The Baby Name Chaffee

The first big wave of immigration from Vietnam to the U.S. began after the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

Four temporary immigration centers were set up in the U.S. to process the refugees. The largest of these was Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

By the end of 1975, nearly 51,000 immigrants had been processed at Fort Chaffee. In the meanwhile, 325 babies were born to the refugees living there.

Gerald Ford with Vietnamese children at Fort Chaffee, 1975

President Gerald Ford visited Fort Chaffee in August, 1975

And what baby name debuted (twice) on the SSA’s baby name list in 1975?

The baby name Chaffee:

  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: 5 baby boys named Chaffee [debut]; 5 baby girls named Chaffee [debut]
  • 1974: unlisted

So far, that’s the only year the name Chaffee has been popular enough to appear on the national list.

Were these 10 babies the children of Ft. Chaffee refugees?

I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you that all 5 of the baby boys were born in Arkansas. (Not sure about the baby girls.) Also, nearly all of the people I’ve found so far who were born in 1975 and named Chaffee had Vietnamese surnames.

(While researching, I found a Chicago-based business coach named Chaffee-Thanh Nguyen. Don’t know when he was born, but I’d venture to guess 1975.)

How did Fort Chaffee get its name?

It was named after Major General Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. (b. 1884) whose surname is of Norman origin. The surname can be traced back to the Old French word chauf, meaning “bald.”

And how did Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. get his name? He was named for his father, Lieutenant General Adna Romanza Chaffee, Sr. (b. 1842). Adna is a Biblical name said to mean “pleasure, delight” and Romanza is related to the Italian word romanzo, meaning “romance.” Newspaper writers of the early 1900s called Adna Romanza Sr.’s name “peculiar,” “incomprehensible,” “absurd,” and a “baptismal handicap,” among other things.

Sources:

  • “Chatting About Chaffee.” Boston Evening Transcript 9 Nov. 1914: 10.
  • Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Indochinese Resettlement Program – Encyclopedia of Arkansas
  • “Men and Women.” Baltimore American 25 Aug. 1900: 6.
  • Thompson, Larry Clinton. Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.
  • “Topics of the Times.” New York Times 1 Aug. 1900.
  • Vietnamese-American – Wikipedia

3 Responses to The Baby Name Chaffee

  1. Talking about Chaffee and Vietnam: There was a light tank, M24 Chaffee, sold by the USA to the french expedition troops at Vietnam. They were defeated at Bien Dien Phu 60 years ago.

    And the french fortifications at Bien Dien Phu were named after girl’s names: Anne-Marie, Béatrice, Claudine, Dominique, Eliane, Françoise, Gabrielle, and Huguette.

  2. Interesting!

    According to Wikipedia, the M24 Chaffee was named for Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr., just like the fort.

    Here’s more on the Battle of Dien Bien Phu:

    Starting in December, the French, under the command of Colonel Christian de Castries, began transforming their anchoring point into a fortress by setting up seven satellite positions, each allegedly named after a former mistress of de Castries, although the allegation is probably unfounded, as the eight names begin with letters from the first nine of the alphabet (all but F).

    Looks like “Isabelle” was also used.

  3. Thanks for adding Isabelle, I overlooked the southern outpost. According to this french map, there was also Junon.

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataille_de_Di%C3%AAn_Bi%C3%AAn_Phu#mediaviewer/Fichier:Bataille_de_Dien_Bien_Phu_13_au_15_mars_1954.jpg

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