The 2018 Asian Games, which lasted from August 18 to September 2, was co-hosted by the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang.
On opening day, just hours before the opening ceremony, a couple in Palembang welcomed a baby girl. She arrived a month ahead of schedule.
Parents Yordania Denny (dad) and Vera Nova (mom) were ready with the first name Abidah. In honor of the sporting event taking place in their city, though, chose to add a second name: “Asian Games.” This made their daughter’s full name Abidah Asian Games. (Like many Indonesians, she has no surname.)
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).
Last week’s post on Vera Zorina helped me discover another interesting name: Tanaquil (pronounced tan-a-keel). It belonged to French-born American ballerina Tanaquil “Tanny” Le Clercq (1929-2000) who, like Zorina, had been married to famous choreographer George Balanchine.
Tanaquil Le Clercq was named after the legendary Etruscan prophet Tanaquil, whose omen-reading abilities helped her husband become the fifth king of Rome (616-578 B.C.).
The Etruscan rendering of the name Tanaquil is “Thanchvil.” The Etruscans had a relatively small pool of first names (praenomina) to draw from, so it’s possible that many Etruscan women were named Thanchvil. In fact, the MFA in Boston owns a sarcophagus (dated 350–300 B.C.) for Thanchvil Tarnai and her husband Larth Tetnies.
The Etruscan language has long been extinct, so there’s no telling what Thanchvil means. (In lieu of that, here are some of the other Etruscan female names that we know about: Thana/Thania, Ramtha/Ranthia, Hastia/Fastia, Aula/Aulia, Vela/Velia, Setha, Arnthi, Larthi.)
Getting back to Tanny…tragically, her professional career was cut short when she was stricken with polio in 1956 at age 27. She was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life. The “stranger-than-fiction twist” is that, at age 15, she had actually danced the part of a polio victim at a March of Dimes benefit, and Balanchine had danced the part of polio itself:
In the final movement — a sunny allegro — she reappeared in a wheelchair, children tossed dimes, and she rose and danced again. What at the time was a simple exercise in entertaining a charity audience acquired in retrospect the weight of an omen or a hex. Balanchine, who was deeply mystical, was haunted by the notion that he had somehow brought on her fate.
Makes the fact that she was named after a noted omen-reader seem rather foreboding, doesn’t it?
Bonfante, Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante. The Etruscan Language: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
Looking for an under-the-radar girl name with a retro feel?
A few years ago I combed though a bunch of IMDb pages looking for interesting female names associated with old films (1910s-1940s).
Most of the names I spotted — names like Mabel, Maisie, Hazel, Hattie, Elsie, Selma, Bessie, and Betty — were ones I expected to see. But I did manage to collect thousands of rarities, many of which have never appeared in the SSA data before.
Want to check out all these unusual names? I thought so! To make things interesting I’ll post the Z-names first and go backwards, letter by letter.
Zabette de Chavalons was a character played by actress Bebe Daniels in the film Volcano! (1926).
Zabie Elliot was a character played by actress Mary Alden in the film The Broken Butterfly (1919).
Zada L’Etoile was a character played by actress Sylvia Breamer in the Cecil B. DeMille-directed film We Can’t Have Everything (1918).
Zena Dare was an actress who appeared in films during the 1920s and 1930s. She was born in England in 1887. Zena Keefe was an actress who appeared in films during the 1910s and 1920s. She was born in California in 1898. Zena was also a character name in multiple films, including The Code of Honor (short, 1916) and The New York Peacock (1917).