In the early 1900s, the baby name Wilba popped up on the SSA’s baby name list for the first time:
1915: 7 baby girls named Wilba
1914: 7 baby girls named Wilba
1913: 18 baby girls named Wilba [debut]
It was the top debut name of 1913, along with Vilas. But SSA numbers from the early 1900s aren’t too reliable, so let’s see how many Wilbas are in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for the same time period:
1915: 8 people named Wilba
1914: 7 people named Wilba
1913: 32 people named Wilba
1912: 3 people named Wilba
1911: 4 people named Wilba
The SSA data shows that several wil- names were on the rise during these years, but this doesn’t explain the sudden appearance of Wilba.
Neither set of data shows a strong tie to any specific location, though the SSDI data suggests that Wilba was used more often in the south than in the north.
Many of these babies were born in Wisconsin specifically:
1915: 8 babies named Vilas in Wisconsin
1914: 7 babies named Vilas in Wisconsin
1913: 10 babies named Vilas in Wisconsin
Data from the SSDI (which is more accurate than SSA data for the late 1800s and early 1900s) shows the same 1913 spike and the same high usage in Wisconsin:
1915: 25 people named Vilas (7 in WI, 2 in MI)
1914: 27 people named Vilas (8 in WI, 2 in IL)
1913: 45 people named Vilas (15 WI, 3 in IL)
1912: 25 people named Vilas (13 WI, 1 in IL, 1 in MI)
1911: 24 people named Vilas (8 in WI)
So what inspired the spike?
The spike was inspired by aviation pioneer Logan Archbold “Jack” Vilas. He purchased a hydro-aeroplane from Glenn Curtiss in the spring of 1913 and, while his plane was being built, went to flight school (for just four weeks!). Soon after that, Vilas became the first person to fly across Lake Michigan, traveling west from St. Joseph, Michigan, to Chicago, Illinois, in about an hour and a half on July 1, 1913.
But this doesn’t explain why Wisconsinites liked the name so much even before Jack Vilas came along.
It seems that people in the Badger State already had an affinity for the name Vilas thanks to a pair of Wisconsin politicians: Levi Vilas (1811-1879) and his son William Vilas (1840-1908).
Jack was actually a distant cousin of Levi and William. Their closest common ancestor was Noah Vilas, born in Massachusetts in 1733. Noah’s father Peter had brought the surname over from England.
Though vast majority of the baby names on the Social Security Administration’s yearly baby name lists are repeats, every list does contain a handful of brand-new names.
Below are the highest-charting debut names for every single year on record, after the first.
Why bother with an analysis like this? Because debut names often have cool stories behind them, and high-hitting debuts are especially likely to have intriguing pop culture explanations. So this is more than a list of names — it’s also a list of stories.
Here’s the format: “Girl name(s), number of baby girls; Boy name(s), number of baby boys.” Keep in mind that the raw numbers aren’t too trustworthy for about the first six decades, though. (More on that in a minute.)
I’ve already written about some of the names above, and I plan to write about all the others as well…eventually. In the meanwhile, if you want to beat me to it and leave a comment about why Maverick hit in 1957, or why Moesha hit in 1996, feel free!