Several people have asked us the origin of “Toren Marx.” Here’s the etymology as best as I can put it together.

First, “Toren” was a name Debi came up with while thinking about possible baby names. It met our criteria – it sounds good with “Cragun” and is not widely used. At the time, we didn’t know that it might be an actual word in other languages. Turns out, it is a word in at least one language: in Dutch it means “tower.”

In writing up this post, I scoured the internet looking for other possible meanings or uses of the word in other languages. According to several baby name websites, it has various meanings in other languages, but I think those sites are wrong and just making stuff up as I can’t verify any of their claimed translations. One site claims it means “ship mast” in Hebrew, but I can’t find any evidence to support this in a Hebrew dictionary. However, two people I know who are Jewish and speak Hebrew confirmed that “Toren” (enunciated that way, but not necessarily spelled that way) does mean “ship mast” in Hebrew.  So, this is a legitimate meaning of the name. According to one of my informants who lives in Israel, Toren is a surname in Israel, but he couldn’t think of anyone with the first name of Toren.

One website claimed “Torin” means “chief” in Gaelic/Irish. I checked a Gaelic dictionary and found the word “taoiseach” means “chief.” So, this claimed translation is bunk. Another website claimed “Toren” was “craggy hilltop” or “Torrence from the craggy hills” in Scottish. Turns out “hilltop” in Scottish is “hillheld;” they were miles off on that one. Another site claimed that “Tor” was a derivative of “Thor” in Swedish and that -en means “descendant of,” which would make Toren “a descendant of Thor.” While that’s kind of a cool meaning, turns out it’s probably bunk as well. The closest I could get to “Tor” in a Swedish dictionary was “Torr” which means “dry.” There’s also “Torv” which is the Swedish word for “peat moss.” Yeah, these aren’t really working for me…

I think Google translate hits it right on the translation; when you tell it to auto-detect the language and translate it into English, it says “Toren” is Dutch for “tower.” So, despite my extensive (though likely not exhaustive) etymological search, I’ve got two possible meanings for Toren – “tower” and “ship mast.”

Toren’s middle name, “Marx,” comes from Karl Marx, the famed social theorist and economist (well, famed among sociologists). I’m sure most of the readers of my blog will freak out when they realize he was named after the person to whom communism is most commonly attributed. Alas, if this is your first thought when it comes to Karl Marx you need to do some reading on what Marx actually wrote. He is most well-known among sociologists and economists for his dissection of capitalism; he illustrated quite well how capitalism works and what the aims of capitalism are. As a result of his writing and thought on this, he did ultimately conclude that capitalism was not a good thing and he advocated communism (though what he meant by communism is different from what most people typically think when they hear the word; what Marx advocated is more akin to socialism). Karl Marx is still widely cited and some have claimed he is one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th Century despite living in the 19th Century (because his writings are, in a sense, the basis of the Cold War, which was a major issue through the 20th Century). In short, Karl Marx was an intellectual giant whose work I respect, even though I may not agree with it 100% (he wasn’t right about everything). So, yes, Toren is named after Karl Marx.

There is a bit more to the two names, though. The other name we seriously considered was “Ronan Dax.” Ronon Dex was a character in Stargate: Atlantis (and “ronin” means “leaderless samurai” in Japanese). Dax is an alien species from Star Trek. We thought the two names sounded good together. As we were discussing Ronan Dax one morning, I said to Debi, “Well, if you like “Ronan Dax,” then what about “Toren Marx”?” It was the “x” and number of syllables in the two middle names that actually led us to think of using “Marx” as the middle name. Plus, at the time, I was teaching the Communist Manifesto in my sociological theory class, so Marx was on my mind. Just like “Ronan Dax” sounded good, “Toren Marx” sounded good. We liked the two together and went with it.

I noted in an earlier blog post that we ultimately went with “Toren” over “Ronan” because I regularly use the username “rcragun” online and didn’t want Toren to have to fight with his dad over usernames on the internet (he can use “tcragun”). So, that’s what pushed us toward “Toren” rather than “Ronan.” Et voila – “Toren Marx Cragun.”

A final note: Some people have asked if “Marx” comes from “Richard Marx,” the musician. No. I don’t think his music sucks, but I certainly am not a big enough fan to name my child after him.  Oh, and “Cragan” means “fingers” in Scottish.  I thought that was funny.

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6 Replies to “etymology of Toren Marx”

  1. “Tower” “Wants to spread the wealth around” “Fingers”, huh?

    So far I haven’t heard much of Toren spreading much wealth around yet, though from your stories he seems to be good a spreading something else far and wide.

  2. Oh yeah, and I officially ban you from naming children ever again.

    And so is my brother.

    The only acceptable name for another child of yours shall be: “Joseph Smith Cragun.” Thanks and I’ll accept checks or cash.

  3. He is, indeed, good at spreading other stuff around – he urinated on me again last night! It’s amazing what you’re willing to do as I parent. I know just throw a hand in the way to block as much of the stream as possible.

    No worries on the ban – I’m done having kids. One is sufficient for me! What about you and Erin; any kids in the foreseeable future?

  4. Love the middle name! I dig the whole name, but Marx was a great pick. Reminds me of a good high school friend whose name is Theodore Xavier _____. Always loved calling him “Ted X.” 😉

    Glad to hear everyone is happy and healthy.

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