Cleveland Evans: That's So Raven -
Published Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:42 pm
Cleveland Evans: That's So Raven

Here's something to make even millennials start to feel their age: actress Raven-Symoné turns 28 today.

“Raven” is derived from Old English “hræfn.” As large intelligent birds with striking black plumage, ravens appear in myths of many cultures. Native Americans along the northwest coast say the raven brought light to humans by tricking a god who'd hidden the sun, moon and stars in a box.

To ancient Greeks, ravens were the god Apollo's messengers. Celts also saw ravens as divine. Brân was the Celtic word for “raven,” and in Welsh myth, giant Brân the Blessed is Britain's first king.

Ancient Germanic tribes believed creator god Woden's ravens Thought and Memory flew over the world searching out news.

Because of that Hræfn was an Anglo-Saxon man's name. People whose last name is Raven or Revans had ancestors called Hræfn.

As a name connected with pagan gods, the first name Raven disappeared around 1200. However, the bird continued to be a popular literary symbol.

Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 poem “The Raven” is the most famous example. The poem, where a young scholar mourning his lost love Lenore is visited by a raven croaking “Nevermore,” was hugely popular.

A handful of 19th century Americans were named Raven. Their parents probably weren't inspired by Poe's poem but by the newly popular custom of turning last names into first names.

In the census, the earliest sure example of a male Raven is Raven McReynolds, born in Kentucky in 1832. The earliest female Raven is Raven Lewis of Charleston, S.C., born in 1863. Giving girls surnames as first names was first popular in the South.

Social Security's yearly data includes names given at least five boys or five girls from 1880 on. The first year five boys were named Raven was 1921. That didn't happen again until 1938.

The first year Raven occurs on the girls' list is 1941, when six were born. By 1941, Robin was among the top 500 girls' names, perhaps inspiring creative parents to use Raven.

From 1954 on, at least five Ravens of each sex were born. The name remained rare, though. The most boy Ravens in a year, 15, came in 1970. The most girl Ravens, 26, came in 1971.

Then in 1976, soap opera “The Edge of Night” introduced Raven Alexander. Though technically the character was named Charlotte and “Raven” was a nickname from her lustrous dark hair, she was almost always called Raven on the show.

Raven, a beautiful money-hungry schemer with a series of wealthy husbands, quickly became one of the most popular characters on daytime television. Seventeen newborn girls were named Raven in 1976, but 100 in 1977, the first year it ranked among the top thousand. In 1982, there were 469, ranking it 453rd.

Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman was born in Atlanta the year after “The Edge of Night” was canceled. Raven's use fell until Raven-Symoné appeared on “The Cosby Show” as incredibly cute step-granddaughter Olivia Kendall in the fall of 1989.

In 1990, 1,759 Ravens were born, over five times the 1988 figure. The name peaked with 2,285 in 1993, the year after “Cosby” ended. The same year Raven-Symoné began starring as Nicole Lee on “Hangin' with Mr. Cooper.”

Raven-Symoné's status as a young black celebrity, along with the raven's fame as a beautiful black bird, made the name especially popular with African-Americans. Although Raven's overall rank in 1993 was 139th, it was among the top 20 for black girls born that year.

Unusually, Raven's success for girls didn't make it completely disappear for boys. In fact, the top year for boys named Raven in the U.S. was 1999, when 188 were born. Perhaps that had something to do with the Baltimore Ravens NFL franchise starting play that year. The Ravens were named from Poe's poem because Poe lived in Baltimore and the city's baseball team, the Orioles, also was named for a bird.

Raven-Symoné's success on “That's So Raven” from 2003 to 2007 as Raven Baxter, a teen with psychic powers, didn't help the name at all. It continued to fall for both sexes until 2011, when 36 boys and 484 girls received it.

Then in 2012 the name bounced back, with 43 boys and 547 girls named Raven. Perhaps that was connected with the Baltimore Ravens' successful 2012 season, culminating in their Super Bowl win last February. Or perhaps kids who watched “That's So Raven” are starting to have kids of their own. When it comes to names, it never pays to say “Nevermore.”

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