A few months ago, while perusing the records for real-life instances of the unusual name “Gloomy” for a Patreon post, I happened to spot a 3-year-old Georgia boy listed as “Gloomy Gus Edwards” on the 1920 U.S. Census.
Turns out that wasn’t his real name — the 1930 U.S. Census reveals that he was simply a Floyd — but spotting him did make me curious about the origin of the phrase.
“Gloomy Gus” — defined by dictionaries as a someone with a sullen outlook or demeanor — can be traced back to a character in the comic strip Happy Hooligan (1900-1932). Happy and Gloomy were brothers.
Of course, after learning this, I had to check for people named Happy Hooligan. And you know what? I discovered two. One was another census find, so it may not have been legit, but the other came from a birth record, which is more promising. Happy Hooligan Johnson was born in Tennessee in 1909:
Happy and Gloomy also had a snobbish third brother named Montmorency. I wasn’t able to find any 20th-century Americans with the name “Montmorency,” though.
Last week, Becca commented with some interesting Jeopardy! contestant names (e.g., Hobie, Dorcas) and mentioned J! Archive, which lists tens of thousands of Jeopardy! contestants going back to 1984, when the show premiered.
I skimmed through all the contestants from 1984 to 2015 (as we don’t have baby name data for 2016 yet) and spotted hundreds of unusual names. And it looks like at least two of them got a boost thanks to the show:
One-time player Alancia Wynn, a family practice physician from Virginia, was on Jeopardy! in October of 1999.
The name Brannon saw an increase in usage in 1998:
1999: 118 baby boys named Brannon
1998: 158 baby boys named Brannon
1997: 113 baby boys named Brannon
One-time player Brannon Denning, a graduate student from Connecticut, was on Jeopardy! in September of 1998. (Looks like Brannon Denning is now a law professor at Samford University.)
Alaric & Ezgi …?
These two names may have gotten a slight boost as well, though it’s hard to tell.
Alaric, in 2005. One-time player Alaric Smith was on the show in October of 2005.
Ezgi, in 2015. One-time player Ezgi Ustundag was on the show in October of 2015.
Ezgi is a female name that means “melody” in Turkish.
Anjali (false positive)
“Kids Week” contestant Anjali Tripathi was on the show in September of 1999. The same year, the baby name Anjali more than doubled in usage:
2001: 222 baby girls named Anjali
2000: 230 baby girls named Anjali
1999: 202 baby girls named Anjali
1998: 93 baby girls named Anjali
1997: 80 baby girls named Anjali
But this was a suspiciously steep rise. And it was accompanied by the debut of an alternate spelling (Anjalie). And usage didn’t drop back to normal levels the next year, as one would expect. These facts pointed me to something more high-profile than a Jeopardy! contestant.
Turns out the very successful Hindi coming-of-age romantic comedy Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had been released in 1998. The movie featured not one but two main characters named Anjali.
Here are the rest of the names that caught my eye, sorted by year: