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Popularity of the Baby Name Fifinella

Number of Babies Named Fifinella

Born in the U.S. Since 1880

Posts that Mention the Name Fifinella

Sicilian Baby Named for Uncle Sam During WWII

Uncle Sam army posterOn July 9, 1943, the Allies invaded the island of Sicily. Within six weeks they had expelled the Axis entirely, opening up Mediterranean sea lanes for Allied ships and setting the stage for the invasion of mainland Italy.

But before the battle was over, in early August, two American servicemen — 1st Lt. Lawrence Taylor (who was a doctor) and Sgt. Milton Spelman — helped a Sicilian woman give birth a baby boy amid the chaos.

As a thank-you to the American doctor, she decided to name the baby Sam after Uncle Sam.

“The shells were landing all about,” Taylor recalled, “but we got through the delivery okay. The mother, who lived in New York once, told us her husband was with an Italian combat unit near Rome and believed in fascism. But she didn’t. Spelman and I became little Sam’s god-fathers.”

So how did Uncle Sam get his name? The Library of Congress says that the origin of the term “Uncle Sam” is obscure, but “[h]istorical sources attribute the name to a meat packer who supplied meat to the army during the War of 1812” — Samuel Wilson (1766-1854) of Troy, New York. According to the story, the soldiers who knew of “Uncle Sam” Wilson began to associate his nickname with the “U.S.” stamp on packaged meats, and over time the nickname simply became associated with anything marked “U.S.”

The name Samuel comes from the Hebrew name Shemuel/Shmuel and is typically defined as “name of God” (shem + el). Another possible definition is “heard of God” (shama + el).

Sources:

More WWII baby names: Adolf Hitler, Dorie, Fifinella, Hai-Hu, Irene, Jesse Roper, Linda Ann, Linda Vista, Roger, Tunisia, Vee


Olivia Twenty, Named for $20

Children’s book author Roald Dahl, who was named after Roald Amundsen and who also created the Fifinella gremlin, was born in Wales in 1916.

He married American actress Patricia Neal in 1953 and they had a total of five children together.

Their first baby was named Olivia Twenty. Why?

Olivia Twenty was born in New York on April 20, 1955, and named after her mother’s favorite Shakespearean heroine, the date of her birth, and the fact that Roald had $20 in his pocket when he came to visit Pat in the hospital.

And their second child, originally called Chantal Sophia, ended up getting a name change:

A few days after Chantal had been christened, Roald realized her name rhymed with Dahl and renamed her Tessa.

The last three three Dahl children were named Theo Matthew, Ophelia Magdalena, and Lucy Neal. My guess is that Ophelia is another Shakespeare reference, and that Sophia and Magdalena came from Dahl’s mother, Sofie Magdalene. I’m not sure what inspired the other names.

[Sadly, Olivia Twenty died of the measles in 1962, before a reliable measles vaccine had been developed.]

Source: Sturrock, Donald. Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

The Baby Name Fifinella

Women’s History Month is almost over, so let me squeeze in a post about Fifinella, a rare-but-real name with ties not only to the pioneering female aviators of WWII, but also to Walt Disney, Roald Dahl, Tchaikovsky, and a champion British racehorse.

Fifinella began as a children’s Christmas play. It was co-written by Englishmen Barry Jackson and Basil Dean, with music by Norman Hayes. Fifinella was first performed at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in December of 1912.

fifinella - the play
From “The Stage” Year Book, 1913

The play — sometimes called “Fluffy Nellie” — “included 14 scenes and a harlequinade.” It was also adapted into the book Fifinella, a fairy frolic (1912) by Basil Dean’s then-wife Esther Van Gruisen.

The next year, an English thoroughbred horse was born to dam Silver Fowl and sire Polymelus. The chestnut filly, owned by newspaper proprietor Sir Edward Hulton, was named Fifinella.

fifinella in 1916
Fifinella in 1916

Fifinella went on become the last horse to win both the Derby and the Oaks in a single year, 1916.

That’s the same year English author and former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Roald Dahl was born — reason enough, apparently, for him to want to use Fifinella in his very first children’s book The Gremlins (1943), “a story drawing on RAF folklore which held that little creatures were responsible for the various mechanical failures on aeroplanes.”

The gremilns are convinced by a pilot named Gus to make peace with the RAF and join forces with the British to combat a more sinister villain; Hitler and the Nazis. The gremlins are then re-trained by the RAF to repair British aircraft instead of destroy them.

In the book, “fifinella” isn’t a name but a noun referring to a female gremlin. (Baby gremlins are called “widgets.”)

The book was put out by Walt Disney Productions and Random House. Walt Disney had wanted to make the book into a movie, but the movie never happened.

The gremlins “did live on in the form of military insignias,” though.

Walt Disney himself granted at least 30 military units permission to use gremlins as mascots/insignias during WWII, and even “assigned several artists to create these one-of-a-kind designs on a full-time basis.”

Units with gremlin mascots included the 17th Weather Squadron of San Francisco, the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School, and the Royal Canadian Air Force ‘Sky Sweepers.’

But the most famous gremlin mascot, Fifinella, belonged to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), an paramilitary unit of 1,000+ women who flew non-combat flights in order to free male pilots for combat service.

Fifinella

(She had been an unofficial mascot of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which in August of 1943 merged with another group of female pilots to become the WASPs, even before permission was granted.)

The WASPs put Fifinella’s image on everything from patches to letterheads to matchbook covers. The Fifinella mascot even made an appearance in a mid-1943 LIFE article about the WASPs.

Member of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) wears Fifinella patch on blouse, 1943
© LIFE

After the WASPs were disbanded in late 1944, ex-WASPs created the Order of Fifinella, an group that was both social (e.g., organizing reunions) and political (e.g., working to gain recognition as veterans).

Finally, one last Fifinella reference: In late 1945, Austrian tenor Richard Tauber recorded an English version of “Pimpinella – Florentine Song” (1878) by Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. One of the many lyrical changes he made was replacing the name Pimpinella with the name Fifinella. (Here’s Richard Tauber singing Fifinella.)

So the name Fifinella has been around for at least a century. It’s been associated with theater, literature, sport, war, feminism and music. Has it ever been used as the name of a human being?

Yes, but rarely. I’ve only found a handful of Fifinellas, and all of them were born outside the United States:

  • Fifinella Downes (later Clarke), Australia
  • Fifinella “Fif” Beatrice Evans, d. 2007, England
  • Fifinella Flavell, b. 1923, England
  • Fifinella Hill (later Gratwick), Australia
  • Fifinella Lewis, b. 1914, Ireland
  • Fifinella Mallard (later Newson), 1901-1969, England
  • Fifinella Charlotte Agatha Nelson, d. 1947, Australia
  • Fifinella Patricia Russell (later Ceret), b. 1927, Ireland
  • Fifinella Silcox (later Mccluskey), b. 1948, England

So it’s definitely an unusual name. It’s also quite whimsical, and it has a ton of nickname potential (Fifi, Fina, Nell, Nella, Nellie). Do you like it? Would you ever consider using Fifinella as a baby name?

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