Thanks to Matilda Magazine for suggesting one that could fit right in! Our Baby Name of the Day is Reeve.
Reeve has been in sparing use for years. He’s seen the slightest increase over the last decade, up to 33 newborn boys in 2011 and 29 in 2012.
That’s still plenty rare.
Probably some of the Reeves were answering to a family surname. Reeve, Reeves, and Reever can all be found in the last name spot, with various origins:
- The most common seems to be an occupational surname – a sort of sheriff in the Middle Ages. More on that in a minute.
- Reeves can also refer to place of residence. The phrase atter eves meant “at the edge” in Middle English. Say that five times fast and you live at reeves – near the edge of the forest.
- Reever is a little less certain, and makes me think of the scary guys from Firefly, but probably comes from a nickname for Rudolf.
Pre-Norman Invasion, a reeve was an officer for the king, one who handled things at the local level. A seventh century law suggested that a reeve could witness sales. In the 900s and 1000s there were men called the High Reeve, a role specifically mentioned in Edmund I of England’s codes. The job varied over time – somewhere between a magistrate and a sheriff – though our word sheriff comes from the phrase “shire reeve.”
The title persisted post-conquest, but it was never quite as important again. The position became something more akin to an overseer, someone who managed the peasants and various aspects of a manor’s daily operations, often under the supervision of the steward. Interestingly, in some manors the peasants elected their reeve from among their own. Chaucer includes a reeve as a pilgrim in his Canterbury Tales, a shrewd and capable manager, an expert in matters pertaining to the estate he served.
No wonder then, that families took the name, just like Taylor and Miller and Carter came into use.
One bearer probably springs to mind: Christopher Reeve, the incredibly handsome actor who played the Man of Steel in the 1978 blockbuster Superman. He’s no relation at all to George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television in the 1950s. Besides his star turn as a superhero, Reeve became a real life inspiration when an accident left him a quadriplegic, and Reeve established himself as an advocate for research into spinal cord injuries.
Notable people to wear the name in one form or another are many:
- John Reeves was a naturalist and inspector of tea for the British East India Company. A pheasant and a muntjac – a small deer – are named in his honor.
- Reeve Carney is a Broadway star, and the great-nephew of Honeymooners actor Art Carney.
- English vaudeville star Ada Reeve had a second act as a movie actor in her 70s.
- Back in 1784, an attorney named Tapping Reeve founded the first law school in the US.
- Poet and translator F.D. Reeve was known for translating for Robert Frost on his trip to the Soviet Union – and for being the father of Christopher.
Add it all up, and Reeve is quirky, accomplished, handsome, with something of an edge. If you’re after a distinctively different name for a son, he’s one to consider.