How popular is the baby name Oleomargarine in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, check out all the blog posts that mention the name Oleomargarine.
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We may not be able to stop the Cheesepocalypse, but while we’re waiting it out, we can talk about how Velveeta isn’t just a product name — it’s also a baby name! The name Velveeta first appeared on the SSA’s baby name list in the 1950s:
1959: 6 baby girls named Velveeta
1958: 5 baby girls named Velveeta
1957: 7 baby girls named Velveeta [debut]
I’ve actually found people named Velveeta born as early as the 1930s and as late as the 1980s, but it’s no surprise to me that the 1950s is when usage rose high enough for the name to pop up in the data. The product was being marketed heavily in the middle of the century, with television commercials and full-page ads in major magazines touting the product’s versatility and healthiness. (Today, Velveeta is actually a symbol of ’50s foods.)
So where does the word “Velveeta” come from?
The product was invented in the late 1910s by Swiss-born cheesemaker Emil Frey. The Kraft-Phenix company (later just Kraft) ended up acquiring the processed cheese spread and naming it “Velveeta” for its velvety consistency.
Velveeta was introduced nationally in the late 1920s, right around the start of the Great Depression. Here’s a Velveeta ad from 1929 telling people about the “delicious new cheese product.”
What do you think of the name Velveeta?
Do you know anyone with the name? How do they like it?
I’m fascinated by personal names that, out of context, don’t appear to be names at all. Especially when said names are created from everyday nouns and proper nouns — places, foods, animals, objects, brands, ideas, events, institutions, organizations, qualities, phenomena, and so forth.
My fascination kicked into high gear after I wrote about noun-names earlier this year. Ever since, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for noun-names.
So far, I’ve collected hundreds. But it’s going to take me a while to blog about all of them. In the meanwhile, I thought I’d list some of the strangest ones I’ve already talked about:
It’s easy for me to mock these names, though, because I don’t know anyone named Vick Vaporup, or Oleomargarine, or Job-Rakt-Out-of-the-Asshes.
But what if I did know people with these names? What then?
Well, I wouldn’t be able to make fun anymore. In fact, because I’d actually be using the names, I’d have to find a way to like them.
One of my readers is in a similar situation. Her grandchild has been given a very unusual name. Something so strange that she and other family members (save the parents) are embarrassed to reveal the full name to non-family. She’s asked me how she can convince herself to “embrace” this bizarre name.
It’s an excellent — and very tricky — question. I sent her two pieces of advice:
1. Find a version of the name you can live with.
The legal name might be embarrassing, but chances are it can be shortened/twisted into something much more acceptable. For instance, Vick Vaporup can be shortened to Vic, Oleomargarine to Marge, and Job-Rakt-Out-of-the-Asshes to Ash.
2. Ask why the name was chosen.
Learning the story behind a strange name may help you begin to appreciate the name, as it will it allow you to understand the thinking that when into the selection (even if you wouldn’t have made the same selection yourself).
I didn’t send the reader this final bit of advice, as it didn’t directly answer her question, but I think this could also help in extreme cases:
3. Tell the parents about how you (all) feel about the name.
Come clean. If everyone in the family thinks the baby’s name is that bad, someone really ought to speak up. Kindly and thoughtfully, of course, but with the best interests of the child in mind. It’s relatively easy to change the name of a newborn. (Much easier than it is to change a name later on.)
What other tips would you offer those whose family members have chosen questionable baby names? How can they cope? Under what circumstances should they speak up?
Mazola, “the first cooking and salad oil made from corn,” was introduced to consumers in 1911. The brand name was based on the words “maize” and “oil.”
Mazola first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in 1919:
1922: 10 baby girls named Mazola
1921: 11 baby girls named Mazola
1920: 7 baby girls named Mazola
1919: 8 baby girls named Mazola [debut]
Usage of the name does pre-date the introduction of the oil, but I’m sure Mazola advertising played a part in popularizing the name in the 1910s and ’20s. I mean, if kids were named after oleomargarine, you can bet at least a few were named specifically after Mazola. :)
Humor magazine Judge published the poem below, entitled “The Substitute,” in the early 1900s:
“Smith has a lovely baby girl,
The stork left her with a flutter.
Smith named her Oleomargarine,
For he hadn’t any but her.”
Oleomargarine is a name I never would have taken seriously if not for this Genealogue post, which mentions Minnie Oleomargarine Avery, born in Missouri in 1919.
Yes, that’s right. Minnie’s middle name is fake butter.
How many other people have been named for oleomargarine? It’s hard to tell. The SSDI and various censuses reveal at least six more:
Oleomargarine Nugent, born in Maryland in 1891
Oleomargarine Horney, born in Michigan in 1903
Oleo Margarine Williams, born in Florida in 1919
Oleomargarine Fristoe, born in Missouri in 1922
Oleo Margarine Fanner, born in Texas in 1928
Oleo Margarine German Franke, born in Texas in 1928
They also include hundreds of people named either Oleo or Margarine. There’s no telling which of these folks were named specifically for oleomargarine and which were not, though. (A lot of the Oleos did have the promising middle initial “M.”)
Why did people name their kids for fake butter?
“Maybe because oleomargarine was for many years an illicit substance,” Genealogue opines.
It’s true — starting in the 1880s, dairy industry lobbyists (read: the butter people) pressured federal and state governments to discourage people from consuming margarine, which had been introduced in the 1870s.
This resulted in margarine bans, margarine taxes, and more. There were even laws preventing margarine-makers from coloring margarine yellow, like butter. In the vintage Nucoa ad below, the blurb above the toast reads: “For table use, tint NUCOA golden yellow with the pure Color-Wafer included in each package. For cooking, just use it as it comes–a pure, natural white.”
These regulations, in turn, created a sort of oleo black market. Demand for yellow margarine was so great that sales of “bootleg” colored margarine were flourishing by the turn of the century.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that most of the anti-margarine laws were finally repealed.
So, were these laws — and the consequent forbidden nature of fake butter — what turned “oleomargarine” into an enticing baby name?
Or would oleomargarine have been used as a name regardless, simply because it’s an interesting word?