The Peak of Aleeta

Aleeta & Mertis Fleming, 1933

In 1933, the relatively rare baby name Aleeta saw an isolated spike in usage:

  • 1935: unlisted
  • 1934: unlisted
  • 1933: 17 baby girls named Aleeta [peak]
  • 1932: unlisted
  • 1931: unlisted

What gave it a boost that year?

Aleeta Fleming, a 28-year-old “farm wife” from northeastern Ohio who was in the news starting on August 6th. A physician had recently determined that her 4-month-old son, Mertis, Jr., had died of strangulation. Following that revelation, Aleeta “glibly” confessed to the murder of not just Mertis, Jr., but also to the murder of an earlier son, Willis, who she’d poisoned as a baby in January of 1932.

The next day, she repudiated her confession and instead blamed her 55-year-old husband Mertis, who “disliked boy babies,” for the deaths:

Mrs. Fleming said her husband gave all his affection to their 3-year-old daughter, Beatrice, and complained to her that the boys fretted too much…[She] was quoted by the sheriff as asserting her husband threatened to kill her unless she made away with the boy babies.

Both parents ended up pleading guilty to second degree murder. In early November, both were sentenced to life in prison.

Interestingly, the spelling “Aleeta” seems to be a newspaper typo. In all the records I’ve seen (e.g., Willis’s death certificate, Mertis’s death certificate, the 1930 U.S. Census, the 1940 U.S. Census) the name is spelled “Alleta.”

Do you like the name Aleeta?

P.S. Beatrice, who spent her childhood in an orphanage, “worked as a foster parent with Indian children out west” as an adult.

Sources:

  • “Admits the Killing of her Infant Sons.” Lincoln Star 6 Aug. 1933: 17.
  • “Held in Slaying of two Children.” Evening Independent [Massillon, Ohio] 7 Aug. 1933: 1.
  • “Mother Admits Poisoning Babies.” Defiance Crescent 7 Aug. 1933: 1.
  • “Parents Who Killed 2 Children Sentenced.” Nevada State Journal 3 Nov. 1933: 4.
  • Beatrice M. Fleming obituary

4 thoughts on “The Peak of Aleeta

  1. Daaaaang, some things never change! You could change the dates and it would fit in today’s news.
    I do like the name. Similar to Alida (Aleda- Alita – Aleta). For a boy you could go with Alito or Aleeto (supreme court judge and yu gi oh character)

  2. I’m having a hard time imagining why anyone would think naming their baby after a someone in the news for killing their own babies is a good thing. I have no problem with the name Aleeta, but in this case the parents’ motivation for choosing it eludes me.

  3. Ellyn, I’m of the same mind. I’m baffled with all the Covid related names as well.
    From Nancy’s work on here I can tel in India it’s kind of a “good luck” thing to name them after a disaster.
    But that would be like naming your kid Manson or Bundy to me.

    Did more father’s name their babies in the 30s? Perhaps a frazzled father reading the paper and finds out he’s having a girl and just picks it. Kinda like Mrs. Doubtfire lol

  4. I’m thinking (well, hoping) it had more to do with exposure than anything else.

    News stories about Aleeta Fleming would have introduced the rare name “Aleeta” to a lot of new people that year, and “Aleeta” would have sounded stylish, because names like Rita, Anita and Juanita were already stylish.

    So I’m guessing that the parents who bestowed “Aleeta” in 1933 were focused on the style, not on the source. (In fact, I wonder how many of these parents had forgotten about Fleming altogether by the time their own daughters were born…)

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