A Star Is Born & a Name is Nudged

Vicki Lester, A Star is Born, 1937, name
Vicki Lester’s name in lights
outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

In April of 1937, the film A Star Is Born was released. It starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March as a married couple at opposite ends of their Hollywood careers: hers beginning, his ending.

The husband was named Norman Maine. The wife, on the other hand, had several identities. At first she was North Dakota farm girl Esther Victoria Blodgett. Then she morphed into movie star Vicki Lester for most of the film. Finally, in that memorable last line, she said: “Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”

So how did she go from Esther Blodgett to “Vicki Lester”? Here’s the scene:

Press Agent: Do you know what her name is? Esther Victoria Blodgett.
Producer: Gee, we’ll have to do something about that right away.
Press Agent: …Esther Victoria Blodgett
Producer: Well that Blodgett’s definitely out. See, uh…Esther Victoria, Victoria, Vicki…how about Vicki?
Producer’s Secretary: Oh I think that’s terribly cute.
Producer: Let’s see, Vicki…Vicki what?
Press Agent: Vicki Vicki, pronounced Vicki Vicki. [sarcasm]
Producer: Siesta, Besta, Sesta, Desta, Fester…
Press Agent: Oh that’s very pretty.
Producer: …Jester, Hester, Jester, Lester…Vicki Lester!
Secretary: Oh I like that!

Everyone in the office started chanting the newly minted name Vicki Lester…and with that the star was born.

On the name charts, the entire name-group — Vicki, Vickie, Vicky, Vickey, and so forth — rode a wave of trendiness that started in the ’30s, peaked around 1957, and was over by the ’80s. It’s hard to say how much of this trendiness (if any of it) was fueled by the movie, but one thing definitely attributable to the movie is the higher-than-expected usage of “Vicki” in the late ’30s:

  • 1941: 542 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 274th]
  • 1940: 405 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 316th]
  • 1939: 334 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 355th]
  • 1938: 367 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 332nd]
  • 1937: 148 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 555th]
  • 1936: 82 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 738th]
  • 1935: 70 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 822nd]

Notice how the number adjusted downward in 1939 before the name was picked back up by the wave.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that several baby girls born in the late ’30s were named “Vicki Lester.” In 1940, for instance, the Seil family of Washington included parents Orval (26 years old) and Beryl (25) and daughters Arlene (4) and Vicki Lester (1).

vicki lester, census, 1940
Vicki Lester Seil on 1940 U.S. Census

History repeated itself in 1954 upon the release of the first A Star is Born remake, which starred Judy Garland as Esther/Vicki. The name Vicki was again nudged upward a few years ahead of schedule:

  • 1958: 7,434 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 57th]
  • 1957: 8,101 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 51st]
  • 1956: 7,762 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 57th]
  • 1955: 7,978 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 52nd]
  • 1954: 8,220 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 50th]
  • 1953: 6,822 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 61st]
  • 1952: 6,774 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 61st]

And, again, records from the mid-1950s reveal a handful of baby girls named “Vicki Lester.”

The second remake — the 1976 Barbra Streisand version — didn’t include the name change. Even if it had, though, the popularity of Vicki was plummeting by the ’70s and I doubt the film could have done much to boost its image/usage.

Currently the name Vicki is only given to about a dozen baby girls in the U.S. per year. But another version of A Star is Born is in the works — a Lady Gaga version slated for 2018. If this third remake materializes, and if it features the name Vicki, do you think it will influence the baby name charts?

(While we wait for 2018, check out the original version of A Star is Born (1937), which is in the public domain.)

Sources: SSA, U.S. Census


The Last Living Person of the 1900s: What Will Her Name Be?

baby
Emma Morano in 1900
A couple of weeks ago, Italian supercentenarian Emma Morano (b. November 29, 1899) passed away at the age of 117. She was both the world’s oldest living person and the last living person born in the 1800s.

My question for you today is: What will be the name of the last living person born in the 1900s?

We won’t know the answer to this question until well into the 22nd century, of course, but it’s a fun one to ponder.

This person was probably born in 1999 or 1998 and, based on what we know about longevity, this person is also probably female. But what type of name will she have? It’s much harder to make speculations about location and language.

The current list of the 100 oldest people ever contains folks from the U.S., Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Spain, and a few other places. This mix could change drastically in the future, though.

