Last year I guessed that the 1935 debut of Normandie on the SSA’s list was inspired by the maiden voyage of the SS Normandie.
Just a few weeks ago, though, I stumbled upon a theory that makes a lot more sense.
I was in the middle of researching the name Terrylea (a one-hit wonder from 1948 — any guesses?) when I found myself on the IMDB page for Terry and the Pirates (1940).
IMDB pages are full of names, so whenever I land on one I feel compelled to skim. And on this particular page I happened to spot the character name “Normandie Drake.”
It made me think of the baby name Normandie, of course, but the release year didn’t match up to any of the SSA data, so…dead end, right?
Well, turns out the movie was based on a popular comic strip of the same name by cartoonist Milton Caniff. The strip was first published in late 1934.
And which character was introduced in January of 1935? Normandie Drake.
Very intriguing — especially when you consider that a number of baby name debuts from that era were inspired by comic strip characters (e.g., Clovia, Dondi).
Another interesting point: Normandie Drake wasn’t featured in every storyline, and her comings and goings in the comic seem to correspond with the fluctuating usage of the name.
In 1942, for instance, she reappeared after an absence. That same year, the usage of Normandie increased:
- 1945: unlisted
- 1944: 9 baby girls named Normandie
- 1943: 9 baby girls named Normandie
- 1942: 14 baby girls named Normandie
- 1941: unlisted
- 1940: unlisted
- 1939: unlisted
- 1938: unlisted
- 1937: 11 baby girls named Normandie
- 1936: unlisted
- 1935: 7 baby girls named Normandie [debut]
- 1934: unlisted
Not only that, but she brought along her young daughter Merrily* and the baby name Merrily** promptly skyrocketed into the top 1,000:
- 1944: 71 baby girls named Merrily
- 1943: 120 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 914th]
- 1942: 201 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 698th]
- 1941: 13 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 513th]
- 1940: unlisted
A magazine interview with Milton Caniff from a few years later (1945) included a photo of two little girls named Merrily after the character. The caption also mentioned young girls named Normandie after Normandie Drake and April after another Terry character, April Kane.
So, in light of all this new information, I have to admit that my first theory was probably not the strongest theory. The debut was much more likely caused by Normandie Drake than by the SS Normandie. Though the ship (and related novelty items, like Normandie perfume) could have been a secondary influence here.
(That said…heiress Normandie Drake herself may have been named with the luxurious ocean liner in mind. So maybe my initial theory wasn’t so far off after all?)
Anyway, sorry I didn’t have the full story on this one before posting. Better late than never!
*Milton Caniff named and modeled Merrily after Mary Lee Engli, the daughter of fellow cartoonist Frank Engli.
**The baby names Merrilee and Merrilie were also affected.