He’s a cartoon child in an orange parka with appealingly regal roots.
Thanks to Kayt for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Kenneth.
For the first five seasons of South Park, poor Kenny McCormick met a gruesome fate nearly every episode. “You killed Kenny!” became a punch line. That’s unfortunate, because Kenneth’s history has much appeal.
Back in the 9th century, Cináed mac Alpin united the Scots and the Picts to become the first king of Scotland. His name is Anglicized as Kenneth. Two of his descendants would also take the name, the first in the late 900s and the second in the early 1000s.
Other Gaelic monikers have been Anglicized as Kenneth, including:
- Saint Cainnech of Aghaboe was a sixth century missionary, one of the twelve apostles of Ireland. He’s also known as Canice, Canicus and Kenneth;
- The Welsh hermit Cenydd or Cennydd also lived in the sixth century and is usually remembered as Saint Kenneth;
- Coinneach Odhar probably lived in the sixteenth century. Known as the Brahan Seer, he briefly enjoyed a reputation for predicting the futures of the ruling families. Coinneach is also Anglicized as Kenneth.
The name as we know it today owes his success to an 1825 novel. Sir Walter Scott had previously published The Betrothed, a tale of gallant Crusaders. The sequel, The Talisman, featured a hero called Kenneth. Kenneth’s adventures in Syria presaged the European fascination with all things from the Orient.
By the late nineteenth century, Kenneth was established as a personal name. He entered the US Top 100 in 1898 and continued to climb rapidly. From 1920 to 1970, he was a Top 25 pick – that’s an impressive five decades’ run and well over one million boys given the name. Besides Kenneth, variants Kennith, Kenny, Kennth, Ken, Kent, Kennedy, Kendrick, Kendall, Kenyon and Kenton all charted over the same period, too.
Little wonder that plenty of well-known individuals wear the name:
- Kenneth Grahame penned the enduring children’s classic The Wind in the Willows;
- Celebrated actor and director Kenneth Branagh is best known for breathing life into big screen adaptations of Shakespeare, and, of course, for playing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter franchise.
- Born into shoe business, Kenneth Cole has put his stamp on footwear, fashion and socially conscious ad campaigns;
- R&B singer Babyface was born Kenneth Edmonds.
On another musical note, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members R.E.M. recorded a hit song titled “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” in 1994. The song’s unusual title comes from an attack on Dan Rather – his assailant repeated the phrase. Despite that unfortunate association, the single keeps Kenneth current.
Kenneth peaked at #13 in 1939, and today stands at a respectable #135. Perhaps the biggest drawback to Kenneth is that a kid called Ken will be forever asked about Barbie and a boy named Kenny faces the South Park association. Still, this one doesn’t require a nickname – or parents could opt for the Superman-inspired, 1950s flavored Kent.
In a sea of Aidans, Dylans and Jordans, Kenneth is pleasingly different.