A Question with No Answer (yet)
During our recent weekly free Zoom meeting, I asked the question, “why are so many men named Sheldon as their first name?”
After some discussion, the simple answer was “we don’t know.”
So I compose these words with the hope that it stimulates someone, somewhere, and somehow, to answer the question. But, of course, it’s time to spin some interesting babble into this post.
Probably the most famous first name Sheldon is an actor named Sheldon Leonard. Early in his career, he was typecast as a “heavy” and often played a gangster, gambler, bartender, or some other shady character from the seedy side of town. His real name was Sheldon Leonard Bershad. He was born on February 22, 1907, in Manhattan to Jewish parents.
For about 10 years, he appeared on the Jack Benny Show (first radio, then on TV). He was always stopping Jack and telling him what the best bet was on trains, elevators, or horses. (There is a YouTube video of the zany character available – it’s above and Sheldon Leonard shows up about 1;25 into the video).
Sheldon Leonard went on to do much more than just play the part of a heavy in small supporting roles. He became a producer and director. One of the biggest shows he created was the Dick Van Dyke Show. He is the one that chose Mary Tyler Moore and launched her carer. And there were many other shows, too, like the Danny Thomas Show, I Spy, and Andy Griffth Show. Not bad for a fellow named Sheldon (as his first name).
And he was forever mortalized when the creator of The Big Band Theory decided to name the two main characters of that Sitcom in honor of Sheldon Leonard. Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Dr. Leonard Hopstetter are now a part of our pop culture.
So I think it is fair to say that the parents of Sheldon Leonard Bershad started a trend. And for some reason, they chose to name their son Sheldon, which does seem popular to some of those of Jewish descent. So why did they choose the name of a hamlet in the UK? The mystery continues.
So far, we don’t know of any woman with the given first name of Sheldon.
There certainly are athletes with the name Sheldon. There is Sheldon Rankins, Sheldon Richardson, Sheldon Brown, and Sheldon Day.
From the OhBabyNames website, they say this about Sheldon:
Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Sheldon
Sheldon is the transferred use of an English surname into a masculine personal name. The surname finds its origins in several towns so called Sheldon in Derbyshire, Devon and Warwickshire, England; such location-based surnames were given to men who hailed from one of these towns and then relocated elsewhere – it was used as a means of identification. In other words, a man residing in London called Robert Sheldon would be known as the Robert whose birthplace was Sheldon. Sheldon means “steep-sided valley,” derived from the Olde English elements “scylf” (a shelf or slope) and “denu” (a valley). Such a place name would have been used to describe the area upon which a settlement was built; in this case, a valley with steep sides. The surname appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 rendered as Sildened, later evolving into Sheldon by the 16th century. As a masculine forename, Sheldon, like many surnames-turned-first-names, came into use in the 19th century. (Source: https://ohbabynames.com/all-baby-names/sheldon/)
Perhaps there ought to be a law about naming a son with the first name Sheldon. I’d suggest we ask the U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, the Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse.
The Name Sheldon – a first or last name?
So what do you think? Did the trend of naming a son with the first name Sheldon being with Sheldon Leonard? Or do you think it is just that a lot of people wished they were born a Sheldon, and since they were;t, they used it as a first name?
As of Dember 9, 2022, there are 13,253 listings on Find A Grave of people who have the first name of Sheldon.