Kansas newspaper editor Edgar Watson “E. W.” Howe published his first novel, The Story of a Country Town, in his own newspaper, the Atchison Daily Globe, in 1883.
Encyclopedia Britannica said the novel “was the first realistic novel of Midwestern small-town life,” but an early 20th-century review said that the realism wasn’t, in fact, very realistic at all: “[T]he test of veracity fails in the unrelieved gloom of the story, which is bereft of all sunshine and joyousness, and even of all sense of relation to happier things.”
One of the characters in the novel was pretty-but-shallow Mateel Shepherd, the daughter of a Methodist minister (named Rev. Goode Shepherd, naturally).
E. W. Howe must have liked the name “Mateel” quite a bit, because he named one of his children Mateel in 1883.
Readers must have like it, too, becase the number of U.S. babies named Mateel rose in the 1880s and was at its highest from the 1890s to the 1910s, judging by the records I’ve seen.
But the rare name Mateel didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data until 1927, and it only stuck around for a single year:
1927: 6 baby girls named Mateel [debut]
Well, Mateel Howe went on to become a writer like her father. Her career seems to have peaked with her debut novel, Rebellion, which won the Dodd, Mead & Co. and Pictorial Review “First Novel Prize” of $10,000 in 1927.*
What was Rebellion about? Essentially, the book was about “the difficulties of a daughter living with a depressed, authoritative and demanding father.” (Hm…)
Though both Edgar and Mateel publicly denied that the characters and conflict were inspired by real life, Edgar cut Mateel out of his will soon after the book was published. Here’s how Time put it:
Left. By Editor-Author Ed Howe, an estate valued at $200,000; in Atchison, Kans. To Society Editor Nellie Webb of his Globe, he left $1,500. To Niece Adelaide Howe he left $50,000. To Sons Eugene Alexander and James Pomeroy he left the remainder except for $1, which went to Daughter Mateel Howe Farnham who in 1927 won a $10,000 prize for Rebellion, a novel in which she satirized her father.
Old-timey drama aside, I’m still left wondering about the name Mateel. Did E. W. Howe create it for the character, or discover it somewhere? (I do see a couple of early Mateels in Louisiana. “Cloteal” was often used for Clotilde there, so I wonder if “Mateel” arose as a form of Matilde…?)
Nellybelle was a jeep with a mind of her own. When she wasn’t driving herself around, she was being driven by Roy’s sidekick, Pat Brady. According to the New York Times, Pat made the name Nellybelle a “household word” with his catchphrase, “Whoa, Nellybelle!”
All that exposure inspired more than a few people to call their cars Nellybelle, but it didn’t have the same influence on baby names: the name-combo has never been bestowed often enough to register in the U.S. baby name data (which excludes names used fewer than 5 times per year).
That said, it has certainly seen usage as a first-middle set. Many dozens of females born in the U.S. in the 1800s and early 1900s were named “Nellie Belle” and “Nellie Bell,” according to records.
What are your thoughts on the name Nellybelle? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?
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).
Jeff: Yeah that’s Charlie Ocean! And then our other son [with wife Emilie Livingston, a Canadian aerialist, actress, and former Olympian] who’s now 11 months old is River Joe.
Vice: Any musical streaks in either of them yet?
Jeff: I’ve always sat at the piano these last couple years with Charlie Ocean and he kinda bangs around. But I must say, River Joe, when I play or we put on music, boy he’s just standing up at this point, but he rocks to the music and bounces up and down. He seems to really like it so maybe he’s musical. I’d like to play with them.
(I am fascinated by the fact that the boys aren’t simply Charlie and Joe. Clearly the water aspect of each name requires emphasis every time.)
In reality, I was named for two grandmothers: Jenny Frances and Lucy Madeleine. However, when I introduce myself at baking classes, I lie.
“My parents named me after the most famous pastry in French literature.”
It is a good name for a pâtissier, a pastry chef, and a good story to tell. The mnemonic sticks in my students’ minds, and after three hours and four cakes made together, they remember me as Madeleine and not Frances. Stories make for powerful anchors, even when the truth is twisted for dramatic effect.
Escoffier came up with thousands of new recipes, many of which he served at London’s Savoy Hotel and the Paris Ritz. Some were genuine leaps of ingenuity, others a twist on a classic French dish. Many carry someone else’s name. In early dishes, these are often historical greats: Oeufs Rossini, for the composer; Consommé Zola, for the writer; Omelette Agnès Sorel, for the mistress of Charles VII. Later on, however, Escoffier made a habit of giving dishes the handles of people who, in their day, were virtual household names: An entire choir of opera singers’ names are to be found in Escoffier’s cookery books. The most famous examples are likely Melba toast and Peach Melba, for the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba, though there are hundreds of others.
