A 15-month-old London girl named Desnee Sampson, who was featured in a pair of photos that ran in various U.S. newspapers in late 1950 and early 1951.
In the first photo, she was sitting on the floor, watching her cat Billy drink milk from a saucer. In the second, she was bent over the saucer herself and trying to lap up milk in the same way (with Billy looking on).
I don’t know the origin of the name. In fact, my initial guess was that “Desnee” was a typo for Desiree. (I could imagine the middle letters being transposed and then mistaken for an “n.”)
As it turns out, Desnee Sampson’s birth (1949) and marriage (1970) records both confirm that her real name was indeed “Desnee.” Besides, the name Desiree didn’t become trendy until a few years later, thanks to the 1954 Marlon Brando movie Désirée (which I mentioned in the Deserie post).
What do you think of the name Desnee? Would you pronounce the second syllable like that of Desiree (ay-sound) or Deedee (ee-sound)?
The James Michener novel Sayonara came out in 1953. Set during the Korean War, it told the story of U.S. airman Lloyd Gruver, stationed in Japan, who fell in love with a Japanese entertainer called Hana-ogi. (Her namesake is a historical courtesan; hana means “flower” and ogi means “fan”).
Originally, the book was going to be adapted into a stage production à la Michener’s South Pacific. With a musical in mind, Irving Berlin wrote a song called “Sayonara.”
Instead, the story was turned into a movie (starring Marlon Brando) a few years later, and so Irving Berlin’s song ended up on the soundtrack.
Both Sayonara the movie and “Sayonara” the song came out in late 1957. The film made a bigger splash than the song did, so it may have had more of an influence on baby names.
In March of 1958 the film won four Oscars, including one each for supporting actors Red Buttons (who played Joe Kelly) and Miyoshi Umeki (who played Katsumi).
Miyoshi Umeki, both a singer and an actress, was the first Asian performer to win an Academy Award. Her win drew attention to the Japanese name Miyoshi, which debuted in the data as well in 1958:
1965: 6 baby girls named Miyoshi
1964: 9 baby girls named Miyoshi
1963: 8 baby girls named Miyoshi
1962: 7 baby girls named Miyoshi
1959: 8 baby girls named Miyoshi
1958: 20 baby girls named Miyoshi [debut]
A few months later, Umeki appeared on the TV game show “What’s My Line?” Here’s how she signed her name:
Miyoshi was Umeki’s birth name, but at the start of her singing career in Japan, she used the stage name Nancy Umeki. She reverted to her Japanese name upon relocating to America, ironically.
From a New York Magazine article about author Toni Morrison, born Chloe Wofford, who “deeply regrets” not putting her birth name on her books:
“Wasn’t that stupid?” she says. “I feel ruined!” Here she is, fount of indelible names (Sula, Beloved, Pilate, Milkman, First Corinthians, and the star of her new novel, the Korean War veteran Frank Money), and she can’t own hers. “Oh God! It sounds like some teenager–what is that?” She wheeze-laughs, theatrically sucks her teeth. “But Chloe.” She grows expansive. “That’s a Greek name. People who call me Chloe are the people who know me best,” she says. “Chloe writes the books.” Toni Morrison does the tours, the interviews, the “legacy and all of that.”
Caitlin isn’t really her name. She was christened ‘Catherine.’ But she saw ‘Caitlin’ in a Jilly Cooper novel when she was thirteen and thought it looked exciting. That’s why she pronounces it incorrectly: ‘Catlin.’ It causes trouble for everyone.
From the book Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me by Marlon Brando and Robert Lindsey:
I have been told that I was born one hour before midnight, April 3, 1924, in the Omaha Maternity Hospital. […] My mother, Dorothy Pennebaker Brando, was 27; my father, Marlon Brando Sr., was 29. I rounded out the family and made it complete: My sister Jocelyn was almost 5 when I was born, my other sister Frances almost 2. Each of us had nicknames: My mother’s was Dodie; my father’s Bowie, although he was Pop to me and Poppa to my sisters; Jocelyn was Tiddy; Frances was Frannie; and I was Bud.