What name/names would you guess? Feel free to list several, each representing a potential location. Here’s the U.S. top 2,000 for the year 2000, which could be helpful for English-speaking areas.

(Wouldn’t it be funny if this person were another Emma? I don’t know how probable this is, but the name’s usage had already started rebounding in several places in the late ’90s, so it’s not impossible. Emma ranked 17th in the U.S. in 1999, for instance. Now it’s #1.)

Early Recognition of the “Great-Grandparent Rule”

grandmotherA baby name becomes trendy for one generation. For the next two generations — while those initial babies are parent-aged and grandparent-aged — you can expect the name to go out of style. But during the third generation — once the cohort reaches great-grandparent age — the name is free to come back into fashion.

Evelyn is a name with a usage pattern that fits this description well.

I’ve seen it described elsewhere as the “100-Year Rule,” but I prefer to call it the “Great-Grandparent Rule,” as it makes more sense to me to frame it in terms of generations.

Essentially, the pattern has to do with a name’s main generational association shifting from “a name that belongs to real-life old people” to “a name that sounds pleasantly old-fashioned.”

I used to think the pattern was one we’d only recently discovered — something we needed the data to see — but it turns out that at least one observant person noticed this trend and wrote about it in The San Francisco Call more than 100 years ago (boldface mine):

Time was — and that not very long ago — when old fashioned names, as old fashioned furniture, crockery and hand embroideries, were declared out of date. The progress of the ages that replaced the slower work of hand by the speed of machines cast a blight on everything that betokened age.

Spinning wheels were stowed away in attics, grandmothers’ gowns were tucked into cedar chests, old porcelain of plain design was replaced by more gaudy utensils and machine made and embroidered dresses and lingerie lined the closets where formerly only handwork was hung.

So with given names. Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, Sarah, Hannah and Anne, one and all, were declared old fashioned and were relegated to past ages to be succeeded by Gladys, Helen, Delphine, Gwendolyn, Geraldine and Lillian and a host of other more showy appellations.

Two generations of these, and woman exercised her time honored privilege and changed her mind.

She woke suddenly to the value of history, hustled from their hiding places the ancient robes and furnishings that were her insignia of culture, discarded the work of the modern machine for the finer output of her own fair hands, and, as a finishing touch, christened her children after their great-grandparents.

Old fashioned names revived with fervor and those once despised are now termed quaint and pretty and “quite the style, my dear.”

Pretty cool that this every-third-generation pattern was already an observable phenomenon three generations ago.

The article went on to list society babies with names like Barbara, Betsy, Bridget, Dorcas (“decidedly Puritan”), Dorothea, Frances, Henrietta, Jane, Josephine, Lucy, Margaret, Mary, Olivia, and Sarah (“much in vogue a century ago”).

Have you see the “100-Year Rule”/”Great-Grandparent Rule” at play in your own family tree? If so, what was the name and what were the birth years?

Source: “Society” [Editorial]. San Francisco Call 17 Aug. 1913: 19.
Image: Frances Marie via Morguefile

Rare Girl Names from Early Cinema: Letters X & Y

yola d'avril, starlet, actress, y-name
Yola d’Avril (1907-1984)
Here’s the next installment of rare feminine names collected from very old films (1910s, 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s).

Xandra
Xandra was a character played by actress Joan Bennett in the film Scotland Yard (1930).

Yancey
Yancey was a character played by actress Betty Furness in the film A Wicked Woman (1934).

Yannaia
Yannaia was a character played by actress Pola Negri in the film Sumurun (1920).

Yansci
Yansci “Jenny” Dolly was a Hungarian-born character played by actress Betty Grable in the film The Dolly Sisters (1945).

Yasmani
Yasmani was a character played by actress Myrna Loy in the film The Black Watch (1929).

Yasmini
Yasmini was a character played by actress Gertrude Messinger in the film Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917).

Yester
Yester was a character played by actress Gertrude Michael in the film The Hidden Menace (1938).

Yetiva
Princess Yetiva was a character played by actress Adrienne Kroell in the short film Cinderella (1912).

Yetive
Princess Yetive was a character played by actress Beverly Bayne in the film Graustark (1915) and by actress Norma Talmadge in the remake Graustark (1925).

Yetta
Yetta was a character name in multiple films such as One Clear Call (1922) and Caught in the Draft (1941).

