Here’s a curious one: Buff. It appeared in the SSA data in the middle of the 20th century as both a boy name and a girl name — but slightly more often as a girl name. The female usage was entirely in the 1950s:
- 1960: unlisted
- 1959: 5 baby girls named Buff
- 1958: unlisted
- 1957: unlisted
- 1956: 6 baby girls named Buff
- 1955: 15 baby girls named Buff
- 1954: 10 baby girls named Buff
- 1953: 6 baby girls named Buff
- 1952: 5 baby girls named Buff [debut]
- 1951: unlisted
What was the influence here?
An actress with an intriguingly gender-neutral name: Buff Cobb.
She was born Patrizia Chapman in Italy in 1927 to American parents. When she decided in her teens to become a film star, she created the stage name “Buff Cobb” from her mother’s nickname, Buffy, and her maternal grandfather’s surname, Cobb. (He was writer/humorist Irvin Cobb.)
While Buff’s film career didn’t pan out, she did tour with a company putting on Noël Coward’s play Private Lives in the late ’40s. During a stop in Chicago, she was interviewed for a radio show by a young reporter named Mike Wallace — most famous today for his work as a 60 Minutes correspondent from 1968 to 2006.
She and Mike got married in 1949 and began co-hosting a Chicago radio show, which led to two New York City TV shows (both live):
- Mike and Buff (1951-1953), originally entitled Two Sleepy People, one of television’s first talk shows. “[T]he couple would engage in heated debate over a different topic each day, then try to settle their differences after interviewing experts.” One of Mike’s catchphrases on the show was: “Smarten up, Buff!” The show was sponsored by Pepsi and guests included Harry Belafonte and Mickey Spillane.
- All Around the Town (1951-1952), an interview show typically broadcast from different parts of New York City.
A year after Mike and Buff was cancelled, the real Mike and Buff were also cancelled — they divorced in 1954. Buff appeared regularly on just one more TV show after that: the ’50s game show Masquerade Party, from 1953 to 1955. Usage of the (female) name Buff was highest during these years.
- Gladstone, B. James. The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013.
- Hevesi, Dennis. “Buff Cobb, Actress and TV Host, Dies at 82.” New York Times 21 Jul. 2010.
- “Mike Wallace Sits in TV Hot Seat.” Michigan Alumnus 14 Dec. 1957: 118-121.
- Nelson, Valerie J. “Buff Cobb dies; actress, theatrical producer was once married to Mike Wallace.” Los Angeles Times 22 Jul. 2010.
- Mike Wallace discusses one of his early TV shows, “Mike and Buff” (video)
Image: Clipped from page 12 of the December 1952 Radio-TV Mirror.