Why Were So Many Baby Girls Named “Nira” in 1933?

The Great Depression began in late 1929. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt replaced Herbert Hoover as U.S. President in early 1933, he got to work on the New Deal, which was intended to bring immediate economic relief.

Part of the New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which “sanctioned, supported, and in some cases, enforced an alliance of industries.” It was enacted on June 16, 1933.

Soon after, Roosevelt created the corresponding National Recovery Administration (NRA), which was “empowered to make voluntary agreements dealing with hours of work, rates of pay, and the fixing of prices.” Participating businesses were encouraged to display the NRA emblem, the Blue Eagle:

NRA poster

At first, the public was excited by the NIRA and the NRA. And this excitement spilled over onto birth certificates.

According to Social Security Administration data, more than 200 baby girls were named Nira in 1933. This was enough to make Nira the 463rd most popular baby girl name in the nation that year.

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 9 baby girls named Nira
  • 1935: 12 baby girls named Nira
  • 1934: 38 baby girls named Nira
  • 1933: 201 baby girls and 6 baby boys named Nira
  • 1932: unlisted
  • 1931: 8 baby girls named Nira
  • 1930: unlisted

[Of course, those raw numbers aren’t quite right. The SSA website reminds us that “many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card,” so their names are not included in the data. And the SSDI doesn’t help in this case, as many people born in 1933 are still living. It lists only 63 Niras born in 1933. Notably, though, all but two were born in mid-June or later.]

Newspapers heralded the births of several of these 1933 Niras, including:

  • Nira Collins, born on July 25th to Mr. and Mrs. Christopher J. Collins of Philadelphia. The father, unemployed for ten months, found work two weeks before she was born.
  • Nira Davis, born on August 30th to Mrs. Geraldine Davis of Newburgh, New York.
  • Nira Lavallee, born on September 1st to Mr. and Mrs. George E. Lavallee of Marlborough, Massachusetts. Her father “returned to work after a lengthy period of unemployment soon after her birth.”
  • Nira Coelho, born on September 25th to Mr. and Mrs. Pedro Coelho of Los Angeles. “The parents are ardent believers in the President’s recovery program.”

One reporter cautioned that, while Nira was “a pretty name,” parents should “take into account the fact that everyone who keeps posted on current national history will know Nira was born in 1933. Which might be embarrassing 25 or 30 years hence.”

The flood of baby Niras prompted at least one person to write to the editor of the New York Times and ask if Washington had offered an “official pronunciation of the name” yet.

But the popular support didn’t last long. The NIRA and the NRA were widely criticized, and ended up doing little to speed up economic recovery. (We can get a feel for how quickly the excitement dried up by looking at the downward trajectory of those SSA numbers: 201, 38, 12.)

The NIRA had been set to expire in June of 1935, but was nullified even earlier when the Supreme Court unanimously declared the NIRA unconstitutional in May of 1935.

Sources:

Follow-up posts: Blue Eagle, Nira (Iowa), Fera.


8 thoughts on “Why Were So Many Baby Girls Named “Nira” in 1933?

  1. Just found another — boy/girl twins Franklin Roosevelt Morrison and Nira Roosevelt Morrison were born in early August, 1933, according to a New York Times article published on Aug 5th.

  2. My mother was born in Shannon ga and named Nira. She said her parents received $25.00 for masking her Nira..

  3. Talking with my mom yesterday and she never knew why her parents named her Nira on sep 2 1933 Shannon Georgia. She only recalls that they were given $25.00 for naming her Nira. Back then was a lot!! She was the 3 rd daughter to be born of 4 girls and one boy. Her brother was born one year later on the same day sept 2 nd how unusual is that

  4. That was a lot back then!

    I’m so curious where the money came from, and if other parents also got paid for using Nira as a name. If so, that certainly could have helped fuel this Nira spike. Hm…

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