The 1951 Uptick in Dagmars

© 1951 Life

The name Dagmar (based on the Old Norse words dagr, meaning “day,” and mær, meaning “maid”) peaked in usage in the mid-1910s. But it returned for a secondary peak in 1951:

  • 1953: 16 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1952: 21 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1951: 28 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1950: 18 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1949: 15 baby girls named Dagmar

What gave it a boost that particular year?

An American actress known simply as Dagmar. She became one of television’s first stars — and its very first sex symbol — in 1951.

She was born Virginia Ruth Egnor in West Virginia in 1921. When she began modeling and acting in the 1940s, she adopted the stage name “Jennie Lewis.”

But that stage name was changed to “Dagmar” when she was hired to appear on NBC’s Broadway Open House (1950–51), which was the first late-night variety show on network television. The bosomy* actress was instructed by the show’s host, Jerry Lester, to “act dumb” on the air. Justin Peters of Slate described the Dagmar segments of Broadway Open House as “gleefully sexist and unfunny, yet somehow redeemed by Dagmar’s odd, icy sense of dignity.”

Dagmar soon became more popular than the host himself. Lester ended up quitting, and Dagmar hosted the show during its final month on the air.

Around the same time, she began appearing on other TV variety shows (like Texaco Star Theater and the Bob Hope Show). She even landed on the the cover of Life magazine.

What are your thoughts on the name Dagmar? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

*Fun fact: The two conical front bumper guards of various ’50s Cadillacs (and other GM cars) — originally modeled after artillery shells — came to be known as “Dagmar bumpers” or simply “Dagmars” in reference to the actress.

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