About A Name: Pearl

April 25, 2012 § 9 Comments

The ultra-classy mineral, mined not in the ground but from oyster shells under the sea, has been popping up on birth certificates with a certain vengeance the past few years. An old-fashioned name somewhere between Ruby and Diamond on the trendy scale, a renewed interest in classy vintage fashionistas like Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn seem to have helped bring this name back around. But pearls have always had value.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, protagonist Hester Prynne names her daughter Pearl because she was “of great price, purchased with all she had, her mother’s only treasure.”

The past few weeks, Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes has announced the adoption of second daughter Emerson Pearl, and Jack Osbourne’s partner Lisa Stelly welcomed Pearl Clementine, Sharon Osbourne’s first grandchild, yesterday in Los Angeles. (Ozzy’s got a few already, kids of his daughter Jessica Starshine, from his first marriage.)

Pearl was among the most popular names for girls at the start of the 20th Century, peaking inside the Top 30 in 1900. It’s existence as a surname of Latin origin also gave it moderate popularity in the 19th Century as a boy’s name – like the celebrated early 20th Century Western novelist, born Pearl Zane Grey. Use today is more or less entirely female. From perla, it denoted an occupational trader of pearls and other precious gemstones. Actress Rhea Perlman, of Cheers fame, wears a variation. Guitarist Slash’s wife Perla Hudson is known by a variation on the first name.

As a girl’s name, usage dropped out of the US Top 1000 in the 1980s, only to reappear in 2009. The beauty, and perceived rarity, of a real string of pearls, gives this name a special quality. But it’s popularity waned, in spite of celeb wearers like British designer Pearl Lowe. She’s mom to model Daisy, daughter of rocker Gavin Rossdale. Meat Loaf’s adopted daughter, Pearl Aday, welcomed Marvin Lee Aday’s first grandchild earlier this year when she gave birth to Revel Young with Anthrax’s Scott Ian. But in 2005, a funny, accessible modern celeb gave the name to her daughter and people started rediscovering it’s unique qualities. When Maya Rudolph welcomed her first, daughter Pearl Bailey, it’s possible she was named for the singer of the same name, a contemporary of Rudolph’s mother, singer Minnie Ripperton.

American writer Pearl S. Buck, who was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and spent a large portion of her youth and young adulthood in China, was an English teacher with her husband at Nanjing University. She won the Pulitzer Prize for the 1931 novel The Good Earth, a culturally rich tale of Chinese farmers, and in 1938 became a Nobel Laureate for her work. Her former home on the university campus is now the Science & Technology Industry Group building, named in her honour. Her work was popular in the United States, and widely credited with, perhaps inadvertently, helping Americans view the Chinese as allies in the war against Japan – which was, perfectly, a direct result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941.

As a middle name, Pearl has survived in fair quantities – particularly among the country set with Garth Brooks welcoming daughter Taylor Mayne Pearl in 1992, Clint Black’s actress wife Lisa Hartman giving birth to daughter Lily Pearl in 2001, Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker welcoming Carolyn Pearl in 1995, and Little Big Town’s Kimberly Roads giving birth to Daisy Pearl in 2007. The association might have something to do with Minnie Pearl, a trailblazing comedian and country singer.

Another musician, Cerys Matthews, the Welsh frontwoman of the rock band Catatonia, welcomed daughter Glenys Pearl y-Felin in 2003, and Friends and Episodes star Matt LeBlanc welcomed daughter Marina Pearl in 2004. The Brits seem equally taken by Pearl, with Tamara Beckwith giving birth to daughter Anouska Poppy Pearl in 1987, Happy Monday’s frontman Shaun Ryder welcoming daughter Pearl in 2008, and newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky welcoming daughter Angelica Pearl in April 2010.

Indeed, 2010 was a big year for Pearl. Aussie stars Adam Hills and Ali McGregor welcomed daughter Beatrice Pearl in May, Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman and movie producer Harvey Weinstein welcomed India Pearl in August, and director Steven Soderbergh welcomed a daughter named Pearl Button on August 30.

Pearls can be white or black, but also many colours in between from pink, silver-, cream-, golden-colored, green, blue, yellow, and rainbow. Likewise this name can appeal to various types of people. The one thing Pearl didn’t seem to have going for it was affectation by younger parents, those still in their early to mid-twenties. Now that 26-year-old Osbourne and 24-year-old Stelly have used it, it’s been opened to a new generation of popularity.

As a name, where does Pearl rank for you among the gemstones?


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