It’s been worn by a fictional serial killer, an animated boy genius and the incomparable Cary Grant. How can we help but love the retro Dexter?
Thanks to Kayt and Natalie for suggesting today’s Name of the Day.
Perhaps the best description of Dexter’s popularity through recent decades is steadily obscure. As of 2007, he ranked #824. While he’s appeared in the US Top 1000 most years, the highest he’s ever climbed was #262 in 1968. (One possible explanation for the spike? Dexter was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sons.) Most years, however, this name was used sparingly.
But if you’re thinking of Hollywood’s Golden Age, it’s tough to overlook 1940’s The Philadelphia Story. Based on a successful Broadway play, the story follows wealthy socialite Tracy Lord on the eve of her second marriage – just as her first groom returns. Katharine Hepburn played the headstrong Tracy; Cary Grant played CK Dexter Haven, Tracy’s first love. Hijinks ensue, and sure enough, Tracy and Dex live happily ever after. After watching Grant, it’s difficult to think of Dexter as dorky.
The name also boasts a starbaby pedigree and some serious indie cred. Elvis Costello and Diana Krall chose this moniker for one of their sons: Dexter Henry Lorcan. (His twin is Frank Harlan James.) Diane Keaton used Dexter, too – for her daughter.
But Dexter’s detractors cite Dexter’s Lab. Boy genius Dexter toiled from 1995 to 2003 on Cartoon Network while his dim sister Dee Dee and archrival Mandark foiled his plans. As for the serial killer? Jeff Lindsay created Dexter Morgan, first in novels and now in a Showtime original series. He earns his living as a Miami police expert, but moonlights as a serial killer, bringing vigilante justice to those who escape the reaches of the law.
Dexter is also a place name, surname and a breed of cattle. But to us, the bearer who tips the scales in favor of cool is the towering Long Tall Dexter, a legendary jazz saxophonist who scraped the ceilings at 6’5. Born Dexter Gordon, he lived in Denmark for many years – in fact, he’s godfather to Danish-born Lars Ulrich of Metallica. In 1986, Gordon was Oscar nominated for his portrayal of a fictional jazz saxophonist in ‘Round Midnight.
The name’s meaning is positive, too. While some it probably emerged as an occupational surname for dyers, it meshes with the Latin dexteritatem, or skillful. In Middle English, the term became dester, which referred to the right hand, but also meant clever. The words dexterity and dexterous endure in current usage, and give the name a strong underpinning.
We like Dexter’s x-factor, too. Think of Jolie-Pitt boys – Maddox, Pax and Knox, chart-topping Alexander, friendly Felix and starts-with-X Xavier.
Despite slangy put-downs like poindexter, we find this name edgy and appealing. If Henry, Oscar and Elliot are already oft-repeated on your local playground, Dexter represents a logical leap – a little bit different, but similar in feel. And we love the short form Dex. This is one to consider if you’re looking for something that’s a bit daring, but boasts a long history of use.