Is Ledger a novelty borrowed from Hollywood, or is it a medieval gem we’re finally rediscovering?
This newcomer to the US Top 1000 takes center stage as our Baby Name of the Day.
The Germanic name Leodegar comes from the elements liut – people – and gar – spear. The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources lists it as Liutgar and lists at least a dozen other recorded forms.
It was found throughout Europe back in the early Middle Ages; the Normans brought it to England, and it evolved from there into the surname Ledger.
About those saints: a seventh century Bishop of Autun bore the name. He died a martyr. His name is recorded as Léger, and it’s been used as a boy’s name in France for years. (Though not in recent years.)
In German, it morphed into Ludger. Or at least there’s an eighth century missionary Saint Ludger from Utrecht, by way of Westphalia.
But what, you ask, about the book?
We record transactions – usually financial – in a ledger. It started out as a type of book, but they exist in electronic form, too, now. The word has been used since at least the late sixteenth century. This word seems to come from the Dutch leggen – to place or to lay.
As for ledge, that traces its origins to leggen, too. Or perhaps to the Swedish lagg – rim. It might refer to anything from the edge of a cliff to a narrow bookshelf.
Another one to consider: legerdemain, meaning sleight of hand. It comes from a Middle French phrase meaning light of hand. That’s Léger – the same as the personal name – but the meanings are different.
None of these link to the personal name or surname, but we’ve used to hearing them to some degree. A handful of newspapers use the word in their names, too.
Parents don’t consider this name because of newspapers, though. And not for the medieval saints.
The name’s rise is all down to the late Heath Ledger.
The Australian actor became a star in his home country in the 1990s. By 1999 he was making movies in America, and became a star in 2001’s A Knight’s Tale. His turn as Ennis Del Mar in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
The rise of the name follows his career path. His tragic 2008 death inspired eve more to consider the name for their sons.
Surnames of famous icons have inspired plenty of parents: think rock star choices like Hendrix and Lennon, or choices from history, like Lincoln and Kennedy. It’s not even the first Hollywood surname: think Harlow and Monroe, Crosby and Hudson.
But it wasn’t just the actor. Along the way, Ingrid Law penned a New York Times bestseller titled Scumble, part of her Savvy series. The young adult novel starred a teenage character named Ledger. Published in August 2010, it seems to have helped nudge the name into broader use, too.
Ledger: By the Numbers
Let’s look at the numbers.
Ledger debuted in the US data way back in 1923, with five births. That’s probably just families handing down a surname as a given name.
It doesn’t reappear until 2002, after the actor starred in A Knight’s Tale. It jumped to 61 boys in 2008, the year of Ledger’s tragic death, and 95 a year later. The name declined briefly, but then started climbing steadily.
Even if the actor gets credit for jump-starting this choice, it’s more than his legacy that propelled Ledger into wider use. It’s also the current sound, with the -r ending and the rugged, vaguely outdoorsy vibe. It’s modern, but not invented; novel, but not truly new.
If you’re after a strong and uncommon name for a son that feels creative and accomplished, while still speaking to the natural world, Ledger seems like the rare choice that satisfies all of those wants.
What do you think of Ledger? Would you consider it for your son?