In 1896, people were thinking politics. We can see it in the baby names that saw the biggest relative increases in usage from 1895 to 1896: Hobart (744%), Hobert (488%), Bryan (481%), Jennings (344%), Bryant (271%), and Mckinley (256%).
I think most of us will recognize William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan as two of the influences here. But where did “Hobart” and “Hobert” come from?
Before I get to the answer, here’s some data on the usage of Hobart and Hobert for baby boys in America during the 1890s:
# Hobarts, SSA
# Hoberts, SSA
42 (rank: 281st)
42 (rank: 282nd)
105 (rank: 148th)
60 (rank: 216th)
135 (rank: 128th)
47 (rank: 263rd)
16 (rank: 515th)
8 (rank: 829th)
7 (rank: 907th)
5 (not in top 1,000)
And here’s some (more reliable) data from the Social Security Death Index showing the same overall trend:
# Hobarts, SSDI
# Hoberts, SSDI
So where did Hobart (and Hobert) come from?
Garret Hobart, the corporate lawyer who became the Republican nominee for vice president in June of 1896. He and running mate McKinley were strong advocates of the Gold Standard, whereas Bryan was as supporter of Free Silver.
McKinley and Hobart won the election and were sworn into their respective offices in March of 1897. Unlike most vice presidents up to that point, Hobart “enjoyed an unusually close relationship with the president and was often consulted on major policy issues.”
But his term was cut short. He became ill in early 1899, his health declined as the year wore on, and he died of heart disease in November at age 55.
During his last summer, though, he and his wife Jennie had some fun with names while staying at their seaside New Jersey home, which featured an outdoor fountain:
This fountain we stocked with gold fish that grew so tame they followed us as we walked round it. One fish, with a huge gold spot on his back, we named McKinley; one with a big silver mark we named Bryan. The most gorgeous one of all whose coat, shot with crimson, white and gold looked like a uniform, we named General Miles.
What are your thoughts on Hobart as a first name? Is it usable these days?
The name Dagmar (based on the Old Norse words dagr, meaning “day,” and mær, meaning “maid”) peaked in usage in the mid-1910s. But it returned for a secondary peak in 1951:
1953: 16 baby girls named Dagmar
1952: 21 baby girls named Dagmar
1951: 28 baby girls named Dagmar
1950: 18 baby girls named Dagmar
1949: 15 baby girls named Dagmar
What gave it a boost that particular year?
An American actress known simply as Dagmar. She became one of television’s first stars — and its very first sex symbol — in 1951.
She was born Virginia Ruth Egnor in West Virginia in 1921. When she began modeling and acting in the 1940s, she adopted the stage name “Jennie Lewis.”
But that stage name was changed to “Dagmar” when she was hired to appear on NBC’s Broadway Open House (1950–51), which was the first late-night variety show on network television. The bosomy* actress was instructed by the show’s host, Jerry Lester, to “act dumb” on the air. Justin Peters of Slate described the Dagmar segments of Broadway Open House as “gleefully sexist and unfunny, yet somehow redeemed by Dagmar’s odd, icy sense of dignity.”
Dagmar soon became more popular than the host himself. Lester ended up quitting, and Dagmar hosted the show during its final month on the air.
Around the same time, she began appearing on other TV variety shows (like Texaco Star Theater and the Bob Hope Show). She even landed on the the cover of Life magazine.
What are your thoughts on the name Dagmar? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?
*Fun fact: The two conical front bumper guards of various ’50s Cadillacs (and other GM cars) — originally modeled after artillery shells — came to be known as “Dagmar bumpers” or simply “Dagmars” in reference to the actress.
Just remember that the SSA data doesn’t become very accurate until the mid-to-late 20th century, so many of the numbers below don’t reflect reality all that well.
Same format as usual: Girl names on the left, boy names on the right. Numbers represent single-year decreases in usage. From 1880 to 1881, for instance, usage of the girl name Mary dropped by 146 babies and usage of the boy name William dropped by 1,008 babies.
I’ve already written about some of the names above (click the links to see the posts) and will write about others in the future. In the meanwhile, feel free to beat me to it! Comment below with the backstory on the fall of Shirley in the late ’30s, Linda in the early ’50s, etc.
“I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.”
