The Baby Name Normandie

normandie linerWhen I first noticed the name Normandie on the SSA’s 1944 baby name list, I thought the name must have something to do with the Battle of Normandy.

But two things weren’t right. First, the English version of the word, Normandy, was nowhere to be found that year. Second, as I worked backwards through the lists, I noticed more and more baby girls named “Normandie.” So, my Battle of Normandy theory was blown.

But that’s fine, because the theory I have now is a lot more interesting.

The name Normandie debuted on the list in 1935, and appeared on the list a total of 5 times:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 9 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1943: 9 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1942: 14 baby girls named Normandie
  • …unlisted…
  • 1937: 11 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1936: unlisted
  • 1935: 7 baby girls named Normandie [debut]
  • 1934: unlisted

Where did it come from?

My guess is the French ocean liner the SS Normandie, which was the largest and most luxurious passenger ship of the late 1930s.

Unlike other ships of that era, the Normandie was built to cater to the wealthy. Most of the opulent Art Deco interior was specifically designated for first-class use:

Here was a ship where the first class dining room accommodated 700 guests sitting under 12 pillars of illuminated Lalique glass and 38 matching columns along the walls. There was a winter garden filled with exotic flora and fauna, a swimming pool, and a theatre.

First class suites had pianos, multiple bedrooms and their own decks.

In mid-1935, the Normandie crossed the Atlantic on its maiden voyage. One of the passengers was Madame Lebrun, wife of French president Albert François Lebrun.

Tens of thousands of people saw the ship off from Le Havre, France, and tens of thousands more lined the docks at New York Harbor to watch it arrive just 4 days and 3 hours later — a new westbound speed record.

All of [the Normandie-related] events, the mere presence of Normandie in New York and the atmosphere that she created fueled the media and popular obsession with the ocean liner and the famous passengers she had on board.

Two years later, in 1937, the Normandie broke the westbound speed record again, this time completing the trip in just under 4 days.

The ship ended up crossing the Atlantic a total of 139 times, ferrying notable passengers like Marlene Dietrich, Walt Disney, Ernest Hemingway, Cary Grant and Bob Hope back and forth between Europe and the U.S.

But the ship’s career was cut short when, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, U.S. authorities seized control of the Normandie while it was docked at Pier 88 on the Hudson River. While being converted into a troopship in early 1942, it caught fire and capsized onto its port side. The Normandie was righted in 1943, but was ultimately scrapped in 1946.

What do you think of the baby name Normandie?

UPDATE, 7/29/15: Normandie, Take Two

Sources: Art deco ocean liner exhibition opens in New York, The Rich and Famous Creating a Buzz for Normandie, United States seizes French liner Normandie


4 thoughts on “The Baby Name Normandie

  1. I think it’s lovely for the ’30s and ’40s. Unusual and kind of classy.

    But I think it could never work today; it would just look pretentious…like an inappropriate usurpation of a badly-spelled historical event.

    The research you’ve done on the names origin validates of a quote I just read by Laura Wattenberg: ““I think of names as a fossil record of our culture. You can look back over generations and get a sense of what people were talking about—our obsessions, our dreams, etc,”

  2. Yes, the name would definitely draw attention to itself. Especially if Normandie’s classmates consisted mainly of Averys and Kaylees and the like.

    That’s a great quote! I think of names in much the same way. For instance, several names that were most popular in the 1930s — Depression, Nira, Norita, and now this one — are tied in some way to the economy or money, which makes a lot of sense for that decade.

    Thanks!

  3. I wonder if the use of Normandie was also partly tied to the popularity of Norman and Norma at that time. Both names were at their peak in the 1930s. Parents could have heard the name of the ship and thought, that would be a great way to give a girl a name that sounded fashionable but was a little different from the “common” Norma.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.