For another Hayden Fry legacy, see Iowa's baby name rankings

Ten-year-old Savannah Hayden Mathias of Iowa City places flowers Wednesday at the base of a statue to Hayden Fry in Cora
Ten-year-old Savannah Hayden Mathias of Iowa City places flowers Wednesday at the base of a statue to Hayden Fry in Coralville. Savannah's middle name is in honor of the late coach. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Born early at just 27 weeks, Hayden Duwe came into the world weighing only 2.2 pounds.

She was born in October 2017 in the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, just as “the wave” — where football fans in Kinnick Stadium wave up to kids looking down from the neighboring 14-floor Children’s Hospital — was catching on.

“There were five other names that we had, and we didn’t even consider the other four when we were born at the university,” said her mom, Amber Duwe, 33, of North Liberty.

Seven years earlier, Ryan Grimm and his wife also were receiving care at the Children’s Hospital for their infant — a boy with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

“We knew we were going to be at the university a bunch for procedures — and we’re huge Hawkeye fans — so we named him Hayden,” Grimm, 39, of Cedar Rapids, said of his now 8-year-old son.

Across Iowa and even scattered across the nation, parents have created living memorials to Hayden Fry, the legendary Hawkeye football coach who died last week at age 90, by naming their precious offspring in his honor. Fry coached the Hawkeyes for 20 seasons, retiring in 1998 after the season concluded. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2010.

“All four of our boys are named after Hawkeye legends,” said Jodi Covington, 34, of Center Point. “Kinnick, Hayden, Parker and Gable.”

Kinnick, now 11, came first when Covington and her football-playing husband were tossing out potential names. Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner for whom the stadium is named, was in the mix.

“My husband was joking and said, ‘Why not Kinnick?’” she said. “And I said, ‘I actually like that.’ And once we did that, we couldn’t stop there.”

Hayden, now 10, came next. When the coach died last week, all of Hayden’s friends at school were talking about the connection.

“They all knew who he was named after,” his mom said.

The other children were named in honor of the late Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker and former Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable.

Fans haven’t just exhibited admiration for Fry in the christening of babies. Dale Arens — a UI assistant athletics director and longtime fan-turned friend of Fry — is among those who have bestowed the coach’s name on another kind of companion.

“I had a dog one time that we named Hayden, and it was a female Brittany spaniel, and I told him, I said, ‘Hayden, I gotta tell you that we got a new puppy’ and he said, ‘I bet you named it Hayden,’” Arens said, recounting a conversation he had with Fry. “And I said, ‘Yeah, how’d you guess?’ And he laughed and he said something like, ‘Well, let me see now — and he made up some number — and he said, ‘I know of so many boys, so many girls, so many dogs and a whole lot more critters.’”

And, Arens said, that captures Fry’s broader cultural influence.

“When something or somebody means something to you, the highest tribute you can pay to them is to name someone or something that really is going to mean a lot to you after that person,” he said. “So the very fact that people would name their child or their pet after Hayden was sort of the highest level of tribute that they can pay him.”

Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, recalled the first year of FRYfest — now an annual event marking the start of college football season — when organizers offered any kid named after Hayden the chance to have a photo taken with the icon.

Dozens of people and dogs showed up for the opportunity — including one man with his 4-day-old daughter, Schamberger said.

One woman called in advance to ask if she could bring her potbelly pig for a shot with its namesake. Schamberger said no.

In 2018, 50 baby boys in Iowa were named Hayden — ranking it No. 72 among boy names in the state, according to the most recent Social Security Administration figures. And among baby girls in Iowa, 30 got the name, earning it the No. 87 spot on the female side in the state.

The name Hayden has ranked among the top 100 for girls and boys in Iowa every year but one since 2007 — with its highest rank coming in 2011, when 118 boys were named Hayden, ranking it No. 18 in Iowa’s popularity contest.

Hayden ranked in the top 100 last year in only nine other states — eking in at No. 100 in three of those. And no other state reported Hayden ranking in the top 100 for both girls and boys in 2018.

California transplant Kelli Walsh, 53, of Marshalltown, said she feels a personal connection with Fry after naming her son Hayden in 2005.

She and her Hawkeye-fanatic husband were tossing out names, and Walsh jested, “I’m surprised you don’t want to name him Hayden.”

“And that was it,” she said. “After I jokingly mentioned it, there was no other option.”

Cementing the decision was the first time Walsh actually felt her baby in the womb.

“The first time I felt him kick was during the Iowa-Iowa State game,” she said, noting, “Iowa won, of course.”

Years later, when the family was rushing through an airport, they spotted Fry and went up to him.

“I said, ‘We named our son after you,’ and he said, ‘Thanks, partner.’”

Comments: (319) 339-3158;