The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
I used to play a place in Arkansas called Twist, Ark., and they used to have a little nightclub there that we played quite often. […] Well, it used to get quite cold in Twist, and they used to take something look like a big garbage pail and set it in the middle of the floor, half-fill it with kerosene. They would light that fuel, and that’s what we used for heat. And generally, the people would dance around it, you know, never disturb this container. But this particular night, two guys start to fight and then one of them knocked the other one over on this container, and when they did, it spilled on the floor. Now it was already burning, so when it spilled, it looked like a river of fire, and everybody ran for the front door, including yours truly. But when I got on the outside, then I realized that I’d left my guitar inside. I went back for it. The building was a wooden building, and it was burning so fast when I got my guitar, it started to collapse around me. So I almost lost my life trying to save the guitar. But the next morning, we found that these two guys who was fighting was fighting about a lady. I never did meet the lady, but I learned that her name was Lucille. So I named my guitar Lucille and reminded me not to do a thing like that again.
(B. B. King’s birth name is Riley; “B. B.” stands for “Blues Boy.”)
Some other things we noticed: 10 percent of the list falls into the “Tech & Geek” category, which includes names inspired by Computing (“Paige Not Found,” “Syntax Terror,” “Ctrl Alt Defeat”) fonts (“Crimes New Roman,” “Give ‘Em Hell Vetica”); Chemistry (“Carmen Die Oxide,” “ChLauraform”); and Philosophy (“Blockem’s Razor”).
“I once had parents that came in with 11 given names for their baby,” Mr Lisson said.
“We had a long talk with them to explain how difficult it would be to fill out forms.
“They had an answer for basically all of them, as they were from a diverse cultural background. Each name had a significance. After some hard bargaining, we got them down to nine.”
From a 1909 article in Hampton’s Magazine about Woman’s Relief Corps president Jennie Iowa Berry (1866-1951):
Mrs. Berry is a native of Iowa. Her father is Wilbur Riley Peet, a soldier of the Sixties, who was born in Iowa when it was still a territory, his people having been among the pioneer settlers. His love for his State is indicated by the second name of his daughter.
(The name Iowa last appeared in the SSA data in 1921.)
Uniquely named female film stars were inspiring debuts on the baby name charts as early as the 1910s, starting with Francelia in 1912.
But the first male film star to inspire a baby name debut didn’t come along until the 1930s.
That film star was actor Franchot Tone. He shot to fame in 1933, the year he appeared in seven films — including one with Jean Harlow, another with Loretta Young, and two with Joan Crawford (his future wife).
The name Franchot debuted on the SSA’s baby name list the very next year:
The usage of Franchot peaked in 1936, the year Tone appeared in the very successful 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty. (Movita, Marlon Brando’s future wife, was also in the film.)
Franchot Tone’s birth name was Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone. Franchot, pronounced fran-show, was his mother’s maiden name. It’s one of the many names (and surnames) that can be traced back to the Late Latin Franciscus, meaning “Frankish” or “Frenchman.”
According to Wikipedia, Stedman Graham is an “educator, author, businessman and speaker.” But without Wikipedia’s help, how would you describe Stedman? That’s right: “Oprah’s boyfriend.”
Oprah began dating Stedman in mid-1986, a few months before The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered. We’ve already seen how the baby name Oprah debuted on the national list that year, but did you know that the talk show gave the baby name Stedman a boost as well?
1991: 28 baby boys named Stedman
1990: 38 baby boys named Stedman
1989: 82 baby boys named Stedman
1988: 29 baby boys named Stedman
1987: 20 baby boys named Stedman
Not only did Stedman reappear on the national baby name list in 1987 after a 48-year absence, but the variant names Steadman, Stedmen, Stedmon and Stedmond all followed suit in 1988.
And what accounts for the Stedman spike of 1989?
In February of that year, Stedman appeared as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show for the first time. The episode was about “men who marry or date famous women, and how they cope with it.” The other guests were actress Susan Lucci and her husband Helmut, and singer Barbara Mandrell and her husband Ken. (Here’s the episode, if you want to watch.)
While usage of the name Stedman has tapered off since 1989, the relationship between Oprah and Stedman is still going strong nearly 3 decades later. They attended the Oscars together last month, in fact.
Stedman is one several “significant other” baby names I’ve spotted on the SSA’s baby name list so far. Others include Josanne, Movita and Tarita (all associated with Marlon Brando), Syreeta and Londie (both associated with Stevie Wonder), Loray and Altovise (both associated with Sammy Davis, Jr.), one-hit wonder Kayatana (girlfriend of Flip Wilson), Marva (first wife of Joe Louis) and Sonji (first wife of Muhammad Ali). Stedman is unique, though, in that it’s a male name that was popularized by a famous female — not a common scenario, it seems.