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Errol Flynn is one of Australia’s most famous actors, even though he died more than 50 years ago, on October 14 1959. Born in Hobart in 1909, he is seen as a particularly Tasmanian export, although in Hollywood he passed himself off as Irish before he became an American citizen (he also said he was a descendant of a Bounty mutineer, which wasn’t true either).
Flynn became an immediate sensation in Hollywood from his very first role – a 17th century pirate in the 1935 film Captain Blood, although other stand out roles were as Fletcher Christian and Robin Hood. He was typecast as a derring-do swashbuckling action hero, famous for his well-choreographed sword fighting scenes. At the height of his career he was one of the most popular actors in America, and was roguishly handsome, with a dashing, debonair, devil-may-care image.
His reputation was as a womaniser, a highly-sexed, caddish, unscrupulous seducer. The expression in like Flynn is said to have been inspired by the ease at which Flynn was able to obtain women, and dates to 1942, when Flynn was up on charges of statutory rape. Accused of raping two 17-year-old girls, Flynn was acquitted by a jury made of mostly of women: during the trial he flirted with a teenager who he went on to respectably marry, after carefully verifying she was over 18.
Flynn was blunt about his proclivities, saying I like my scotch old and my women young. He was tickled enough by the slang expression that he tried to call his autobiography In Like Me, but the publishers changed it to My Wicked, Wicked Ways.
The rape trial didn’t seriously damage Flynn’s reputation, earning a round of backslaps and you-rascal-yous. He did face criticism for not serving in the US military during World War II. The studio kept secret that he had failed his medical, as their supposedly athletic star was in terrible physical shape. He had multiple heart problems, recurrent malaria, chronic back pain, chronic tuberculosis, and a dizzying array of sexually transmitted diseases.
To self-medicate these various ills, he drank heavily, and sometimes used morphine and heroin. When his career went downhill and he lost most of his money, he became old and bloated, sailing around on his yacht developing hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. However, he still managed to get a 15-year-old mistress to sail around with (Orry-Kelly had been their go-between), and planned to marry her except that she was barely 17 when he died. She never stopped loving him.
Whatever he had – charm, charisma, sex appeal – he never lost it. Controversial to the end, he became a figure of which almost anything could be believed, and biographies have variously suggested that he was a closet bisexual, a Nazi, a Communist, a sexual predator, a paedophile, a murderer, and a drug-runner (the Nazi claim is definitely debunked; the others are unsubstantiated).
Scottish surname, usually said to be from the village of Errol in Perthshire, the meaning of whose name is lost in the mists of time. However, the surname came into use late enough as to cast some doubt on this theory, and it may be a corruption of an earlier surname.
Errol has been used as a first name since the 18th century, originating in Scotland. One of the factors helping its use was probably the aristocratic title the Earl of Erroll, in the Scottish peerage since the Middle Ages. Erroll is the older spelling of the village of Errol, and the first Earl was William Hay, who was born in Errol. The title is still in the Hay family.
Errol was #160 in the 1900s when Errol Flynn was born, and peaked in the 1940s at the height of his career – just outside the Top 100 at #103. After the rape trial, the name fell sharply, and left the charts in the 1970s.
The name has been a favourite in the Caribbean, with a famous example being British singer Errol Brown, who was born in Jamaica. The first prime minister of Barbados was Errol Barrow, an enormously popular leader regarded as a hero of his country, although Errol Flynn lived in Jamaica in the 1950s and was a great boost to the island’s tourism.
Errol joined the US Top 1000 in 1936, the year after Errol Flynn’s Hollywood career began. It peaked in 1941 at #355 – the 1942 rape charges may not have killed off his career, but it did damage his brand as a namesake for babies. It hasn’t been in the Top 1000 since 1985, and last year 20 baby boys were named Errol. In the UK, there were 11 baby boys named Errol in 2014, and numbers are actually rising.
Errol is well known to Harry Potter fans as the name of the Weasley family’s owl. J.K. Rowling may have had in mind the Latin word erro, meaning “to go astray, to wander about, to go amiss”, as Errol is a feeble old owl who often gets lost while delivering the Weasley’s mail. It’s the basis for the English word error.
Errol seems rather vintage and cool, while still lovably eccentric. It could work well cross-culturally, as its similar to the Old English name Eorl, meaning “earl”, the Welsh name Eryl, meaning “a look out post”, and the Turkish name Erol, meaning “brave”.
Irish surname which is an Anglicised form of Ó Floinn, meaning “son of Flann”; the name Flann means “reddish, ruddy of complexion”.
Flann Fína mac Ossu was a 7th century king of Northumbria who was the son of an Anglo-Saxon king and an Irish princess – his English name was Aldfrith. Flann Sinna was a 9th century High King of Ireland, and there are also medieval Irish poets with the name. Flynn has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, mostly for boys: from the beginning the name was used in Ireland as well as other English-speaking countries.
The name Flynn began charting in the 1990s, and was #342 for the decade, although it made the Top 100 in 1997 at #93. This was the year after Flynn was released, a film about the early life of Errol Flynn with Guy Pearce in the title role. Coincidentally, it was also the year that Sean Flynn, the grandson of Errol Flynn, began his acting career.
In 2001 Flynn was back in the Top 100 at #98 – this was the year after David Bret published a salacious biography about Errol Flynn called Satan’s Angel. It had a burst of popularity in 2004, getting to #73: the year before, Flynn’s 1959 autobiography My Wicked Wicked Ways was republished, and the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood was released on DVD.
The next jump for the name was in 2011, when it got to #51: this was the year after the Disney film Tangled, with the Disney prince Flynn Rider based on Errol Flynn himself, and named in his honour. It was also the same year that model Miranda Kerr chose the name Flynn for her son. The name peaked in 2013 at #32 (the same year that Kerr separated from her husband, British actor Orlando Bloom).
Last year Flynn was #45 nationally, #40 in New South Wales, #38 in Victoria, #34 in Queensland, #40 in Western Australia, #37 in Tasmania, and #42 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Flynn is only popular in Australia and New Zealand – it is #48 and stable across the Tasman. It is #137 in the UK, and has been rising steadily since Tangled and the birth of Flynn Bloom, while in the US it joined the Top 1000 in 2011, and is currently #659 and still rising. It will be interesting to see how it fares in other countries since reaching its peak here.
Flynn is a popular name with a strong Australian connection. Unlike Errol, it has gained a cool Disney namesake and become a celebrity baby name, giving it a significant boost. No longer rising in Australia, Flynn seems to have settled in, perhaps on its way to becoming a modern classic. Handsome, Irish, Australian, on trend, and stable, Flynn seems like a popular yet safe choice.
Errol received an approval rating of 27%. 53% of people weren’t keen on Errol, and 8% loved it.
Flynn did much better, receiving an excellent approval rating of 82%, making it one of the top-rated names of 2015. 44% of people thought Flynn was a good name, while only 4% thought it was a terrible one.