Thurl is a distinctive name, a true mystery that might appeal to parents after the truly rare.
Thanks to C in DC for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
It was Thurl Ravenscroft who first came up in conversation.
Don’t know the name? You know the voice. He sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Only he’s not listed in the credits, and people often assume it’s Boris Karloff behind the enduring song.
He was also the original voice of Tony the Tiger, narrated rides at Disneyland, and sang in a Peanuts movie.
The technical term for his voice is basso profundo – the lowest vocal range. His career spanned many decades, as he transitioned from a singer to a voice actor. And yet he’s not a household name – and his given name is a mystery.
But Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft is his given name. Could his Nebraska birth offer any clues to the name’s origins? Maybe …
Except that there’s a second notable bearer of the name: the NBA’s Thurl Bailey, who played from the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 1980s and 90s. His roots are on the opposite side of the US, in North Carolina and Washington DC.
Thurl: Besides Bailey & Ravenscroft
After much digging, I found a very few others. In a 2002 short story titled I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, author William Gay gave the name to a supporting character. It became a movie in 2009, but all of this is way too late to explain the earlier uses.
A minor Chicago Hope character also wore the name in 2000.
Let’s bring on the theories:
- It could be a rare surname, and I’ve seen it listed as Scottish and Irish, and given the meaning fort.
- It might come from an English word meaning gaunt – at least that’s the explanation I found when looking into the word’s other use, as a term for the hip joint in cattle. It may also have Cornish roots, according to this dictionary.
- It often appears as misreading of Thursday – substitute the ‘s’ with an older style ‘f’ and it becomes Thurfday, often mis-scanned into modern databases as an ‘l’ – but that seems to be entirely a modern error.
- Still, that got me thinking – could Thurl be related to Thor? It’s the source of Thursday, after all. And guess what? There are handful of English villages with names like Thurlstone in South Yorkshire. And in that case, the name is linked to Thunor, another name for Thor.
- Or maybe not. Another theory is that it comes from the word thirled – pierced. While that’s a new one for me, the word did exist in Middle English, and has Old English roots – so that’s yet another possibility.
Thurl: By the Numbers
Back to Nebraska and North Carolina. Is there any hint as to the name’s origins based on the regions where the name was used? I can’t find one. I found a Georgia-born Thurl, sometime around early 1930, and one born in Maine a decade later.
According the official numbers from the Social Security Administration, between 5 and fifteen boys received the name most years from the 1910s into the 1960s. Sixteen boys were given the name in 1924. That’s the same year that five boys were named Thirl – the only year that spelling charted at all.
So this name remains a mystery, but an intriguing one – and perhaps a possibility for a daring namer to embrace.
What do you think of Thurl? How would it wear in 2016?
Thurl E Pendland says
Hello. My name is Thurl Pendland Jr. My dad was born 1916 and had the same name.i was born in 1962 even though I wasn’t the first born son I got stuck with the namesake of my dad. I know it’s of Irish descent. Sois the last name from somewhere around Tipperary Ireland. I’ve been trying to find out more about my heritage but can’t find anything on it.
Thurl Nathan Phillips says
Thanks for the knowledge. My name is Nathan Thurl Phillips. I just turned 40 and am using Thurl as my first name since my dad passed away recently and I believe it was his grandfather’s name. I have homework to do. Also I lost a lifelong bestfriend not long ago and he would call me by my middle name. So to keep his memory alive I choose to use Thurl as my first name, and Nathan as my middle. Ty GB
Do not care for this name.
I had never heard of Thurl before this post, and I am intrigued. I will often type a name into wolframalpha to see if it is even in their database as a name. In this case, it is not; it is is listed as a verb. But I thought the word frequency chart was quite interesting, as there is a huge jump in usage around the 1920s. I suppose that could be due to mining? Oh, and it should be noted that wolframalpha does have Mr. Thurl Ravenscroft in their database. And now I want to know what caused such a surge in hits to his wikipedia page in 2014.