I love playing detective. Discovering a name’s origin is like solving a murder mystery.
Reader Rogene Stegman of Omaha asked me about her name. She says it with a hard “g,” as in “geese.”
“People have seen my name and called me Roger, Roseanne, Rosemary, even Rogaine!”
Rogene says in the 1960s, her mother worked in Ainsworth, Neb., with a woman whose daughter was named Rogene.
“Mom always remembered and liked the name Rogene,” and so gave it to her own daughter.
Rogene wonders if it’s related to Roisin, an Irish name pronounced “Ro-sheen,” meaning “little rose.”
I’ve occasionally seen the name Rogene and assumed it was a feminine form of Roger. However, it’s not listed in any name dictionaries I own, including those published in Ireland, France, Germany and Scandinavia.
Social Security lists all first names given to at least five American girls born per year since 1880. The first time Rogene appeared on the list was 1915, when nine were born. Rogene’s always been rare. Its two top years were 1927 (30 newborns) and 1947 (30.)
The first year the census listed everyone’s name was 1850. Fourteen women named Rogene were counted. The two oldest, Rogene Kline of Pennsylvania and Rogene Hegle of western New York, probably were examples of census takers misspelling “Regine,” a name often used in German families.
Six of the rest lived in northern Vermont. Two more had parents born in Vermont.
The census taker wrote “Rogene Neeguith” for both a 30-year-old mother and her 6-year-old daughter in Colchester, Vt. Both were born in Canada. So was Rogene originally a French name brought to Vermont from Quebec?
Alas, later censuses and an online family genealogy site show that these women were both really “Odile Niquette.” The 1850 census taker assimilated what he heard to a name he already knew from the neighborhood. The Niquettes didn’t bring Rogene from Canada.
That leaves the oldest Rogene in 1850 as Rogene Abbott, born 1830, daughter of Ithream and Abigail Abbott of Westford, Vt. Rogene Scott of Fairfax (born 1840) and Rogene Ashley and Rogene Pattee of Milton (both born 1844) round out the 1850 Vermont Rogenes. The three towns border each other.
Whether the Abbotts made up the name or had an older relative or acquaintance with it who the 1850 census missed, Rogene seems to have been created in 19th century Vermont. How is still a mystery.
Maybe it was a feminine form of Roger. However, Roger was fairly rare (only 33 then lived in all of Vermont) and no male relative named Roger has turned up for any of the Rogenes.
Maybe there was a French Canadian influence. Canadian name expert Timothy Nau has shown nineteenth-century Québécois were among the first to search out unusual names, favoring rare saints’ names like Télesphore and Léocadie. Rosine, French form of Rosina, an obscure German saint, was another example. Perhaps Rogene “Americanizes” Rosine.
Maybe it is related to Irish Róisín. Nineteen Rosinas lived in the same two counties as the four Rogenes in 1850. The oldest, 65-year-old Irish-born Rosina Shanley, was probably originally a Róisín. But it’s doubtful her Vermont Yankee neighbors knew that.
However it was invented, Rogene spread west along with its bearers. Rogene Scott, for example, was a schoolteacher in Kentucky, Louisiana and Tennessee between 1858 and 1862 — her strong abolitionist views ensured she moved frequently. The University of North Carolina has her letters back home in its collection relating to the history of slavery.
The oldest Rogene out of five in Nebraska in 1900, Rogene Cook, lived in Lodgepole. Tracing her back through the census, she was born Rogene Brown to Hiram and Maria Brown in Burton, Ohio, in 1849.
One of the two 1850 Rogenes with Vermont-born parents, Rogene Carpenter, was 13 and living in Painesville, Ohio. Her father Joseph was a physician. Though the 20 miles between Painesville and Burton was farther in 1849 than it seems today, doctors made house calls back then. It’s very possible the Browns had heard of Dr. Carpenter’s daughter before naming theirs.
The last mystery is how Rogene ended up being pronounced with a hard “g” in Nebraska. It almost surely originally had a soft “g.” More than one of the early Rogenes back east had a brother named Eugene, and census takers sometimes wrote “Rojean” for the same woman who’d been “Rogene” a decade before.
Perhaps the parents of the Ainsworth Rogene found the name written and assumed it was pronounced with a hard “g.” Such mistakes are common. For example, actor Ian Ziering pronounces his name “Eye-un” instead of the traditional “Ee-un.” His parents saw it and just assumed it rhymed with Brian.
Or perhaps in Nebraska, Rogene got confused with Regine and Regina, common names among German immigrants. In German, they’re pronounced with a hard “g.” Two of the other four Nebraska Rogenes in 1900 were born in Germany or Austria.
Six Regines and 144 Reginas lived in Nebraska in 1900. Almost all were children of German or Scandinavian immigrants. Perhaps some assumed Rogene was the “American” equivalent of Regine.
The evidence is circumstantial, but it points to Rogene having been created around 1830, and then, like other unusual names without big pop culture support, spreading when young women heard the name, fell in love with it and saved it for their own daughters.
Rogene Stegman’s mother was just the latest in a long chain stretching back to Vermont.