Babies Named After Liberace?

liberace, piano, 1950s, television
Liberace in 1954
Yesterday I mentioned that Korla Pandit leaving Snader Telescriptions circa 1951 opened the door for a Vegas pianist named Władziu Valentino Liberace to have a shot at television.

And the rest is history: Liberace’s energetic live performances quickly made him famous. He went on to become one of highest-paid entertainers ever.

He was known as “Lee” to family and friends, but as a showman he preferred to go by his Italian surname, pronounced lib-er-AH-chee. It can probably be traced back to the Latin word liber, meaning “free.”

And while the baby name Liberace has never been popular enough to appear in the SSA’s baby name data — I would have told you a long time ago if it had! — it has been used as a given name before. As you’d expect, most Liberaces were born in the early-to-mid ’50s. Here are some examples:

  • Liberace Harris, b. 1953
  • L. Liberace Parker, b. 1953 in Indiana
  • Liberace Williams, b. 1953 in California
  • Liberace Atkins, b. 1954
  • Liberace Sharpe, b. 1954 in North Carolina
  • Liberace Ford, b. 1955 in North Carolina
  • Liberace Jackson, b. 1955 in Kentucky
  • Liberace Malbon, b. 1957 in Texas
  • L. Liberace Hamilton, b. 1959 in Texas

What are your thoughts on Liberace as a baby name?

Image: Radio-TV Mirror, July 1954


Korla, the “Godfather of Exotica” Baby Name

television, music, history, 1950s, korla pandit,
Korla Pandit, early 1950s

Behind today’s name is a fascinating story involving early television, exotic music, racial identity, and clever deception.

The name is Korla, which, along with variant Corla, first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in 1951:

Year Korla usage Corla usage
1953 . .
1952 6 baby girls (5 in Calif.) .
1951 6 baby girls [debut] 8 baby girls [debut]
1950 . .

A bit of research reveals that most of these early ’50s Korlas and Corlas — mainly females, but also a few males — were born in California specifically. This location is already pretty telling, but the smoking gun is this middle name:

  • Karlo Pandit Lindsay, male, born in November, 1950, in Los Angeles
  • Korla Ponda Williams, female, born in March, 1951, in Los Angeles
  • Korla Pandit Lord, male, born in September, 1953, in San Francisco

So what’s the influence here?

Korla Pandit, the mystical musician whose Los Angeles-based TV show Adventures in Music made him famous, particularly on the West Coast, in the early ’50s.

Pandit first appeared on TV in the spring of 1949. In each episode of Adventures in Music, Pandit wore a jeweled turban and gazed hypnotically at the camera, never speaking — just playing otherworldly music on a Hammond organ. His show, which aired on KTLA, was soon picked up by other California stations.

Some early recordings of Korla prominently feature his name, but I’m not sure if the live show Adventures in Music did. (If not, this could account for why “Corla” debuted higher than “Korla” in the data.)

korla pandit, organ, 1950s, television, name

Korla Pandit was an immediate hit, particularly among suburban housewives. He received an impressive amount of fan mail.

He also started putting out albums, eventually releasing well over a dozen on various labels.

In 1951, after shooting hundreds of shows for KTLA, he left to film a series of short musical performances for Snader Telescriptions. These Snader clips introduced Pandit to a national audience.

But Pandit didn’t stay with Snader long, instead leaving to do other things (including start a new live TV show).

According to the 1952 ad below, his songs were “bringing dollars to the cash register and wild acclaim from feminine hearts.”

music, 1950s, korla pandit, advertisement
Korla Pandit ad in Billboard magazine, 1952

His music helped set the stage for the late ’50s Exotica craze. In fact, some people have since dubbed Korla the “Godfather of Exotica,” though the title has also been given to other musicians (including Les Baxter).

As the decade wore on, Pandit’s fame began to wane. But he did spend the rest of his life recording and performing — and always wearing that bejeweled turban.

He passed away in 1998, leaving behind his American wife Beryl and their two sons, Shari and Koram.

…But the story doesn’t end there.

Because, a few years after that, a Los Angeles journalist discovered that Korla Pandit was not the half-Indian, half-French man from New Delhi he had claimed to be. Instead, he was an African-American man named John Roland Redd from Columbia, Missouri.

Adopting a non-black identity had allowed Redd to have advantages that he couldn’t have had otherwise in 1950s America. He was one of the first African-Americans with a television show, but, ironically, if the public had known he was black, it’s highly unlikely that audiences (especially those entranced housewives) would have responded as enthusiastically as they did.

Redd took his adopted identity to the grave. Not even his sons were aware of their father’s true origin. (His wife must have known the secret, but she never openly admitted it.)

Notably, “Korla Pandit” was Redd’s second adopted persona. In the ’40s he had assumed the name “Juan Rolando,” which helped him get gigs during the Latin music craze of the time and, more importantly, allowed him to join the white L.A. musicians union as opposed to the black one, which afforded him more career opportunities.

