Babies Named for the Original Celebutante

brenda diana duff frazier, life magazine cover, November 1938

Like Cobina Wright, Jr., Brenda Diana Duff Frazier (1921-1982) was a wealthy American debutante who rose to fame toward the end of the Great Depression.

Her coming-out party, held at the Ritz-Carlton in December of 1938, attracted a remarkable amount of media attention. In anticipation of the event, LIFE made her a cover girl in mid-November.

The name Brenda had already been on the rise, but the buzz around Brenda Frazier kicked the name into high gear in 1939:

  • 1942: 7,237 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1941: 6,332 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1940: 5,442 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1939: 2,756 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1938: 677 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1937: 232 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1936: 164 baby girls named Brenda
  • 1935: 132 baby girls named Brenda

(This was also the year that Walter Winchell coined the word celebutante — celebrity + debutante — to describe Frazier in his society column.)

The baby name Brenda went on to become one of the most popular of the mid-20th century.

By that time, though, Brenda Frazier’s popularity had long since faded. She went on to suffer from eating disorders, become addicted to drugs and alcohol, divorce twice and attempt suicide multiple times before passing away “a virtual recluse” in 1982.

In 2007, New York Magazine ranked the top 20 socialites of all time. Frazier came in 16th.


3 thoughts on “Babies Named for the Original Celebutante

  1. I had a sister Brenda, born in ’55. I’m guessing the name was past its peak by then, since she never mentioned meeting another one in her all-too-short life.

  2. A quote from Judy Goldman‘s Losing My Sister, which is about her big sister Brenda:

    She was named after Brenda Frazier, a glamorous debutante with whom all of America had fallen in love, who made the cover of Life a month before my sister was born, the day after Christmas, 1938.

    As a child, I memorize that magazine cover — the glorious tangle of brown hair, the little pinched bodice of Brenda Frazier’s strapless gown, the way she stares at something out of the camera’s range, something I assume only Brendas can see.

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