Hedda Hopper was a gossip columnist who came to fame in the early 1940s (when she was in her 50s). But “Hedda Hopper” wasn’t her original name. It was Elda Furry.
She’d been a performer (both on stage and in the movies) as a young woman — long before she wrote for the newspapers. So it’s logical to assume that the name change happened around the time she embarked upon her showbiz career, right?
As it turns out, that wasn’t the case — she made the switch mid-career. Here’s the story:
Elda was working as a chorus girl for DeWolf Hopper’s theater company in the early 1910s…
[DeWolf Hopper] had had four marriages, and was five years older than Elda’s father, but was still a great charmer and anything but jaded. Hopper’s first four wives were named Ella, Ida, Edna and Nella, in that order, and Elda was a natural for the euphonious sequence. So, about a year after their first meeting, Hopper proposed on a train platform in Grand Central and that afternoon they were married in Wading River, N.J.
Elda shortly became aware of some rather piquant marital complications. Any man with five wives is likely to become confused and, when the wives have such similar names as the Hopper ladies, the situations becomes positively grotesque. Elda discovered that as often as not Hopper would whisper affectionately, “Dear Nella” (or Ella, Ida and Edna) instead of “Dear Elda.” The sensation of being continuously mistaken for someone else became irksome in time, and Elda forthwith visited a numerologist who recommended the name “Hedda.” From then on Hopper never got his lines crossed.
Her marriage to Hopper only lasted from 1913 until 1922, but she retained the name “Hedda Hopper” for the rest of her life.
It’s no coincidence that the usage of the baby name Hedda was highest during the 1940s. Records even reveal that one of the 1944 babies named Hedda was born into a Texas family with the surname Hopper.
Which name do you prefer, Elda or Hedda?
Source: Wickware, Francis Sill. “Hedda Hopper.” Life 20 Nov. 1944: 63-70.
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.
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 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 gremlins 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), a paramilitary unit of 1,000+ women who flew non-combat flights in order to free male pilots for combat service.
(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.
After the WASPs were disbanded in late 1944, ex-WASPs created the Order of Fifinella, a 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?
We are having a hard time choosing a name for our baby girl. She will have a big brother named Emmett Quinn. Our last names starts with K and ends with -ER. We like names that are different, but not weird. We also tend toward 2-syllable names.
Here are a few ideas:
The name Emmett was most popular around the turn of the (last) century, so I found many of these by scanning the Social Security Administration’s lists of popular baby names from random years in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Do you like any of the above with Emmett? What other names would you suggest to Teresa?
Edit: Scroll down to the last comment to see which name Teresa chose.