Mary “Polly” Phelps Jacob was born in 1891 in New York to a blue-blooded family that could be traced back, on both sides, to colonial America.
She was an enterprising person, and in her early 20s — fed up with the corset-like undergarments of the era — she invented and patented a “backless brassiere.” (She constructed the first one out of handkerchiefs and pink ribbon.) Today, she’s credited with the invention the modern bra.
With her first marriage in 1915 to Richard Peabody, her name changed to the almost cartoonish Polly Peabody. (One of their two kids, legally named Polleen, also went by Polly.)
But that marriage didn’t last and, following the divorce in 1922, Polly married bon vivant Harry Crosby, with whom she’d been having an open affair. At first she went by Polly Crosby, but Harry declared that Polly needed a better name:
Clytoris, an early suggestion, was sensibly saved for the family’s second whippet (the first was named Narcisse Noir). They told Caresse’s daughter Polleen that she was named after a Greek goddess.
After deciding upon “Caresse,” the wealthy couple moved to Paris and “lived a theatrically mad, bad and Bohemian existence.” With the help of their small publishing house, Black Sun Press, they became close to many Lost Generation artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway.
Harry committed suicide two months after the stock market crash of 1929 (which kicked off the Great Depression). Caresse’s life post-Harry was slightly less colorful, and she used name “Mary Caresse Crosby” slightly more often, but was still primarily known as Caresse.
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).
Peaches Jackson was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1930s. She was born in New York in 1913. Her birth name was Charlotte Jackson. Peaches was also a character played by actress May West in the film Every Day’s a Holiday (1937).
Peavey was a character played by actress Olive Borden in the film Leave It to Me (1933).
Peg Entwistle was an actress who appeared in one film in 1932 (and, the same year, committed suicide by jumping off the H of the Hollywoodland sign). She was born in Wales in 1908. Her birth name was Millicent Lilian Entwistle. Peg was also a character played by actress Anna Neagle in the film Peg of Old Drury (1935).
Peggy Pearce (born a Velma) was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1920s. She was born in California in 1894. Peggy Cartwright was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1930s. She was born in Canada in 1912. Peggy Moran (Mary) was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1940s. She was born in Iowa in 1918. Peggy Ryan (Margaret) was an actress who appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1940s. She was born in California in 1924. Finally, Peggy was also a character name in multiple films including Peggy Lynn, Burglar (short 1915) and Confessions of a Co-Ed (1931).
Pert Pert Kelton was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1960s. She was born in Montana in 1907. Pert was also a character name in multiple films, including Danger! Women at Work (1943) and Take It Big (1944).
Pervaneh was a character played by actress Greta Nissen in the film The Lady of the Harem (1926).
Petal Schultze was a character played by actress Amy Veness in the film Red Wagon (1933).
Phyllis Gordon was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1940s. She was born in Virginia in 1889. Phyllis Haver was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1930s. She was born in Kansas in 1899. Phyllis Thaxter was an actress who appeared in films from the 1940s to the 1970s. She was born in Maine in 1919. Finally, Phyllis was also a character name in multiple films, including Just Like a Woman (short, 1915) and Wagons Westward (1940).
Pinna Nesbit was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1920s. She was born in Canada in 1896.
Piquette was a character played by actress Shannon Day in the film Honor First (1922).
Plutina was a character played by actress Clara Kimball Young in the film The Heart of the Blue Ridge (1915).
Pola Negri was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1960s. She was born in Poland in 1897. Her birth name was Barbara Apolonia Cha?upec. Pola was also a character played by actress Elizabeth Allan in the film Insult (1932).
Pompeia Plotina was a character played by actress Caroline Frances Cooke in the short film In the Days of Trajan (1913).
Pompilia was a character played by actress Marie Newton in the short film The Ring and the Book (1914).
Pomposia was a character played by actress Helen Ware in the film The Warrior’s Husband (1933).
Poppaea was a character name in multiple films, including Nero (1922) and The Sign of the Cross (1932).
Portland Fancy was a character played by actress Juliet Brenon in the film The Street of Forgotten Men (1925). (Plus there’s radio actress Portland Hoffa was most active during the ’30s and ’40s.)
The curious name Phronsie first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in 1940, and it popped up three more times that decade before leaving the charts for good:
1945: 6 baby girls named Phronsie
1944: 5 baby girls named Phronsie
1941: 8 baby girls named Phronsie
1940: 5 baby girls named Phronsie [debut]
Where did it come from?
A cute movie character named Phronsie (Sophronia) Pepper. She was the youngest Pepper child in a series of four feature films (Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Five Little Peppers at Home, Out West with the Peppers, and Five Little Peppers in Trouble) released in 1939 and 1940. Phronsie was played by child actress Dorothy Ann Seese in all four films.
The films were loosely based on the the series of “Five Little Peppers” books by author Margaret Sidney.
The names of the four other Peppers were Ben (Ebenezer), Polly (Mary), Joey (Joel), and Davie (David).