This might be my favorite photo on the entire internet.
The shot, which depicts a playful little Texas boy pretending to ride a dead catfish on someone’s front porch, was taken by photographer Neal Douglass in April of 1941.
The Portal to Texas History calls it “Mrs. Bill Wright; Boy Riding Catfish.” So I’m guessing that “Mrs. Bill Wright” was the boy’s mother. But there’s no other identifying information, so I don’t know the boy’s name, nor do I have any way of tracking it down.
So let’s turn this into a name game!
First, let’s suppose our little catfish-rider was not named “Bill” (or “William,” or “Willie,” etc.) after his father. With that rule in place, here are the questions:
What do you think Mrs. Bill Wright named her son?
What would you have named him?
Just for reference, popular names for Texas newborns in the late ’30s included:
For extra credit, what do you think the boy named his catfish? And, what would you have named his catfish? ;)
My dad came out to visit us in Colorado recently. He loves geology, so we made sure to take him to several different places with impressive rocks/terrain.
One place we visited was Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. In this park we spotted the above sign, which described how the park got its name back in the 1850s:
As they looked over this area of cathedral-like rock spires, one man, Malancthon Beach, commented that the spot would be a great place for a beer garden someday. His friend, a poetic young man named Rufous Cable, replied that it was a place “fit for the Gods.”
It’s a cool story, but, to me, that first name “Malancthon” is way more interesting than the origin of the park name. Where did it come from?
My best guess is that Malancthon is a tribute to 16th-century German theologian Philipp Melanchthon, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. His surname at birth was Schwartzerd (“black earth” in German), but as a young man he Latinized his name to the classical equivalent Melanchthon (“black earth” in Greek).
We also saw some names at Red Rocks, which is both a park and a famous amphitheater.
The amphitheater was constructed from 1936 to 1941 by men in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program that existed during the Great Depression. One display included a photo of 124 of the men in the local CCC. Here are their first names, sorted by frequency:
According to a newspaper article from 1911, many people assumed that Zane Grey was a woman because of his first name:
Zane Grey, who is spending the summer at Cottage Point, Lackawaxen, Pa., complains that his unusual first name is the cause of much misunderstanding and that he has received numerous letters addressed to “Miss” Zane Grey and requests for the lady’s photograph.
But “Zane” wasn’t his actual first name. It was his middle name, taken from his mother’s maiden name.
His full name at birth was Pearl Zane Grey. He was born in early 1872 in the Ohio town of Zanesville, which was named after his maternal ancestor Ebenezer Zane.
The name “Pearl” is usually considered feminine, but it seems to have been used for males in Zane’s family; he had a male cousin named Pearl. He disliked the name and dropped it when he began his writing career.
Various sources claim the name “Pearl” was chosen because, around the time of Zane’s birth, newspapers were describing Queen Victoria’s mourning attire as pearl gray. (He was born a few weeks after the tenth anniversary of Prince Albert’s death.) I did some research, though, and couldn’t find a single American newspaper from that era that mentioned pearl gray in association with the queen.
What are your thoughts on the name Zane? Do you view it as masculine or feminine?
P.S. The Zane Grey-inspired television show Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater (1956-1961) gave rise to five (!) other TV shows. These spin-offs were behind several baby name debuts, including Hoby, Case and Cully.
Source: “Authors and their work.” Sun [New York] 14 Jul. 1911: 7.
From the 2010 movie Sex and the City 2, characters Carrie and Aidan talk about Aidan’s three sons:
Carrie: “My god, three?”
Aidan: “Homer, Wyatt, Tate.”
Carrie: “Sounds like a country music band.”
From a Telegraph article about creative baby names by Flic Everett (born a Johanna, later changed to Felicity):
Very unusual names can, [psychotherapist Christophe Sauerwein] says, make a child stand out for the wrong reasons. “I have a patient aged ten, named Otterly,” he says (spelling it out, in case I confuse it with Ottilie, which now features regularly in Telegraph birth announcements). “It’s a very unusual name and she’s bullied about it. As a parent, you can love a name, but come on, think twice. Is it embarrassing? Will she have a lifetime of explaining herself to everyone she meets?”