It’s not hard to see how he got Juan from John, but I do wonder how he came up with Korla.

What are your thoughts on the name Korla? And on the story of Korla Pandit?

Sources:

P.S. After Pandit left Snader Telescriptions, the company found a replacement: a young Las Vegas pianist, originally from Wisconsin, by the name of Władziu Valentino Liberace

Popular Baby Names in Switzerland, 2016

According to data from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office (OFS), the most popular baby names in Switzerland last year were Mia and Noah.

Here are the country’s top 10 girl names and top 10 boy names of 2016:

Girl Names
1. Mia, 488 baby girls
2. Emma, 446
3. Elena, 327
4. Sofia, 318
5. Lena, 308
6. Emilia, 296 [tie]
6. Lara, 296 [tie]
8. Anna, 292
9. Laura, 291 [tie]
9. Mila, 291 [tie]

Boy Names
1. Noah, 477 baby boys
2. Liam, 433
3. Gabriel, 345 [tie]
3. Luca, 345 [tie]
5. Leon, 337
6. Elias, 314
7. David, 302
8. Samuel, 296
9. Louis, 288
10. Julian, 276

In 2015, the top names were also Mia and Noah.

In the girls’ top 10, Emilia replaces Lina.

In the boys’ top 10, Samuel and Julian replace Matteo and Levin.

Here are the top baby names per gender within each of Switzerland’s main language groups:

  • German speakers (64% of Switzerland)
    • Top 3 girl names: Mia, Emma, Emilia
    • Top 3 boy names: Noah, Leon, Luca
  • French speakers (23%)
    • Top 3 girl names: Emma, Alice, Eva
    • Top 3 boy names: Gabriel, Liam, Louis
  • Italian speakers (8%)
    • Top 3 girl names: Sofia, Giulia, Mia/Sophie (tie)
    • Top 3 boy names: Leonardo, Liam, Enea
  • Romansh speakers (less than 1%)
    • Top girl name: Valentina
    • Top boy name: Laurin

Sources: Vornamen der Neugeborenen, Noah and Mia most popular baby names in Switzerland

2 Semi-Mysterious Baby Names: Karil & Caril

I’ve been trying to piece together the stories behind the baby names Karil and Caril lately. Both of them saw increased usage in 1958:

Year Usage of Karil Usage of Caril
1960 8 baby girls .
1959 15 baby girls 7 baby girls
1958 19 baby girls [debut] 10 baby girls
1957 . .
1956 . .

The similar names Carol and Karen were popular in the late ’50s, but I think something more specific would have caused both Karil and Caril to pop up all of a sudden like that.

Right now I have two working theories, and both involve murders (how uplifting!).

The first theory is Caril Ann Fugate, the 14-year-old from Nebraska who went on a killing spree with her boyfriend, 19-year-old Charles Starkweather, in January of 1958. The story stayed in the news for months: Starkweather was sentenced to death in May, Fugate received a life sentence in November, and Starkweather’s execution took place in mid-1959.

The second theory is Karil Graham, a Los Angeles woman who was murdered in ’55 and whose story was recounted (with a lot of embellishment) in the 1958 nonfiction book The Badge by Jack Webb, the creator of Dragnet. In late 1958, many newspapers ran Jim Bishop’s positive review of the book, which included the following excerpt highlighting Karil:

The way it is with so many women who live alone, life had held back on Karil Graham. She was likable and attractive, still a year on the sunny side of 40, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, trim-figured. But there was no husband — a marriage hadn’t worked out — no children, no other man in her lonely life.

Karil hid the hurt and filled the emptiness as best she could. Every day she went to work, on time, to her job as receptionist at a downtown Los Angeles art school. Nights, in her quiet apartment, she listened to music and dabbled in painting. She was just a dilettante, she know resignedly, but records and easel were gracious cover-ups for emptiness.

Do either of these theories seem like the primary answer to you? Do you think the answer could be a bit of both? Or something else entirely…?

Sources:

Five-Name Friday: Boy Name Like Neville, Wilbur

five name friday, baby name request, boy name

It’s Five-Name Friday! Here’s today’s baby name request:

I’m interested in boy names you *never* hear people talking about, like Neville and Wilbur. Basically, names that are not at all trendy, the direct opposites of Noah and Liam.

Can you come up with five great baby name ideas for this person?

Here are the rules:

  • Be independent. Choose your five names before checking out anybody else’s five names.
  • Be sincere. These should be names you’d have no problem recommending to someone in real life.
  • Five names only. If your comment includes more than five names, I’ll have to do some deleting. This includes nickname suggestions!

Which five baby names are you going to recommend?

[You can also comment on previous Five-Name Friday posts, or send me your own 2-sentence baby name request using the contact form.]