference to the sea – most notably there’s Meredith.
Whether Spanish or Welsh, Delmer leads to the sea. But this confuses the pronunciation a bit. While Delmar doesn’t rhyme with Elmer, Delmer almost certainly does. This makes Delmer read hickster. After all, we don’t think Elmer Gantry when we hear the name. We think Elmer Fudd.
But Elmer was a Top 100 choice from 1880 through 1932. He’s still in use – around 200 newborn boys received the name every year in the twenty-first century. Whether that’s a family name bestowed by tradition or parents naming a brother for Otis and Pearl, it’s hard to say. But I can imagine Elmer appealing to the same parents who have embraced names on Nameberry’s hipper-than-hipster list.
It’s also worth noting that the elm sound had a good run in the 1930s. We named our sons Delmer and Delmar, but also Elmo and Elmore. Girls answered to Delma, Thelma, Velma, Selma and Elma.
It was also a moment when the -er ending was in favor. Walter comes to mind, but parents also used names like Homer, Wilmer, and Mortimer. If Homer makes our hipster and hickster lists these days, maybe Mortimer and Delmer have a shot, too.
From Connor to Asher, ends-with-r names for boys are very much in vogue.
Plus, Del feels like a great short form for a boy.
Should you find Delmer on your family tree, he’s definitely worth considering!