When Diana gave birth to her first son in June 1982, he was given the name William Arthur Philip Louis; two years later, Prince Harry was christened Henry Charles Albert David. In a recorded interview that would go on to be published in the controversial 1992 book Diana: Her Story by Andrew Morton, Diana admitted that she picked the first names for both of her newborn sons after nixing the ones Charles had in mind. When asked, “Who chose [Harry’s] name?,” Diana said, “I did,” adding, “I chose William and Harry, but Charles did the rest.” She went on: “He wanted Albert and Arthur, and I said no. Too old!”
From a biography of English actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928):
“Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the nineteenth century,” George Bernard Shaw wrote of the Dame when she was at the height of her career.
The norm in South Korea is to call your colleagues or superiors not by their given names but by their positions. It’s the same for addressing your older friends or siblings, your teacher or any person on the street. So if your family name is Johnson and you were to be hired in a Korean company as a manager, your co-workers would call you “Johnson-boojang.” To get the attention of your older female friend, you would call for “eunni,” or “older sister.”
One popular Korean blog was more explicit on shirking honorifics in the workplace: “Dropping your pants and [urinating] in the person’s briefcase would be only a little ruder than calling him/her by his/her first name.”
In Boston, we observed discrimination by Uber drivers via more frequent cancellations against passengers when they used African American-sounding names. Across all trips, the cancellation rate for African American sounding names was more than twice as frequent compared to white sounding names.
Mari, inspired by my hero Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She’s really wonderful, is very into eye contact, and has forced me to be a lot more present. It’s hard to be anxious about the future or depressed about the past when your baby does an explosive poo that somehow ends up in the feet part of her pajamas.
Had my mother, Neşe (pronounced neh-sheh), not already published articles under her birth name, she probably would have changed it upon naturalization. Lately, to avoid confusion, she has taken to introducing herself simply as “N,” which her accent converts into an American name. People hear “Anne,” and that is what they call her.
At the start of the essay, Eren mentions that his mother’s name means “joy” in Turkish.
A reader got in touch recently to ask about several unusual names. One of them was “Vouletti,” which belonged to a daughter of Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875).
Isaac Singer is best remembered for his successful sewing machine manufacturing company, founded in 1851 and still going strong today. Also notable, though, is the fact that he had a total of 24 children with five different wives and mistresses.
With Maria Haley, he had two children:
William Adam (b. 1834)
Lillian C. (b. 1837)
With Mary Ann Sponsler, he had ten children:
Isaac Augustus (b. 1837)
Vouletti Theresa (b. 1840)
Fanny Elizabeth (b. 1841)
John Albert (b. circa 1843)
Jasper Hamet (b. 1846)
Julia Ann (b. circa 1847)
Mary Olivia (b. 1848)
Charles Alexander (1850-1852)
Caroline Virginia (b. 1857)
…plus one more
With Mary McGonigal, he had five children:
Charles Alexander (b. 1859)
With Mary E. Walters, he had one child:
Alice Eastwood (b. 1852)
With Isabella Eugenie Boyer (of France), he had six children:
Adam Mortimer (b. 1863)
Winnaretta Eugenie (b. 1865)
Washington Merritt Grant (b. 1866)
Paris Eugene (b. 1867) – Palm Beach developer, namesake of Singer Island
Isabelle Blanche (b. 1869)
Franklin Morse (b. 1870)
These are traditional names for the most part, which makes “Vouletti” all the more intriguing.
Vouletti Singer was born in 1840, married William Proctor in 1862, had three children, and died in 1913. Though her name was definitely spelled Vouletti — that’s the spelling passed down to various descendants, and the one used by her friend Mercedes de Acosta in the poem “To Vouletti” — I found it misspelled a lot: “Voulitti” on the 1855 New York State Census, “Voulettie” on the 1900 U.S. Census, “Voulettie” again in a Saturday Evening Post article from 1951.
So…where does it come from?
I have no clue. I can’t find a single person with the given name Vouletti who predates Vouletti Singer. I also can’t find anyone with the surname Vouletti. (There was a vaudevillian with the stage name “Eva Vouletti,” but she doesn’t pop up until the early 1900s.)
Theater could be a possibility, as Isaac Singer was an actor in his younger days. Perhaps Vouletti was a character name he was familiar with?
My only other idea is the Italian word violetti, which means “violet.” Her parents might have coined the name with this word in mind.
Do you have any thoughts/theories about the unusual name Vouletti?