How popular is the baby name Willis in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Willis and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Willis.

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Popularity of the Baby Name Willis

Number of Babies Named Willis

Born in the U.S. Since 1880

Posts that Mention the Name Willis

Name Quotes #44 – Jacksie, Memphis, Wyllis

Welcome to this month’s quote post!

From the book C.S. Lewis: An Examined Life by Bruce L. Edwards:

“[I]t was on one of these early holiday trips that Clive refused to be called by any other name than Jacksie, which was shortened to Jacks and then to Jack. He was either three or four years old when this name change occurred, as it was possibly in the summer of 1902 or 1903. […] Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, claimed that the reason he called himself Jacksie was due to his fondness for a small dog named Jacksie that had been killed.”

From “How To Cope With Your Video Game Inspired Name” by Sephiroth Hernandez, whose first name was inspired by the Final Fantasy VII villain:

You need to understand why your parents gave you that name. It’s because they lack common sense. It probably came from playing video games all the time.

[…]

Deep inside, you possess the ability to make more of your name than you think you could. You are cursed of course, but you are blessed with an understanding that few people have. Your name doesn’t define you. You define you. Just love yourself and love others. That’s all I can say.

(Sephiroth has been on the SSA’s list since 2004.)

Some baby naming advice from Steve Almond’s Heavy Meddle advice column:

Your instincts are spot on here: you’re the one who’s carrying the baby and will birth him. You and your husband will raise the baby. It is presumptuous for anybody who isn’t doing that honest labor to assume naming — or vetoing — rights, or really to do anything beyond offering suggestions.

From an interview with Dita Von Teese (born Heather Sweet) in Vogue:

I was just Dita for many years. I had seen a movie with an actress named Dita Parlo, and I thought, God, that’s such a cool name. I wanted to be known with just a simple first name–Cher, Madonna. Then when I first posed for Playboy, in 1993 or 1994, they told me I had to pick a last name. So I opened up the phone book at the bikini club [I worked in at the time]. I was with a friend and I was like, “Let’s look under a Von something.” It sounds really exotic and glamorous. So I found the name Von Treese and I called Playboy and said, “I’m going to be Dita Von Treese.” I remember so well going to the newsstand and picking up the magazine, and it said Dita Von Teese. I called them and they said, “Oh, we’ll fix it. We’ll fix it.” The next month, same thing: Dita Von Teese. I left it because I didn’t really care. I didn’t know I was going to go on to trademark it all over the world!

From a post about a man named San Francisco by blogger Andy Osterdahl:

Before anyone accuses me of making up a name to post here, I can assure you that Mr. Francisco was an actual person, and while he shares his name with the famed California city, isn’t believed to have had any connection with that area (despite the latter portion of his life being spent in the neighboring city of San Diego.)

From an article about the unusual names by Memphis Barker (found via Appellation Mountain):

That’s one thing about having an unusual name, your solidarity lies with the Apples and Philomenas. You can point and laugh with all the Johns and Garys, but the laugh is a little anxious. More of a squeak. It could all go wrong so quickly.

And finally, a bit about Wyllis Cooper (born Willis Cooper), creator of the late ’40s radio show Quiet, Please!:

It’s curios [sic] that when he left Hollywood, he also legally changed the spelling of his name from “Willis” to “Wyllis”. Radio Mirror magazine appears to be the first to mention it in 1940, saying “a numerologist advised him to change it” then Time magazine made a similar mention in 1941, but elaborated further that it was due to “his wife’s numerological inclinations”. Then in 1942 ‘Capital Times’ newspaper in Madison WI seemed to merge the two previous reports as: “a numerologist told his wife it should be spelled Wyllis and he’s done so ever since.”

[…]

Upon utilizing several present day numerology calculators found online, the results conclude that both spellings have virtually identical meanings in every respect.

Have you spotted any good name-related quotes/articles/blog posts lately? Let me know!


Baby Names Inspired By Racists

racist baby names
Racist South Carolina politician Coleman Blease inspired 2 baby name debuts on the U.S. charts.
That headline makes me squirm a little, but it’s true: I’ve found a handful of baby names on the SSA’s list inspired by racists.

Racist politicians, to be specific.

Decades ago, these demagogues used race‑baiting as a way to win elections in the former Confederate states — the same states that have only recently started to pull down their Confederate flags in the wake of last month’s horrific Charleston church shooting.

