Earlier this month, we picked up on a tale of parents naming their son after two radio show hosts in exchange for a $100 gas card.
We must say, the mind reels.
And yet, reader response was uniformly neutral, mostly because the name in question is rather appealing. It’s also today’s Name of the Day: Dixon.
Richard, a staple name for boys for centuries, is currently at his least popular ranking ever, just barely holding onto the Top 100 at #99. It’s not for a lack of notable bearers – from Kings of England to Little Richard to Richard Wagner to Richard Petty and Richard Gere, there’s a Richard in nearly any field you can imagine. The name derives from Germanic elements rik – power – and harthu – brave, hardy, so the meaning is robust and strong.
It first came to England with the Normans, and was probably spelled Rycharde and pronounced RICK hart, instead of today’s RICH urd. The pronunciation led to the diminutive Rick, and the rhyming Dick. Dicken and Dicket were also common pet forms in the Middle Ages, and when it came time to invent a surname for sons of Richard, Dickson and Dixon were among the common choices.
From the 1930s for more than four decades, the Dick and Jane primers taught countless American children to read, becoming such a part of pop culture that spoofs and parodies abound. While Jane has come out of hibernation – she’s still obscure at #426, but climbing – Dick seems doomed to obscurity.
Though you’ll still hear the nickname at Rotary meetings, it’s an unthinkable choice for a child. Sometime in the late 1890s, Dick became a vulgarity, and by the 1960s, the era of Tricky Dick Nixon, the given name became pure slur.
But somehow, Dixon manages to slip all of that baggage and sound like a current name with little relation to the dated and difficult Dick. It appeared in the US Top 1000 once, in 1881, charting at #807, before disappearing for good. Census records confirm that it was used occasionally afterwards, but never with any frequency. It remains a common surname.
Given the white hot popularity of Jackson (#33 in 2007) and variant Jaxon (#188), as well as rafts of two-syllable, ends-in-n names for boys, it’s not surprising that Dixon would attract some notice. Besides his winning construction, there’s the passion for putting last names first, and the reality that there are many proud papas and doting grandpas named Richard who would love a namesake.
If it still seems like a long shot, consider this: in the new 90210 spin-off, the siblings that move from Kansas to Beverly Hills are named Annie and Dixon. Dixon is played by the appealing Tristan Wilds from HBO’s The Wire. With the show set to premier on September 2, it’s easy to imagine that the name will get quite a bit of attention.
For the moment, though, we rather like Dixon. He comes by his “x” legitimately, unlike the forced Jaxon or awkward Braxton. And it’s a genuine surname that allows parents to honor an ancestral Richard in a fresh way – something we always enjoy.