Happy Birthday to Peter Griffin and Captain Ed Mercer!
Seth MacFarlane turns 46 on Saturday. The multitalented MacFarlane was television’s youngest executive producer when the animated series “Family Guy” premiered in January 1999. He voices blue-collar dad Peter Griffin, precocious son Stewie and martini-drinking talking dog Brian, among others, on the show.
MacFarlane also developed the animated series “American Dad” (in which he voices title character Stan Smith) and “The Cleveland Show” (in which he voiced neighbor Tim). Since September 2017, he’s starred as starship Captain Mercer on “The Orville,” a live-action series loosely inspired by “Star Trek” and “The Twilight Zone.”
Seth is the English form of Shet, Hebrew for “appointed.” In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, Seth is Adam and Eve’s third son, born after oldest brother Cain kills second brother Abel.
That’s about all Genesis says. Later legends say Seth journeys to Paradise, where he sees a vision of the future newborn Jesus. Seth writes a book describing the star foretelling the baby’s birth. Centuries later, this guides the wise men to Bethlehem.
These legends were featured in “Cursor Mundi,” a poem written in northern England around 1300. Perhaps that’s why Seth was used by several prominent Yorkshire families by 1450, a century before the Reformation created a general fashion for Old Testament names.
New England’s Puritans were especially fond of Seth. The 1850 United States census found 8,882 Seths, most in the North. The 1851 British census, when the two nations had about the same population, lists only 1,730.
The most famous early American Seth was Seth Thomas (1785-1859), a Connecticut clockmaker who pioneered the mass production of metal movement clocks. His clocks are often featured on “Antiques Roadshow.”
Canadian-born Seth Bullock (1849-1919) was sheriff of raucous gold rush town Deadwood, South Dakota. Timothy Olyphant played him in HBO’s “Deadwood” (2004-06), and its movie sequel last May.
When Social Security’s yearly baby name lists started in 1880, Seth ranked 349th. Like most Old Testament names, it then declined, bottoming out at 907th in 1930.
Seth then rose, booming in the 1970s to a plateau at around No. 100 between 1979 and 1997. Pop culture doesn’t seem to have had a big influence, even though its first peak, at 89th in 1987, was helped by the 1986 horror film “The Fly,” in which scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) turns into an insect.
In 1996, George Clooney starred as Seth Gecko, a bank robber fighting a den of vampires in the cult-horror film “From Dusk Till Dawn.” This goosed Seth to 87th in 1998.
Seth suddenly soared 46% to rank 63rd in 2000, when 6,717 were born. It’s tempting to blame that on MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” success. Probably more important was the romantic box-office hit “City of Angels” (1998), where Nicolas Cage played Seth, an angel who falls in love with Maggie (Meg Ryan) and becomes a human to be with her.
Seth’s fall was just as quick. In 2018, it plummeted to 376th. “Saturday Night Live” star Seth Meyers (born 1973) became host of “Late Night” in 2014. Seth Rogen (1982) achieved stardom with “Knocked Up” (2007) and “The Green Hornet” (2011). They haven’t helped. If anything, MacFarlane, Meyers and Rogen reinforce a middle-aged dad image, making Seth passé for babies. It’ll be another 50 years before Seth soars again.