A Woman (and Many Babies) Named Fancy

woman called fancy, frank yerby, 1951

In 1952, the baby name Fancy appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time with seven baby girls:

  • 1953: unlisted
  • 1952: 7 baby girls named Fancy [debut]
  • 1951: unlisted

What was the cause?

Frank Yerby’s book A Woman Called Fancy, which was the 5th best-selling book of 1951.

Set in the state of Georgia in the late 19th century, the historical romance follows Fancy Williamson, a woman from out of town, who rises “from poverty to prominence” among well-to-do Augustans. “Like all Yerby’s novels, A Woman Called Fancy presents a protagonist who is an outcast but achieves success in an alien culture.”

(A secondary influence could have been the romantic comedy film Goodbye, My Fancy, released in mid-1951 and starring Joan Crawford.)

About twenty years later, the name was given a second boost on the charts by Bobbie Gentry’s Fancy (1969). Here’s a bit of the song:

You know I mighta been born just plain white trash,
but Fancy was my name.

And about twenty years after that, Reba McEntire’s 1990 cover of Fancy gave the name yet another boost. The name saw its highest usage ever (36 baby girls) in 1991.

Interesting fact: Frank Yerby’s novel The Foxes of Harrow (1946) — another historical romance set in the South — was the first novel by an African-American to sell more than a million copies.

Sources: A Woman Called Fancy – Oxford Reference, Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1950s


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