Happy birthday to Dr. Carter and Tom Mason!
Actor Noah Wyle turns 48 on Tuesday. Wyle became famous in 1994 playing John Carter, a medical student and later physician on “ER”. Nominated for five Emmys, he was the highest-paid TV series actor when he left “ER” in 2005. Between 2011 and 2015, Wyle starred as Mason, leader of the human resistance to the alien Eshpeni invaders, in the science fiction series “Falling Skies.”
The first Noah (Hebrew “Noach,” “rest, renewal”) is told by God to build an ark to save his family and many animals from a worldwide flood in the Bible’s Book of Genesis.
In early England, Noah was pronounced “Noy”; Noyes and Noyce families had ancestors called Noah. Noah was familiar to medieval Christians through church mystery plays. It was rare as a given name, perhaps because Noah is a comic henpecked husband in these plays. Noy was usually a nickname for someone who’d portrayed the character.
Boys began to be regularly named Noah after the Reformation. It was more popular with Puritans in America than England. Britain’s 1851 census found 3,688 Noahs. The 1850 United States census had 11,313, when the two nations had about the same population.
Though 19th-century Americans used Noah more than the British, it wasn’t among the most common Old Testament names. The 1850 census found more men named Moses (30,917), Elisha (19,019), Asa (15,333) and Ephraim (12,243) than Noah.
The best-known early American Noah is dictionary maker Noah Webster (1758-1843), who promoted spellings like “color” and “center” over British “colour” and “centre.”
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists started, Noah ranked 130th. Its long decline bottomed out at 698th in 1963.
Noah then rose as a “different but not too different” alternative for other Old Testament fashions like Joshua, Nathan, and Aaron. Bob Seger’s 1969 hit song “Noah” helped.
Noah peaked at 154th in 1982 and then fell. It seemed it would be less successful than Joshua and Nathan. Then “ER” happened.
In 1993, Noah ranked 203rd, with 1,503 born. In 1999, with “ER” No. 1 in the ratings, 14,923 Noahs arrived, ranking it 24th.
Wyle’s fame wasn’t enough to get Noah into the top 10, and the name plateaued. Then the 2004 film “The Notebook” premiered.
“The Notebook,” based on Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 bestseller, starred Ryan Gosling as Noah Calhoun, a poor lumber mill worker who falls in love with wealthy Allie just before World War II. Her parents derail the romance. After Noah returns from military service, he finds Allie engaged to another man. When her mother reveals she hid letters Noah sent from overseas, Allie realizes she still loves Noah. This tale is framed by an elderly Noah (James Garner) reading the story to his Alzheimer’s stricken wife, Allie. They die together in their sleep.
For 20 years, I’ve asked students at Bellevue University to write papers analyzing the psychology of a romantic film. “The Notebook” is always the overwhelming first choice of women — though now many were kindergartners in 2004.
Noah Calhoun made Noah a top 10 baby name of the last decade. In Social Security’s raw data, where every spelling counts separately, it was No. 1 between 2013 and 2016. It will be quite a while before the flood of Noahs completely subsides.