In 1954, the baby name Bobbyetta appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the first and only time with a mere 6 baby girls:
- 1955: unlisted
- 1954: 6 baby girls named Bobbyetta [debut]
- 1953: unlisted
What caused this ever-so-slight increase in the usage of Bobbyetta?
A lady with a pet lion, believe it or not.
Back in the mid-1950s, a farm family in rural Herscher, Illinois, was making headlines because they shared their home with a full-grown pet lion.
The family consisted of Mr. Harlan Porter, Mrs. Pearl Porter, and their adult children Bill and Bobbyetta. And their pet lion Tex, of course.
Bobbyetta was the primary owner/caretaker of the lion. She had owned dozens of cats growing up, and in her mid-20s she decided she wanted a big cat. So she started actively looking for one. Here’s an ad she placed in The Billboard magazine in January of 1950:
Later that year, she spotted an ad for 3-month-old lion cubs. The cubs had been born in Africa in April, then brought to Texas to be sold by a wild animal dealer.
Bobbyetta bought one of the cubs “sight unseen” and changed his name from Quien Sabe (which means “who knows” in Spanish) to Tex, short for Texas.
Because winters in Illinois are quite a bit colder than winters in Africa, the Porters decided Tex should live indoors with them. So they split their living room in half with steel bars.
Bobbyetta “soon had him eating out of her hand and wrestling with her in his cage.”
As an adult he weighed over 300 pounds and was fed seven pounds of meat and two quarts of milk per day. He also had a weakness for ice cream.
Bobbyetta brushed his teeth after meals, slept near his cage (“as Tex was prone to roar when he felt he was being left alone”), and “relaxed him by running a vacuum cleaner over his coat.”
The family took Tex along when they traveled (“the rear of the station wagon was fitted with a cage”) and included him in the family photos they sent out with their Christmas cards.
Word about Tex spread, and by early 1954 he was being featured in newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and beyond. Headlines included “Lion in a Pine-Paneled Den” (LIFE), “We Live with a Lion” (Chicago Tribune) and “Girl Brushes Lion’s Teeth” (Sun-Herald, Sydney, Australia).
This is precisely when we see one-hit wonder Bobbyetta debut on the national baby name list.
Sadly, Tex wasn’t the healthiest of lions…
Male African lions can survive 10-15 years in the wild, and ought to be able to many years longer in captivity, but Tex died of a chest tumor in late 1955 at the age 5.
The Porters built Tex a coffin and held both a wake a funeral for him. He was buried on the Porter property “in pink-tufted satin with his head on a royal purple pillow.”
- “Cowardly Lion That Adored Ice Cream Is Dead.” Sweetwater Reporter Nov. 28, 1955: 3.
- “Lion in a Pine-Paneled Den.” LIFE Jan. 25, 1945: 84.
- Lion In The House (vid), British Pathé newsreel clip from 1954
- A lion’s tale: A funeral for Tex, the Herscher lion
- The lion that lived in Herscher
- “Pet Lion Enjoys Home Life.” Daily Iowan Jan. 13, 1954: 1.
- Want Ad. The Billboard Jun. 10, 1950: 86.
Images: © The Billboard, © LIFE, © British Pathé