We looked at the top baby name rises last month, so this month let’s look at the opposite: the top drops. That is, the baby names that decreased the most in usage, percentage-wise, from one year to the next in the Social Security Administration’s data.
Here’s the format: girl names are on the left, boy names are on the right, and the percentages represent single-year slides in usage. (For example, from 1880 to 1881, usage of the girl name Clementine dropped 68% and usage of the boy name Neil dropped 76%.)
The SSA data isn’t perfect, but it does become more accurate in the late 1930s, because “many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card, so their names are not included in our data” (SSA). Now, back to the list…
I’ve already written about some of the names above (click the links to see the posts) and I plan to write about a few of the others. In the meanwhile, though, feel free to beat me to it — leave a comment and let us know why you think any of these names saw dropped in usage when they did.
So far we’ve talked about two babies named for newly formed towns — Salida and Nira — and today we have one more: Kelowna.
The Canadian town of Kelowna in British Columbia, Canada, was settled in the mid-1800s and incorporated in 1905. The name of the town means “grizzly bear” in the Okanagan language.
For several decades during the early 1900s, the residents of Kelowna’s Chinatown made up as much as 15% of the total population. But the birth rate in Chinatown was quite low, as most of the residents were men whose families remained in China due to Canada’s discriminatory Chinese head tax.
Chinatown’s first baby didn’t arrive until early 1906. Her name? Kelowna, after her Canadian birthplace.
In the U.S., the Great Depression started in 1929 and lasted through most of the 1930s.
What was it like to live during the Depression?
Massive unemployment had a profound social and emotional impact upon American workers and their families. […] The great population movement of the thirties was transiency the worker adrift in a sea of unemployment. People, especially the young, girls as well as boys, took to the road because they could no longer bear to stay home. In the middle of the decade when the dust blew in the Great Plains, wiping out their farms, whole families of Okies, Arkies, and Mizoos migrated west, especially to California. The migrants often made their way to the junk-pile Hoovervilles with their Prosperity Roads, Hard Times Avenues, and Easy Streets. The destitute often lost their homes or farms because they were unable to make payments on mortgages.
One fascinating fact I discovered not long ago is that a small number of babies born during the Great Depression were actually named Depression.
At least three of these babies made the news:
In the New York Times: Norma Depression Jacobs, a baby girl born in New York to parents Joseph and Sally Jacobs in early 1932.
In the Reading Eagle: Viola Depression Davis, a baby girl born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in 1932.
In the New York Times: Franklin Depression Pasquale, a baby boy born in New York in 1933. (Franklin was for President Roosevelt, whose presidency began in March of 1933 — “the worst month for joblessness in the history of the United States.”)
And here are more baby Depressions I tracked down using other sources:
Percy Depression Giles, born in West Virginia circa 1934.
Depression Austin, born in North Carolina circa 1934.
Depression Red, born in Georgia circa 1934. (The sister born right after her was named “Beauty.” Quite the disparity.)
Depression Bennett, born in Alabama on February 10, 1938.
I also found two baby Depressions born in the 1870s, during an earlier period of economic recession now called the Long Depression.
“Baby Will Know of Depression; In Fact, It’s Her Middle Name.” New York Times 19 Jan. 1932.
Bernstein, Irving. “Americans in Depression and War.” The U.S. Department of Labor Bicentennial History of The American Worker, Ed. Richard B. Morris. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976.
“Child, Named for President, Called Franklin Depression.” New York Times 3 May 1933.
Ben Whitehurst’s 1937 book Dear Mr. President is made up of funny letters “salvaged from the White House mail.” Here’s one of those letters:
Dear President Roosevelt:
Next month wife is getting a baby. The relief office says it is alright and is going to pay for it. Wife and I think it would be nice if we called the baby FERA, the name of your relief outfit. If Congress has no protest and its name is alright with you please let me know by letter.
First of all, I have no idea where/how this couple indended to “get” their baby, or whether the government did indeed “pay for it.” The whole arrangement sounds fairly illegal to me, but hey, what do I know.
I do find it interesting, though, that at least one couple found a New Deal acronym other than NIRA tempting to use as a baby name.
Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), est. 1933, was created out of Hoover’s Emergency Relief Administration (ERA), est. 1932. But it didn’t last long — FERA was replaced by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in late 1935.
Were any babies named Fera after the FERA? I don’t know for sure. The name has never made the SSA’s baby name list, but the SSDI does include one Fera (so far) born within that 1933-1935 window, so it’s a possibility.
Van Gelder, Robert. “Books of the Times; The President’s Mail.” New York Times 5 Aug. 1937: 21.
Whitehurst, Ben. Dear Mr. President. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1937.
While doing research for the NIRA post, I discovered that there used to be a town in Washington County, Iowa, called Nira.
The town wasn’t named after the legislation, though. It had been named decades earlier by Col. William B. Bell, an early Washington County postmaster. He named the town after his wife, Nira.
And here’s an interesting fact: the town of Nira — just like the town of Salida, Colorado — held a baby name contest in its early days:
Col. Bell watched the growth of the village named for his wife, Nira, and offered a gold dollar to the first baby girl born in the town who was named Nira.
The gold dollar eventually was awarded Nira Moffitt, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Moffitt. Her present location is unknown.
(According to the U.S. Census of 1900, Nira Moffitt was born in June of 1880.)
There was a surge of interest in the town in August of 1933, when Nira became one of the first places in the nation to sell NIRA-emblem postage stamps. By that point, though, the town had dwindled to just 20 residents.
After those last residents left, the down of Nira became (and remains) a ghost town.
“Nira Enjoys New Boom.” Telegraph-Herald 17 Aug. 1933: 1+.
“Nira, Iowa, Enjoys Boom Because of New Stamp.” Reading Eagle 17 Aug. 1933: 11.