The One-Hit Wonder Baby Name Seroba

serobaA week or so ago I came across a curious one-hit wonder name from 1927: Seroba.

For context, 1927 was the year Lindbergh became big news, the year both Sunya and Jobyna debuted, and the year Arbutus nearly cracked the top 1,000.

So I started doing some research, and you know what kept coming up in the search results? A bunch of news items about Mary Lou Bartley.

Who’s Mary Lou Bartley? If you’ve been reading NBN for a while, you might remember her from that post about radio-crowdsourced baby names.

Mary Lou was born in Kentucky in early 1927. Her parents had asked a radio station to help them name their baby, the station aired the request, and the result was hundreds of baby name suggestions from across the nation. This is the earliest (complete) example of baby name crowdsourcing that I know of.

What did Seroba have to do with Mary Lou Bartley, though?

That’s what I wanted to know. So I read through the news items, all from 1927, and realized that each one was calling her “Seroba Mary Lou.” Which was strange, as all the sources I’d used to reconstruct Mary Lou’s story for that crowdsourcing post — everything from the 1930 census all the way to her 2009 obituary — referred to her simply as “Mary Lou.”

Here’s a caption that ran in one newspaper:

Seroba Mary Lou Bartley of Whitesburg, Ky., who has the distinction of being the first baby to be christened over the radio.

And here’s an excerpt from an article that ran in another:

During the evening [of the radio broadcast] two thousand names were suggested by the listeners, and the suggestions came from almost as many places. There were many who preferred the quiet dignity of “Mary,” and as many who were interested in a name as modern as “Mitzi.” All of the suggestions were forwarded to the Bartleys and after much thought they conferred on the little newcomer, this name suggested by the radio–Seroba Mary Lou. Long love this Virginia Dare of radio!

I have no idea where the name Seroba came from. Was it part of the crowdsourced name? Did a newspaper reporter make it up? I also can’t figure out why some newspapers mentioned it and others did not.

Regardless, the Seroba-version of Mary Lou’s story was circulated widely enough to boost the baby name Seroba onto the charts for a single year:

  • 1928: unlisted
  • 1927: 8 baby girls named Seroba [debut]
  • 1926: unlisted

So that’s the explanation behind the one-hit wonder baby name Seroba. How crazy that it connects to a name we talked about for an entirely different reason more than three years ago.

What are your thoughts on the name Seroba — do you like it? Dislike it? Have you ever heard of it before?

Sources:

  • Radio Baby.” Sausalito News 28 May 1927: 3.
  • “WLS Listeners Name Kentucky Babe.” Wyoming Reporter [Wyoming, NY] 1 Jun. 1927: 3.

P.S. Usage of the baby name Marylou spiked in 1927 as well.


6 thoughts on “The One-Hit Wonder Baby Name Seroba

  1. Thanks, Diana. I have no idea if the name and the phrase are related — my guess is that, if someone had intentionally created the name from “se roba,” this fact would have been mentioned somewhere (a la Norita).

  2. An insightful comment from someone named Seroba on Facebook!

    Your post, which came up under a Google search, was definitely a fun find for me! I think my mother may have been one of the eight as she was born in 1927. I was always told that someone close to my grandparents had heard it on the radio and suggested as a baby name. Thank you for your research!

    Here’s the comment, from 7/28.

  3. My mothers name was Frances Seroba and she was also born in early 1927. The story in my family was that Grandmother heard the name on the radio and it might be spanish.

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