A lot of baggage comes with the name Tim. I have not forgotten Martin Amis’s 20-year-old description of Tim Henman as “the first human being called Tim to achieve anything at all”. More recently Will Self wrote: “There’s little doubt that your life chances will be constrained should your otherwise risk-averse parents have had the temerity to Tim you.” This was in a review of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain, the many faults of which Self put down to founder Tim Martin never being able “to escape the fact of his Timness”.
Amis and Self believe the poor showing of Tims is the result of nominative determinism: the name Tim carries expectations of inconsequentiality that anyone so christened will eventually come to embody. Gallingly, research suggests they may be right.
This was clearly shown when Barcelona star Lionel Messi’s first son Thiago was born to partner Antonella Roccuzzo in November 2012. That year the name Thiago did not appear in the Top 100 boys names given to babies in Spain, according to Spain’s National Statistics Agency [INE].
Something similar happened when Mateo Messi was born in Sep 2015. In just 12 months Mateo climbed from 14th to 9th most popular name among Spanish parents. Ciro Messi, born in March this year, will surely see the originally Persian name break into the top 100.
Doe Library’s North Reading Room became Ruiz’s haven. “It was one of the few quiet places where I felt I could focus,” she says. “That season of my life was extremely dark; I didn’t know if I’d make it to graduation, or how I could possibly raise a baby at this time.”
One day at the library, she noticed light shining down on her growing belly, right over the university seal on her T-shirt and the words “fiat lux.” She and Blanchard had considered Lillian or Clara as baby names, but now the choice was made.
“I felt my daughter kick, and it occurred to me that clara in Spanish means ‘bright,’ and I imagined the way that this baby could and would be the bright light at the end of this dark season,” says Ruiz, who gave birth to Clara on May 15, 2014.
For many entrepreneurs, starting a business often feels like bringing new life into the world. It’s not every day though, that your endeavours result in a baby named in your honour.
“That’s the pinnacle for me, it’s simply mind-blowing,” says Eden Blackman, founder of online dating business Would Like to Meet and namesake of young Eden, whose parents met on the site several years ago. “That is amazing and quite a lot to take on but it’s a beautiful thing.”
I cringe a little whenever I hear someone say my name, and have ever since I was a child. One of my earliest memories is of a lady in a department store asking me my name and bursting out laughing when I said, “Arthur.”
Before you judge that lady, let’s acknowledge that it is actually pretty amusing to meet a little kid with an old man’s name. According to the Social Security Administration, “Arthur” maxed out in popularity back in the ’90s. That is, the 1890s. It has fallen like a rock in popularity since then. I was named after my grandfather, and even he complained that his name made him sound old. Currently, “Arthur” doesn’t even crack the top 200 boys’ names. Since 2013, it has been beaten in popularity by “Maximus” (No. 200 last year) and “Maverick” (No. 85).
One thing I constantly hear from people I meet for the first time is, “I imagined you as being much older.” I don’t take this as flattery, because at 54, I’m really not that young. What they are saying is that they imagined someone about 100 years old.
More old-timey name snark! This short article was published in a now-defunct Indiana newspaper in 1880.
The programmes of the school commencements—and our own High School is no exception to the rule—are made silly by “Nannies,” “Libbies,” “Kitties,” “Mamies,” and other pet names. No woman who drops the sensible “y” and spells her name with an “ie” termination will ever get beyond mediocre in any sphere. A pet name is for the household only. How everybody would smile if the male graduates insisted upon the same silly style, and were put down on the programmes as “Johnnies,” “Sammies,” “Jimmies,” etc. The literary nom de plume of a female author indicates to some extent the force of her mind; and we know just as well what to expect from the Lillie Linwoods and Mattie Myrtles as we do from the George Eliots. The former clearly foreshadows gush and twaddle, the latter suggests an idea of strength and common sense. You can scarcely pen a more suggestive satire against the helpfulness and independence of woman than to wrap her up in such terms of daily coddling and childish endearment as the pet names of Jennie, Nannie, Hattie, Minnie, Margie, Nettie, Nellie, Allie, Addie, Lizzie, and a host of others. How it lessens the dignity of any woman to be called by a baby name. For instance, persistently to call the two great chieftains of woman’s advanced status, Lizzie Cady Stanton and Susie B. Anthony, would crush, at one stroke, the revolution they have so much at heart. Under such sweet persiflage it would sink into languid imbecility, and furnish fresh food for laughter.
If I spelled my name “Nancie,” I would definitely use that “mediocre in any sphere” sentence as my Twitter bio.