English: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, somet...Novelist Theodore Dreiser made the story of humbly-born Clyde Griffiths an American Tragedy. Could 21st century parents revive this fading classic?

Thanks to Wrenn for suggesting a name from her family tree: Clyde, our Name of the Day.

Head over to Scotland, and you’ll find the River Clyde wending its way through Glasgow to the sea. Horses bred in the Valley of the Clyde became known as Clydesdales. And Clyde appears on the map throughout the English-speaking world.

There’s debate about the origins and meaning of the river’s name. Welsh is often cited – from the word caled – hardy. Others insist he predates the Roman Empire.

Clyde is a relatively rare surname, and appears sparingly as a given name early in the nineteenth century. Some claim he was a common choice for slaves; however, this doesn’t quite square with the data.

Instead, Clyde’s popularity seems linked to the military career of Colin Campbell. Born to a family of modest means, Campbell enlisted in the British army and rose through the ranks. He served in South America, China and the Crimea, but is best known for quelling a rebellion in India back in 1857. For his service, Campbell was elevated to the peerage as the first Baron Clyde.

And wouldn’t you know it? The 1850s mark the beginning of Clyde’s climb in the US. He’d remain in the Top 100 through the 1930s, reaching as high as #50.

During Clyde’s long run, famous bearers included:

  • Aviation pioneer Clyde Cessna;
  • Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, most famous for discovering not-quite-a-planet Pluto;
  • Singer Clyde McPhatter of R&B greats The Drifters;
  • Olympic gold medalist and NBA Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler.

And then there’s Clyde Barrow – one half of crime’s answer to Romeo and Juliet.

The simple facts are these: during the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and company robbed banks, grocery stores and gas stations, killing at least nine police officers along the way. While they captured the public imagination, odds are they were neither as glamorous or as noble as their image suggested.

The Barrow Gang’s activity coincides with the name’s last hurrah. By the 1940s, Clyde started to slip.

In the literary world, there was also the sad story of hapless murder Clyde Griffiths. Theodore Dreiser based his 1925 An American Tragedy on the real story of Chester Gillette. Like Chester, Clyde escaped a life of poverty and religious devotion to move up in the world. But when an old relationship with a humble factory worker threatened his budding romance with a debutatnte, the factory girl ended up at the bottom of a lake – along with their unborn child.

Adaptations aplenty include 1951’s A Place in the Sun, starring Montgomery Clift – but the screenwriters changed Clyde’s name to George.

In recent years, Clydes have been even less inspiring. There’s the orange ghost from PacMan; Clint Eastwood’s orangutan sidekick in 1978’s Every Which Way But Loose and a minor South Park character who came down with a mean case of head lice a few seasons back.

But Clyde could fit in with other geek chic pics, a la Dexter. And single-syllable choices for boys are back in vogue. Could the rise of Jack, Blake, Max, Gus, Cade and Cole open up a space for Clyde?

Enhanced by Zemanta

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. Considering the name Clyde but so bummed your post is only showing one sentence currently. Love your site and know you have more info! Any way to fix? Thank you!

  2. I’ve never been one to warm up to Clyde as a given name, but I can see his appeal with the current trends. Now however, he’s eternally a dog’s name, as we have two dogs named Jester & Clyde 🙂