Since the 1990s, expectant parents have been using the internet to ask complete strangers for baby name suggestions.
Crowdsourcing via cutting-edge technology–seems thoroughly modern, doesn’t it? It’s been going on for a few decades now, sure, but it’s a distinctly “information age” sort of practice, right?
That’s what I would have said…before discovering that expectant parents were using cutting-edge technology to crowdsource for baby names over 80 years ago.
During the first years of the 20th century, radio was used by the military for two-way wireless communication. Around 1920, it began to be used for one-way communication to larger audiences. This was called “broadcasting” (as opposed to “narrowcasting”).
Before long, expectant parents began asking radio stations for help coming up with baby names.
Early radio wasn’t recorded, so there’s no telling how many babies were named via radio. Luckily, newspapers ran stories on at least a handful of these radio-named babies. (That’s how I learned about them.)
The first instances I know of occurred in early 1923. This is long before the founding of broadcast networks such as NBC (1926) and CBS (1927), which were radio-based before making the jump to television years later.
Here’s what I’ve found so far:
- 1923 – Winifred Susan Beatrice
Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Coker of Atlanta welcomed a baby girl in February, 1923. Two months later, they wrote to local station WSB, owned by the Atlanta Journal, for help naming their daughter.
The station didn’t broadcast the request. Instead, station manager Lambdin Kay came up with “Winifred Susan Beatrice,” based on the call letters of the station.
- 1923 – William Grady Moseley
Mr. and Mrs. George F. Pollock of Atlanta welcomed a baby boy in March, 1923. Two months later, they wrote to local station WGM, owned by the Atlanta Constitution, for help naming their son.
William’s name also wasn’t crowdsourced. The station came up with “William Grady Moseley,” based on the call letters of the station. (William was for the baby’s grandfather; Grady was for orator Henry W. Grady; Moseley was for station director Lass O. Moseley.)
- 1923 – unknown name (Jean?)
Ok, here’s our first real case of crowdsourcing.
R. R. Brown, pastor of the Omaha Gospel Tabernacle in Omaha, Nebraska, welcomed a baby girl on Saturday, April 21, 1923. He delivered a sermon by radio on Sunday, April 22. During the broadcast, he told listeners he’d “decided to let radio fans do the naming.”
The papers, reporting Brown’s call for baby names the following day, noted that “already he has received by telephone a number of suggestions. One of them was that he call her “Radioana.””
According to the 1930 Census, Brown’s three children were named Robert, Lois and Jean. Jean was born right around 1923.
I’m not sure whether her name came from a radio listener’s suggestion, though.
- 1926 – unknown name
An unidentified couple wrote to radio station WOC in Davenport, Iowa, in October, 1926. They wanted radio listeners to help them name their baby girl.
The detail-deficient article didn’t reveal the outcome, but it did include a flippant flapper joke:
- 1927 – Mary Lou
Proper crowdsourcing and a known name. Finally!
Lawrence and Ethel Webb Bartley of Whitesburg, Kentucky, welcomed a baby girl in January, 1927. Several weeks later, they wrote to a local radio station for help naming their daughter.
The request was broadcast. Listeners in 38 U.S. states and in Canada submitted more than 1,000 name suggestions, some of which were read on-air.
The Bartleys ended up naming their daughter Mary Lou.
In March, an op-ed writer commenting on the Bartley story praised the “innovation of appealing to radioland to name a new member of the family.” She went on to say, “We hope the custom of having radioland pick the baby’s name flourishes and spreads.”
- 1927 – Robert Edward
Mr. Kenneth Smith of Des Moines, Iowa, welcomed a baby boy, his 8th child, in late 1927. He asked local radio station KSO for help naming his son.
He also offered “a fur robe to the radio listener who would suggest the best name.”
More than 200 names were suggested. The winning name, Robert Edward, was submitted by “Mrs. Thompson of Bedford.”
UPDATE, Feb. 2015: A follow-up on Mary Lou Bartley…
- “Baby Named by Radio Listeners.” Carroll Herald 11 Jan 1928: 9.
- “Rites are held for Mary Lou Bartley.” Mountain Eagle 19 Aug. 2009.
- “Mrs. Beatrice C. Hale, ‘WSB Baby’ who was named by radio station.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3 Oct. 1985: D11.
- “‘Old Reliable’ Christens Baby Via Radiophone.” Atlanta Constitution 15 May 1923: 6.
- Pehkoff, Suzanne. “Naming the Baby.” Los Angeles Times 19 Mar. 1927: A4.
- “‘Radioana’ Baby’s Name.” Spokane Daily Chronicle 23 Apr. 1923: 1.
- “Radio Helps Name Baby.” Los Angeles Times 6 Mar. 1927: 2.
- Radio Programming – Wikipedia
- Ryan, Quin A. “Inside the Loud Speaker.” Chicago Tribune 6 Feb. 1927: D11.
- “Wants Name from Fans.” Evening Independent [St. Petersburg] 11 Oct. 1926: 3-A.