He’s another form of the evergreen John, and a steady favorite in the US.
Thanks to Jennifer for suggesting Evan as our Baby Name of the Day.
Tracing the evolution of John from his Old Testament Yochanan through Greek into Latin and then English is a tricky business, and attempting to follow the thread into dozens of languages is even more difficult. Iohannes became Juan and Ivan and Johan and Jan, and yes, also Evan.
But he wasn’t instantly Evan. The older Welsh form of the name was Iefan or Ifan. Listen to it pronounced by a native Welsh speaker, and it is easy to hear how the name eventually became Evan.
There are other possible origins. Some link him to the Gaelic Eóghan or the Greek Eugenios, the origin of Eugene.
You can find notable Evans throughout the years, and he’s always been in the US Top 1000. In 1880 he charted at #364. In 1900, he ranked #472. He hovered in relatively obscurity though the 1950s, when he started his slow and steady climb. After three decades of gains, he became a Top 100 pick in 1983. He’s stayed there ever since, peaking at #35 in 2009, but still ranking #40 as of last year. He’s just as popular – or even more – elsewhere in the English-speaking world.
What explains his rise? A host of late nineteenth and early twentieth century notables wore the name – a handful of politicians, a singer, a few prominent Welsh figures. There was even an eighteenth century poet called Evan Evans, and a prominent nineteenth century church leader called Evan Evans – unrelated. It is tempting to peg Evan’s rise in Wales to the poet, but that’s just a guess.
In the US Evan sounded an awful lot like names we were used to in the 1950s – a fresh update without being too different. Steven/Stephen, Marvin, Melvin, and Calvin were solidly established. Kevin was also on the rise, and the much more popular name likely paved the way.
Evan must have been seen as a heritage choice at one point, and there were a smattering of Evans in Wales in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. Today parents seeking a nod to Welsh roots are more likely to use Rhys.
Speaking of modern use, Evan is one of the names that generates some anxiety about name theft, thanks to actress Evan Rachel Wood. In 2011, just under 100 girls were called Evan, and the name has never cracked the Top 1000. While you certainly might meet a female Evan, the numbers make this one solidly masculine – more than 8,500 boys received the name last year.
Which leads to an important question – is Evan too popular to use? Much of that depends on your perspective. There have been notable Evans in nearly every field of pursuit in recent years: musicians, athletes, actors, politicians. (My first thought is The Lemonheads’ frontman Evan Dando, but that might just be me …)
Factor in the surname Evans, and the list fills pages, stretching to place names and even Evans Gambit, an opening strategy in chess.
Overall, you expect to hear Evan called out on the playground, along with Mason, Logan, and Cole. He’s joined the list of staple names for boys in the twenty-first century: reliable, quiet, and mainstream, a likeable name that neither surprises nor disappoints.