Andre starts the beginning of the end Tuesday.
“Black-ish,” the popular ABC sitcom about a wealthy African American family, premieres its final season Jan. 4. Anthony Anderson, starring as advertising executive Andre “Dre” Johnson, has been nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series all seven seasons.
André is the French form of Andreas, a Greek name derived from “andreios” (“manly”), known as Simon Peter’s brother, the first Apostle of Jesus. In English, he’s of course called St. Andrew.
Before the 19th century, it was normal to translate given names when moving from one culture to another. Men born André in France would naturally be called Andrew when visiting or immigrating to an English-speaking country. It’s only around 1800 that different forms of common saint’s names from other languages started being adopted into English.
The 1850 United States census, first listing all free residents by name, found 475 men called Andre. Eleven percent were born in France or Quebec, and 38% in French-influenced Louisiana.
The names of slaves weren’t listed in the census. The 1870 census included 670 Andres. Twenty-two percent of those were Black, mostly freed slaves and their sons. Forty-two percent of them were born in Louisiana.
Andre increased slowly over the next 70 years, though it didn’t maintain its popularity with Black parents. In the 1940 census, the latest with names available, only 5.4% of the 3,673 Andres were Black men, though Black men made up 9.8% of the population.
Meanwhile André had boomed back in France. Between 1910 and 1935, it was second only to Jean as a name for French boys.
Andre entered the top thousand baby names in the United States in 1924. Starting in the 1930s, it was helped by orchestra conductor Andre Kostelanetz (1901-1980). Born Abram Kostelyanetz in Russia, he’s credited with inventing “easy listening” light classical arrangements years before the term was created. Albums with him conducting the New York Philharmonic billed as “Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra” sold millions.
In 1934, Ohio librarian Alice Norton (1912-2005) published “The Prince Commands” as “Andre Norton,” believing her books would sell better to young adult males with a masculine byline. Within a year, she’d legally changed her name to Andre. In the 1950s, she became a highly prolific and successful science fiction and fantasy author.
In 1961, Andre entered the top 200 names. Its peak at 119th, in 1984, was helped by French-born wrestler “Andre the Giant” Roussimoff (1946-1993), and by the creation of sexy villain André DiMera (Thaao Penghlis) on popular soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
By then, African American parents appeared to be especially fond of Andre. R&B musician Andre Williams (1936-2019), who had hits with songs “Bacon Fat” (1957) and “Cadillac Jack” (1966), may have helped.
Boston Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett (born 1959) and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed (born 1964), both later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, contributed to keeping Andre a top 30 name for Black youth throughout the 1980s.
Rap star Dr. Dre (born Andre Young in 1965) cemented “Dre” as the popular nickname for Andre in the 1990s.
Though Andre’s rapidly going out of fashion with parents of all races, ranking only 281st in 2020, there’s no denying the creators of “Black-ish” picked one of the most appropriate names they could for a middle-aged Black American dad.
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