Ynez
Ynez de Torreno was a character played by actress Vivian Rich in the short film The Navy Aviator (1914).

Yola
Yola d’Avril was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1950s. She was born in France in 1907. Yola was also a character played by actress Sari Maritza in the film Monte Carlo Madness (1932).

Yolande
Yolande was a character name in multiple films such as The Love of Princess Yolande (short, 1914) and Lights of New York (1916).

Yoli
Yoli Haydn was a character played by actress Constance Bennett in the film Ladies in Love (1936).

Yona
Yona Landowska was an actress who appeared in films in the 1910s.

Yonna
Yonna was a character played by actress Carmel Myers in the film The Devil’s Circus (1926).

Ysail
Ysail was a character played by actress Pauline Curley in the film Bound in Morocco (1918).

Ysidora
Donna Ysidora Sepulveda was a character played by actress Alice Joyce in the short film An American Invasion (1912).

Ysobel
Ysobel was a character name in multiple films, including The Yaqui (1916) and Men of Tomorrow (1932).

Yve
Princess Yve was a character played by actress Gladys Brockwell in the film The Mother of His Children (1920).

One-Hit Wonder Baby Name: Ysobel

movie, 1916, yaqui, yona

If you like the baby names Isabelle and Isabel but want a something a bit different, here’s an idea: Ysobel, which appeared for the first and only time on the U.S. baby name charts in 1916:

  • 1917: unlisted
  • 1916: 6 baby girls named Ysobel [debut]
  • 1915: unlisted

The inspiration was either (or both?) of two 1916 films featuring characters named Ysobel:

  • The Yaqui, released in March of 1916. Ysobel was played by actress Yona Landowska.
  • Lieutenant Danny, U.S.A., released in August of 1916. Ysobel was played by actress Enid Markey.

queen ysabel, spain, 1492(My guess is that the first film had more influence, both because it was released earlier and because another character name, Modesta, also saw higher usage in 1916.)

The rare spelling “Ysobel” is likely based on the Old Spanish version of the name, Ysabel.

In fact, did you know that the historic Spanish queen we call “Isabella” in English was actually known as “Ysabel” during her lifetime? (And her husband Ferdinand was actually “Fernando.”) Their initials, “F” and “Y,” were featured on the banner that Christopher Columbus created for his 1492 expedition to the New World.

Images:

  • The Movie Picture World, Mar. 18, 1916: 1847.
  • Lossing, Benson J. The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851.

McCutcheon’s Baby Names: Nedra, Yetive, Gerane, Doraine…

I doubt the name “George Barr McCutcheon” means much to you. But the name has become quite familiar to me. Why? Because George Barr McCutcheon — who wrote dozens of novels in the early 1900s — put several brand new baby names on the map during the early 20th century.

The Indiana-born writer lived from 1866 to 1928, and many of his books became bestsellers. Today, his best-remembered story is Brewster’s Millions, which has been adapted into a movie several times. The most memorable adaptation would have to be the 1985 version starring comedians Richard Pryor (as protagonist Montgomery Brewster) and John Candy.

So which baby names did McCutcheon introduce/influence? Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Nedra

nedraMcCutcheon’s novel Nedra (1905) was the 5th best-selling book of 1905. Though there’s a lady on the front cover, “Nedra” isn’t a female character, but the name of an island on which several of the characters are shipwrecked.

The next year, the name Nedra debuted on the baby name charts. In fact, it was the top debut name of 1906.

  • 1909: 14 baby girls named Nedra
  • 1908: 18 baby girls named Nedra
  • 1907: 10 baby girls named Nedra
  • 1906: 11 baby girls named Nedra [debut]
  • 1905: unlisted

SSDI data confirms that the name Nedra saw noticeably higher usage after the book was released.

One of these baby Nedras grew up to become actress Nedra Volz (b. 1908).

Yetive, Truxton, Gerane, Beverly

McCutcheon wrote six novels about the fictional Eastern European country of Graustark:

  • Graustark (1901) – the 9th best-selling book of 1901
  • Beverly of Graustark (1904) – the 6th best-selling book of 1904
  • Truxton King (1909) – the 6th best-selling book of 1909
  • The Prince of Graustark (1914) – the 10th best-selling book of 1914
  • East of the Setting Sun (1924)
  • The Inn of the Hawk and Raven (1927)

Several of these books were later made into movies and plays. The three Graustarkian names I’ve noticed on the charts are:

  • Yetive, inspired by the character Princess Yetive from the first two books. First appeared in the SSA data in 1911.
  • Truxton, inspired by Truxton King from the 3rd book. First appeared in the data in 1912.
  • Gerane, inspired by Gerane Davos from the final book. First appeared in the data 1928.

