The Arrival of Arbadella

Amos ‘n’ Andy baby-naming contest ad, 1936

The similar names Arbadella and Arbedella both debuted in the SSA baby name data in 1936, and both saw peak usage the following year:

ArbadellaArbedella
19408 baby girlsunlisted
19397 baby girlsunlisted
193812 baby girls5 baby girls
193733 baby girls [peak]9 baby girls [peak]
19366 baby girls [debut]6 baby girls [debut]
1935unlistedunlisted

What was the influence?

The radio serial Amos & Andy — one of the very first situation comedies. The initial version of the show (1928-1943) aired for 15 minutes, five days per week, and was the most popular radio program in the nation in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. In fact, the show’s “popularity ensured the success of radio broadcasting as a form of mass entertainment.”

The show “was based on the model of minstrel shows, [and] thus based on racial stereotypes.” The main characters — African-American men named Amos Jones and Andy Brown — were played by white radio performers Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll.

In an episode that aired during October of 1936, Amos and his wife Ruby welcomed their first child, a baby girl. The baby wasn’t named right away — instead, the show’s sponsor, Pepsodent Tooth Paste, held a baby-naming contest.

The contest was advertised in newspapers nationwide. The ads noted that the judges would consider “originality, uniqueness, and suitability” when making their decision, and also offered some name-choosing prompts, such as:

  • “…you might think “Amanda” would be a suitable name because it contains so many of the letters of both “Amos” and “Andy.””
  • “…remember, too, the baby’s maternal grandmother is named Lillian.”

Thousands of prizes were offered, including a $5,000 grand prize. Here’s the full list (and what the prizes would be worth in today’s dollars):

  • 1st: $5,000 in baby bonds (equivalent to $92,183.93 in 2020)
  • 2nd: $1,000 in baby bonds ($18,436.79)
  • 3rd: $100 baby bond to each of 10 winners ($1,843.68)
  • 4th: $50 baby bond to each of 100 winners ($921.84)
  • 5th: $25 baby bond to each of 720 winners ($460.92)
  • 6th: $2 cash to each of 2000 winners ($36.87)

The contest closed in mid-November. The winning name, Arbadella — suggested by Mrs. Joseph L. Smith of Ohio — was announced in mid-December. (The second-place name, Ladicia Ann, was suggested by 12-year-old Indiana boy Urcel D. Miller.)

The late-in-the-year announcement of the winning name accounts for why the baby name Arbadella (and spelling variant Arbedella) debuted in the data in 1936, but saw even higher usage in 1937.

After welcoming Arbadella, Amos and Ruby went on to have two more children: Amos, Jr., and Amosandra. Neither of these fictional babies had a discernible impact on U.S. baby names, though.

What are your thoughts on the name Arbadella? Do you like it?

Sources/Tools:

P.S. Norita was also a contest-winning name of the 1930s…

P.P.S. In the early 1950s, The Amos ‘n Andy Show aired on television. This time around, the characters were played by African-American actors. Despite good ratings, the show was cancelled after two years due to pressure from the NAACP.

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