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Great Moments

Great Moments In Naming: Academy Awards ‘Oscar’

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Where Did “Oscar” Get its Name? We don’t mean Oscar Wilde or Oscar Hammerstein. We mean that 8-pound gold statuette so beloved in Hollywood.

Most nicknames have obvious sources, but not Oscar, as the awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are commonly known.

For instance, the Tony Awards on Broadway are nicknamed in honor of actress/director Antoinette Perry, who died in 1946. The Tony Awards began the next year. Television’s Emmy awards get their moniker from a pioneer TV engineer and the third president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He suggested “Immy,” a term commonly used around 1950 for the early image orthicon camera. The name stuck and was later modified to Emmy, which was considered more appropriate for a female symbol.

But Oscar’s origin is shrouded in showbiz lore.

We do know the name was first used by a Hollywood columnist in 1934, referring to the Best Actress award to Katherine Hepburn. But where did it come from? That columnist said he invented the nickname to deflate the “pretension” of the ceremony. Another story is that the academy’s librarian (and eventual executive director) said that the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar. Our favorite explanation comes from actress Bette Davis, who claimed the name derived from her observation that the backside of the statuette looked like the derriere of her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson.

Perhaps your uncle or husband is known as Oscar. You might want to know that the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon words for “a god” and “a spear” and thus came to mean “divine strength.” (All hail King Oscar II, king of Norway and Sweden from 1872-1905.)

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