Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Yes, not a name you hear every day, and not a name most parents think to use. In fact, Humphrey (HUM-free) was only given to 6 baby boys in 2011, decreasing to 5 in 2013. It wasn't much better in the U.K., where it was only used 13 times in 2011. Rare indeed, yet so familiar. Not to mention intriguing nicknames: Hum, or Free. Many can still recall the charming actor Humphrey Bogart, who was in over 50 movies between 1928 and 1956, a year before he died. (I was shocked to learn my husband had no idea who he was, considering the American Film Institute ranked him the greatest male star in the history of American film.) He is most famous for "Casablanca" (1942) and "Sabrina" (1954). He starred alongside some gorgeous leading ladies, such as Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall (whom he married), Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn. This cultural icon known for playing hard, yet noble characters would be a great namesake for a baby of film or Broadway buffs, and what's more is that he was born on Christmas day.
This vintage name of Old German origin means "peaceful warrior, peaceful bear" and was popular in medieval times, along with other y-ending names like Jeremy and Geoffrey. Saint Humphrey (Hunfrid) lived in the 800s AD, and the monk turned bishop turned abbot was one of many forced to flee during the Norman invasion, later returning to his place in France to rebuild. The name Humphrey can be found in a few other unexpected places, like on the son of King Henry IV, who became the first Duke of Gloucester, and who was named for his grandfather. There was a jazz musician named Humphrey Lyttleton, and a famous whale called Humphrey the Humpback.
Humphrey last appeared on the U.S. top 1000 in 1894, with no recurrences despite the actor's popularity. In fact, Bogart most likely saved the name from extinction, as it was being forgotten and fading closer to obscurity. Sometimes you can find Humphrey as a surname - it was that of Lyndon Johnson's VP, and Humphrey Bogart got it from his mom's maiden name. Humphries may be the more familiar surname. Humphrey appears in literature as well - Shakespeare's Henry IV, Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker, Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, and the children's book The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney. He's even mentioned in Harry Potter.
So what do you think? Is Humphrey ready for his vintage revival? Don't let the first four letters influence you too much, as "hump" is said differently than Humphrey, and most are familiar enough with the name to pronounce it correctly as HUM-free. If it bothers you but you do like the name, consider using a legit variant such as Homfrey, Humfrey or Onofre.