Plus there’s Beverly, which was used for a female character in Beverly of Graustark. The novel, along with a 1926 film adaptation, helped pull the once-gender-neutral name onto the girls’ side definitively. (Ironically, the actress who played Princess Yetive in a 1915 film adaptation of Graustark used the stage name Beverly Bayne.)

Here are some of Graustarkian names that did not make the charts: Ganlook, Grenfall, Dantan, Dannox, Marlanx, Bevra (the daughter of Beverly), Hedrik, and Pendennis.

Doraine

McCutcheon’s novel West Wind Drift (1920) is like his earlier book Nedra in that both stories involve a shipwreck and an island. In Nedra, “Nedra” is the name of the island; in West Wind Drift, “Doraine” is the name of the ship.

The year West Wind Drift came out, the name Doraine debuted in the baby name data.

  • 1923: 5 baby girls named Doraine
  • 1922: unlisted
  • 1921: 6 baby girls named Doraine
  • 1920: 11 baby girls named Doraine [debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

It was tied for 2nd-highest debut name that year. (#1 was Dardanella.)

Coincidentally, the shipwrecked characters in West Wind Drift have a debate at one point about using “Doraine” as baby name. They argue over whether or not they should give the name to an orphaned baby girl who had been born aboard the ship. Here’s the opinion of character Michael Malone: “We can’t do better than to name her after her birthplace. That’s her name. Doraine Cruise. It sounds Irish. Got music in it.”

*

Have you ever a George Barr McCutcheon book? If so, do you remember any unusual character names? (If not, and you’d like to check him out, here are dozens of George Barr McCutcheon novels archived at Project Gutenberg.)

Sources: The Books of the Century: 1900-1999 – Daniel Immerwahr, George Barr McCutcheon – Wikipedia

News-Inspired Baby Names: Elian & Marisleysis

elian, 2000, miami, INS
Elián González (Alan Diaz/Pool/Reuters)
In November of 1999, a 5-year-old Cuban boy named Elián González and his mother Elizabeth (along with others) attempted to escape Cuba and reach the U.S. The boat capsized and most of the group drowned, including Elizabeth. But Elián survived — he was found adrift several miles off the coast of Florida by a pair fishermen.

A battle for custody ensued between Elián’s maternal relatives in the U.S. and his father in Cuba. Elián essentially “became a metaphor for the passionate 40-year struggle over Cuba.”

In April of 2000, INS agents raided the house in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood where Elián, now 6, was staying. (The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo above was taken during the raid.) Elián was successfully retrieved and returned to Cuba.

The baby name Elian had been rare in the U.S. up to this point, but watch what happened in 1999 and 2000:

  • 2002: 206 baby boys named Elian [rank: 816th]
  • 2001: 271 baby boys named Elian [rank: 670th]
  • 2000: 578 baby boys named Elian [rank: 426th]
  • 1999: 23 baby boys named Elian
  • 1998: unlisted (fewer than 5)
  • 1997: unlisted (fewer than 5)

Very few of these Elians were born in Florida, which I found surprising, given the number of Cubans in Florida. Of the Elians born in 2000, 27% were born in Texas and 20% were born in California, but just 3% were born in Florida.

And let’s not forget about 21-year-old Marisleysis González, the family member who acted as Elián’s caretaker while he was in the U.S. Her name became a two-hit wonder on the charts around the same time:

  • 2002: unlisted
  • 2001: 10 baby girls named Marisleysis
  • 2000: 34 baby girls named Marisleysis [debut]
  • 1999: unlisted

Recent interviews with Elián indicate that he and Marisleysis are no longer on speaking terms, unfortunately. But the same interviews also reveal that Elián now has a fiance with a similarly intriguing name: Ilianet.

Have you ever met an Elian who was born circa 1999/2000? If so, was he aware of the story of Elián González?

Sources: Saving Elian – Frontline – PBS, Elian Gonzalez’s Uncle, Fisherman Who Rescued Him, Reflect on Tense 2000 Standoff