About A Name: Dexter

October 12, 2011 § 2 Comments

Dexter Morgan

Following the popular list of Fetching Names over at Appellation Mountain, which asked whether book or film/TV names must fall on the side of good to get used as a baby name, I was inspired to discuss Dexter. (The fifth season of the show has kicked off, and I love it!)

Just last night, I had a conversation with my mom-of-two-girls neighbour about the show, and she said she had always considered using Dexter for a boy, until the show came along. She didn’t want her son growing up with the same name as a serial killer, however fictional. The problem is, REAL serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer or Paul Bernardo have names with plenty of other inspirations, especially familial, so you won’t be accused of being inspired by them even though you probably wouldn’t be; Dexter has much less to inspire it. Dexter’s Laboratory was a cartoon that aired when I was in high school, and to be inspired by him is arguably worse than by the incredible Michael C. Hall. (I’m biased, oh well.) Dexter Blackstock, 25, plays second-tier pro football for Nottingham Forest. Dexter Holland (born Bryan) is the frontman for American pop punk band The Offspring. Dexter Gordon was a 20th Century American tenor sax player, regarded as one of the most important jazz saxophonists in history – but most of today’s parents probably aren’t totally aware of that, or him. NFL running back Dexter Carter won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.

Indeed, the most well-known bearer of the name these days is the fictional serial killer, who at least in the first few seasons seemed like a Robin Hood of sorts as he targets only other serial killers, but over the years has succumbed to shades of grey which make his persona a lot less easy to cheer for. When the show first began airing, usage of the boy name Dexter picked up in North America, and the Vancouver Sun ran an article on British Columbia’s name list that year, complete with an interview with a mother of a newborn Dexter.

The mother, who was not inspired by the TV show, had let the affiliation roll off her back as her husband had always loved he name so much, and said she just adored the nickname Dex. One year later, in 2008, use of the name for boys in BC doubled – 20 Dexters were born that year in BC, which is not unlike trends in the US. Though popularity of the name in Canada has fallen again, it’s still rising fast south of the border. It’s also on the rise in the UK, where it cracked the Top 1000 in 2008.

In 2006, Canadian singer Diana Krall and British musician Elvis Costello welcomed twins Frank Harlan James and Dexter Henry Lorcan. Welsh songstress Charlotte Church and her rugby-playing former boyfriend (and star of the Brit version of The Bachelor, oh my…) Gavin Henson named their son Dexter Lloyd in 2009. Christopher Coppola, a filmmaker and the brother of Nicolas Cage – nephew of The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, had son Dexter Augustus in 2008. 20th Century civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King had four children, and they named their third, born in 1961, Dexter Scott. That was the same year that legendary singer Otis Redding chose the name for his eldest son with his wife Zelma Atwood.

It’s barely crossed over to be used for girls, but Diane Keaton famously welcomed adopted daughter Dexter Dean in 1996.

Dexter as a first name began as an Old English occupational surname, meaning “cloth dyer.” It also derived as a place name – the Old English d’Exeter (from Exeter), and it was used to describe those who were right-handed, as in the Latin “dexter.” In ancient times when it was considered evil to be left-handed (Latin: sinistra), dexter meant favourable. These days, several cities in the US are called Dexter.

The name does manage to possess a sophisticated air among the serial killer stuff. Cary Grant, so debonair and cool, played C.K. Dexter Haven, ex-husband of Katharine Hepburn’s Tracy Lord Haven in the classic 1940 romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story. And this cool edge is what helps it stay around. It also fits nicely in the solid X-Factor trend in boys (and girls) names (which inspires the next post; stay tuned.)

My advice? Nicknames like Dexy and Poindexter aren’t very appealing, but this is still one of my favourite names. Yes, I love the show and yes, I believe that it’s about more than just a serial killer, but it’s not Dexter Morgan that makes me love the name. I think it’s cool, it feels classy but also a bit dangerous. It’s a strong name that resonates across all kinds of people.

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