River: Baby Name of the Day

English: On the river Lesse, painting (ca. 188...

Sci fi gives this one to the girls, but usage suggests he’s on Team Blue.

Thanks to Felecia for suggesting River as our Baby Name of the Day.

River’s origins are Latin.  Riparius referred to a riverbank; it was corrupted into Old French as riviere, and came to refer to the river as well as the edge.  The Normans brought the word to England, where it became rivere and eventually the word we know today.  Other evolutions, like coastal areas called the Riviera, hint at the word’s original meaning.

There are countless cultural references to rivers – from crossing the Rubicon to going up the river (to prison), being sold down the river (originally said of slaves), to the influence of Ol’ Man River – the Mississippi and the Nile and countless other significant bodies of water.  Jesus was among the many early Christians baptized in the Jordan.

As a name, River is far younger.  A handful of boys were first called River in the 1970s.  River Phoenix was at the very beginning of the curve.  The name remained rare into the 80s, when Phoenix’s acting career took off with films like Stand by Me.  The year following his tragic death, River appeared in the US Top 1000 for the first time, charting at #924 in 1994.

It was the right moment.  Nature names for boys were slowly becoming mainstream.  Ends-with-r names were also at the beginning of their ascendancy, with Tyler and Connor joining classic Christopher.

The name continued to climb for boys.  Then along came two high-profile female characters answering to the name.  Science fiction on the small screen gave us:

  • In 2002, Joss Whedon’s space Western Firefly began its short, but significant run.  River Tam was a girl genius, a deadly assassin, and so much more.  Protected by her brother Simon, the Tams were part of the rag-tag group aboard the Serenity. We learned more about her story in the 2005 movie and the comic books that have followed.
  • In 2008, Doctor Who introduced the mysterious Dr. River Song.  It’s tough to explain Song without, as she would say, “Spoilers!”  Let’s just say this: she’s a critical part of the story line for every major character in her part of the series, in almost unbelievable ways.

No wonder that the name picks up momentum for girls in the early twenty-first century, breaking into the US Top 1000 in 2009.

But parents are still confidently bestowing this name on boys:

  • Musician Taylor Hanson gave this name to a son in 2006.  Taylor and wife Natalie are also the parents of Ezra, Penelope, Viggo, and Wilhelmina.
  • Keri Russell welcomed a son named River in 2007.  She and husband Shane Deary also have a daughter called Willa.
  • Earlier in 2014, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and wife Candice welcomed a son called Rivers – yup, the plural form – a little brother for Hawkins.

As of 2012, the name was given to 709 boys and 407 girls.  In 2013, those numbers were 815 boys and 480 girls.

Let’s say this about River – between the -r ending, the v in the middle, a host of possible meanings, and ties to the natural world, River absolutely belongs in 2014.  It’s easy to imagine parents from wildly different backgrounds embracing this name.

It’s steadily on the rise for both genders right now, and it is likely to continue to catch on.  The question is, of course, how high will River climb?

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