Unique name or not, Rip Wheeler is one of Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan‘s crowning achievements. His crafting of the character, alongside the surprising yet pitch-perfect casting of Cole Hauser, has led to one of pop culture’s most infamous and beloved characters.
The resulting man is a fascinating one, to put it lightly. Everything from his backstory – to his name – is highly unconventional. And boy, what a name.
How does one end up with a name like Rip Wheeler? The surname of Wheeler is an extant and easily identifiable one within European history. The name ‘Rip,’ however, is far more perplexing. Fans have long speculated Rip’s name in connection to death: the infamous R.I.P acronym of Rest in Peace. But the truth of it is – we’ll say it – a bit less cheesy.
While it is fun to speculate on the meaning behind such a unique name, there are historical examples of the name ‘Rip’ to pull from. Chief among them (or at least most famous) is Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle. The American author’s story, first published in 1819, holds deep roots in our country’s folklore, like Irving’s other magnum opus: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
And like colonial America’s iconography itself, the tales hold their origins in Europe. In Rip Van Winkle’s case, the story centers around a Ducth-American villager living in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
What’s In a Name: Rip Wheeler
Irving didn’t fabricate the name ‘Rip’ for his tale, either. Rip is a name of Dutch origin, meaning ripe, or full-grown, name database NameBerry states.
“The name of Rip Van Winkle — and Rip (born Elmore) Torn — will probably never be ready for further consumption, if only because of the implications of R. I. P,” the site continues. Both Van Winkle and late actor Rip Torn are, in essence, the only Rips that have permeated American pop culture before Rip Wheeler himself.
As such, it’s likely that show creator Taylor Sheridan pulled Rip’s name directly from American folklore. Van Winkle is, after all, a man out of time: a soul deeply out of touch with the world he awakens to. For Yellowstone fans, this will certainly strike a chord with Rip Wheeler’s very essence.
And then there’s “Wheeler.” As mentioned, Wheeler is a fairly common surname of English descent. More specifically, the name is of Anglo-Saxon origin.
According to House of Names, “The many generations and branches of the Wheeler family can all place the origins of their surname with the ancient Anglo-Saxon culture. Their name reveals that an early member worked as a wheelwright. In medieval times wheels were wooden and quite fragile and high maintenance,” the online database cites.
There are, of course, other possibilities, as this is all purely speculation on part of us Outsiders. Rip could, too, be short for Ripley, another distinct English name.
It’s a British title that means “strip of clearing in the woods,” and conjures powerful characters such as Sigourney Weaver’s brilliant Alien franchise lead. Then there is the possibility of this not being his real name at all. He is a fictional character with a truly horrifying backstory, after all.
Regardless of its meaning, the name Rip Wheeler is sure to go down in American pop culture as one to be revered. But we don’t need to tell you that, do we?