Thanks to Colleen for suggesting Lawrence as our Baby Name of the Day.
Just like Phillip overtook Philip, Lawrence has eclipsed Laurence thanks to the surname version of the name.
He’s a cousin to all of the names related to laurel, as in the tree and the symbol of victory, from the Latin word laurus. The Roman cognomen Laurentius originally referred to someone from Laurentum, an ancient city southwest of Rome, most likely named for the trees.
It caught on thanks, in part, to Saint Laurence. Born in Spain, he met the future Pope Sixtus II while studying in Zaragoza. Both eventually went to Rome, where Sixtus became pope and Laurence served as one of his trusted archdeacons. It was a tough gig. The emperor Valerian was cracking down on Christianity, and he’d ordered all priests, deacons, and bishops put to death. On their deaths, their property was forfeited to the emperor. Sixtus met his end, and Laurence got to work distributing the church’s wealth as broadly as possible.
It’s said that when Laurence was arrested he asked for three days to gather up the wealth of the church. On the third day, when prompted for the treasure, he instead displayed the poor and sickly as the wealth of the church, and went to his death.
There’s just something gutsy about this name, right?
Laurence has been a popular saint ever since, and his name is in use throughout the Christian world: Lorenzo, Lars, Laurent to name just a few variations. It was later said that he hid the Holy Grail in those three days, sending it home to Spain for safekeeping.
Two more saints answered to the name: an archbishop of Canterbury from the 600s, and the Irish saint Laurence O’Toole – born Lorcan.
Over time, Lawrence became the more common spelling for the surname, and that influenced the spelling of the given name. He had a good run in the nineteenth century:
- David Herbert Lawrence was born to a family of humble means, attended school on scholarship, and became an established poet and novelist. He also became intensely controversial. His work was scandalous by early twentieth century standards, and he spent much of life wandering from place to place. Today, D.H. Lawrence’s works are considered significant achievements in English literature.
- Theodore “Laurie” Laurence lived next door to the March sisters in Little Women.
- Then there’s Lawrence of Arabia. There’s the movie, yes, but before that there was Thomas Edward Lawrence. An Oxford grad from modest circumstances, he studied history, became an archeologist, and traveled extensively in the Middle East. When the first World War came, he was already known to local leaders, and was able to use his connections to ensure support for the British. Lawrence was also a writer, of letters and also his account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The entire story captured the imagination, and the 1962 biopic was a smash hit, and an Oscar winner for Best Picture.
Other bearers are plentiful, and place names abound – from Lawrence, Kansas to the Saint Laurence River to Sarah Lawrence College.
But how about as a first name? Lawrence ranked in the US Top 100 from 1880 into the 1970s. Today he sits at a chilly #453. Laurence was always less common, but he left rankings entirely in the 1990s.
Could it be his lack of easy nicknames? Lawrie and Larry are options, but neither feels quite right for 2013. Then again, does Lawrence really require a nickname?
If you’re after a well-established classic that straddles the adventurous and the scholarly, Lawrence might make for a surprising – and surprisingly dashing – choice.