From a 1936 newspaper article about movie actress Veda Ann Borg:
Miss Borg was given a new tag almost the minute she stepped into the studio. It was “Ann Noble.” […] Miss Borg contended that her own name is more descriptive of her personality than Ann Noble. The former model’s argument was convincing. She will be billed as Veda Ann Borg.
(Keavy, Hubbard. “Screen Life In Hollywood.” Wilkes-Barre Record 23 Apr. 1936: 19.)
How in the world did we get from “Jeremy” to “Jezza”?
There is a rule for how this works. Names which have the letter R in them–Jeremy, Catherine, Sharon, Barry, Murray–are trouble for speakers of non-rhotic variations of English to abbreviate. Rhoticity is a linguistic term for describing when the letter is pronounced; in non-rhotic dialects of English, the sound will be discarded unless followed immediately by a vowel. The dialects of England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and, well, New England are all non-rhotic, which is why the word “car” sounds like “cah.”
This isn’t a problem in any of those names if they’re pronounced fully; there’s always a vowel after the R. But to truncate them would be difficult. Typically hypocoristic nicknames are formed by cutting everything but the first syllable and then either leaving that as-is or adding a vowel. That’s how “Daniel” becomes “Danno”: clip to the first syllable (“Dan”) and add a vowel. (The -o ending is most common for male names; -ie is more common for female names.)
The team, led by North Carolina State University’s Terry Gates, named the shark Galagadon nordquistae, a nod to its teeth, which have a stepped triangle shape like the spaceships in the 1980s video game Galaga, and to Karen Nordquist, the Field Museum volunteer who discovered the fossils.
Lorin now often finds himself babysitting while Cali campaigns against atomic power. Symbolically, not long ago she shed the name she’d “hated for 30 years” for one that sounded right. Margo became Cali. “I look at myself differently now,” she says firmly, “except people all across the country think Lorin has remarried.”
The Wayback Machine was named to reference Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine from the popular cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle. In the show, the machine was pronounced as “way back,” which is where the index got its name.
However, Howard did go out of his way to confirm one long-held belief about Willow: that two of the villains were named after famous film critics. The evil General Kael was named after the notoriously ruthless Pauline Kael and the two-headed monster Eborsisk was named after the iconic At the Movies duo of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
And, finally, a pair of snippets from a Colorado Public Radio article about Denver street names. First:
William McGaa [one of Denver’s founding officials] had a debaucherous reputation of his own, drinking and adulterating his way out of favor with the city’s elite. McGaa even named Wazee and Wewatta streets after two of his many wives, both Native American woman from local tribes.
(The settlement of Denver was named in late 1858. McGaa’s son, William Denver McGaa, was born in the settlement in March of 1859 and named after it. His mother was neither Wazee nor Wewatta, but a half-Native American woman named Jennie.)
Second, regarding Denver’s “double alphabetical” streets, which were renamed in 1904:
The pattern is a proper noun name, ideally British, followed by the name of a tree or plant. Albion and Ash, Bellaire and Birch, Clermont and Cherry.
The switch wasn’t without resistance from those wealthy neighborhoods. When Eudora Avenue became Fir Street, residents decried the name as “too plebeian.”
A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader looking for lists of old-fashioned double names. She was aiming for names like Thelma Dean, Eula Mae, and Gaynell — names that would have sounded trendy in the early 1900s. She also mentioned that she’d started a list of her own.
So I began scouring the interwebs. I tracked down lists of old-fashioned names, and lists of double names…but I couldn’t find a decent list of double names that were also old-fashioned.
I loved the idea of such a list, though, so I suggested that we work together to create one. She generously sent me the pairings she’d collected so far, and I used several different records databases to find many more.
I restricted my search to names given to girls born in the U.S. from 1890 to 1930. I also stuck to double names that I found written as single names, because it’s very likely that these pairings were used together in real life (i.e., that they were true double names and not merely first-middle pairings).
Pairings that seemed too timeless, like Maria Mae and Julia Rose, were omitted. I also took out many of the pairings that feature now-trendy names — think Ella, Emma, and Lucy — because they just don’t sound old-fashioned anymore (though they would have a few decades ago).
The result isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a decent sampling of real-life, old-fashioned double names. I’ve organized them by second name, and I also added links to popularity graphs for names that were in the SSA data during the correct time period (early 1900s).