Babies Named for Black WWII Hero Dorie Miller

Doris (Dorie) Miller, 1942
Doris “Dorie” Miller, 1942
Here’s a special name (and some little-known black history!) in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dorie has been on the SSA’s baby name list since the 1910s as a girl name, but it suddenly popped up as a boy name in 1942:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 5 baby boys named Dorie
  • 1943: 9 baby boys named Dorie
  • 1942: 12 baby boys named Dorie [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted

Why?

This was the year Doris Miller — later known as “Dorie Miller” — was recognized as the first African-American hero of World War II.

Doris Miller was born in 1919 in Texas to parents Connery and Henrietta Miller. “The third of four sons, Doris Miller was named by the midwife who assisted with his birth; she was positive before the birth that the baby would be a girl.”

He enlisted in the Navy in 1939. Over the next couple of years, he worked his way up to ship’s cook, third class.

“You have to understand that when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president in 1932, he opened up the Navy again to blacks, but in one area only; they were called mess attendants, stewards, and cooks,” says Clark Simmons, who was a mess attendant on the U.S.S. Utah during the Pearl Harbor attack. “The Navy was so structured that if you were black, this was what they had you do in the Navy–you only could be a servant.”

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Doris Miller was in the middle of collecting laundry aboard the USS West Virginia when the first torpedo hit his ship at around 8 am.

He immediately headed to his combat station, but it had been destroyed by the blast.

He then rushed to the main deck, to help transport the mortally wounded captain to a more sheltered section of the bridge.

Finally, he “raced to an unattended deck [machine] gun and fired at the attacking planes until forced to abandon ship.”

It was Miller’s first experience firing such a weapon because black sailors serving in the segregated steward’s branch of the navy were not given the gunnery training received by white sailors.

Dorie Miller, Navy recruiting poster
Navy recruiting poster featuring Dorie Miller

During the first months of 1942, U.S. newspapers and radio stations shared the story of Doris and his bravery. It was during this period that the press started referring to him as “Dorie” (a nickname that apparently began as a typo).

Miller’s acts were heavily publicized in the black press, making him the iconic emblem of the war for blacks—their “Number One Hero”—thereby energizing black support for the war effort against a colored Japanese enemy.

On May 27, 1942, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz conferred the Navy Cross upon Miller, who was the very first African-American to receive the award.

Sadly, Miller never got a chance to meet any of his namesakes across the country (such as fellow veterans Dorie Miller Fells and Dorie Miller Harris). He was aboard the USS Liscome Bay in late 1943 when it was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine.

But many things beyond babies — roads, buildings, parks, and even a navy ship (the USS Miller) — have been named in his honor ever since.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the baby name Doris did not see a corresponding uptick in usage as a boy name in the early ’40s, as the media and the Navy almost always referred to Miller as “Dorie” during this period.

Sources:


2 thoughts on “Babies Named for Black WWII Hero Dorie Miller

  1. Wow, great name story! And proof you don’t need a “manly” name to be a hero.

    I still don’t know why he was called Doris though – I get that the midwife was positive he would be a girl, but surely she could tell he was a boy AFTER he was born???

    And why would the parents accept her (obviously wrong-headed) suggestion anyway?

  2. Good question.

    One of his brothers, Selvia, also had a gender-bending name. So maybe they just weren’t too concerned about the names being overtly masculine…?

    The other two sons in the family were named Conery Jr. and Arthur James.

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