In fact, the ongoing Confederate flag controversy is what reminded me to finally post about these names, as the names (just like the flag) can be seen as symbols of either “racism” or “southern pride” depending on your point of view.

(Please note that the SSA data below refers only to male usage, and that I’ve only included state data that refers to the state in question.)

Coleman Blease

(1868-1842)

White supremacist Coleman “Coley” Blease was a politician from South Carolina:

  • U.S. Senator from South Carolina, 1925-1931
  • South Carolina Governor, 1911-1915
  • South Carolina Senator, 1907-1909
  • South Carolina Representative, 1890-1894, 1899-1901

Here’s part of an article about a speech Blease delivered regarding the lynching of Willis Jackson in 1911:

“[Blease] stated that rather than use the office of governor in ordering out troops to defend a negro brute and require those troops to fire on white citizens, he would resign from the office to which he had been elected, and would have caught the train to Honea Path and led the mob.”

Of all the men listed here, Blease (rhymes with “please”) had the biggest impact on baby names, including not one but two SSA debuts. I’d call this impressive if it weren’t so disturbing.

The baby names Colie and Blease both debuted in 1911. Colie was the top debut on the national list that year, in fact. The names Coley, Cole, and Coleman also started seeing more usage in South Carolina around that time.

SSA Data Colie Coley Cole Coleman Blease
1917 13 (9 in SC) 19 (5 in SC) 19 (6 in SC) 110 (8 in SC) 9 (8 in SC)
1916 22 (13 in SC) 18 (7 in SC) 25 (10 in SC) 120 (10 in SC) 15 (14 in SC)
1915 21 (12 in SC) 21 (7 in SC) 26 (13 in SC) 116 (8 in SC) 17 (15 in SC)
1914 18 (15 in SC) 23 (10 in SC) 23 (12 in SC) 102 (12 in SC) 15 (14 in SC)
1913 16 (8 in SC) 15 (6 in SC) 19 (9 in SC) 75 (5 in SC) 20 (19 in SC)
1912 23 (21 in SC) 19 (9 in SC) 23 (11 in SC) 69 (15 in SC) 12 (all 12 in SC)
1911 16** (8 in SC) 9 (7 in SC) 10 (unlisted) 36 (unlisted) 8** (all 8 in SC)
1910 unlisted (unlisted) 7 (unlisted) 6 (unlisted) 40 (6 in SC) unlisted (unlisted)

**Debut on national list.

And, just to be thorough, here’s the SSDI data for these five names over the same time period. (As usual I’m only counting first names here, not middles.)

SSDI Data Colie Coley Cole Coleman Blease
1917 14 17 17 134 12
1916 25 29 28 144 9
1915 28 27 25 125 13
1914 27 40 33 147 13
1913 38 45 38 133 26
1912 69 65 57 138 29
1911 29 39 32 132 14
1910 19 38 19 124 8

If you do want to count middle names, though, Blease was much more common than the above number suggest, as many people got first-middle combos such as…

Theodore Bilbo

(1877-1947)

Theodore G. Bilbo was a politician from Mississippi:

  • U.S. Senator from Mississippi, 1935-1947
  • Mississippi Governor, 1916-1920, 1928-1932
  • Mississippi Lt. Governor, 1912-1916
  • Mississippi State Senator, 1908-1912

Here’s a quote from Bilbo’s book Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, published in 1947:

“The South stands for blood, for the preservation of the blood of the white race. To preserve her blood, the white South must absolutely deny social equality to the Negro regardless of what his individual accomplishments might be. This is the premise — openly and frankly stated — upon which Southern policy is based.”

The baby name Bilbo appeared on the SSA’s list during the 1910s and 1920s, and almost all of these Bilbos were born in the state of Mississippi:

  • 1916: 22 baby boys named Bilbo, 22 (100%) born in Mississippi
  • 1915: 17 baby boys named Bilbo, 17 (100%) born in Mississippi
  • 1914: 12 baby boys named Bilbo, 12 (100%) born in Mississippi
  • 1913: 8 baby boys named Bilbo, 8 (100%) born in Mississippi
  • 1912: 8 baby boys named Bilbo, 7 (88%) born in Mississippi
  • 1911: 9 baby boys named Bilbo, all 9 (100%) born in Mississippi
  • 1910: 7 baby boys named Bilbo [debut], 6 (86%) born in Mississippi [MS debut]
  • 1909: unlisted

According to the SSA data, peak usage was in 1916. According to the SSDI data, though, it was in 1911, with 45 babies getting the first name Bilbo that year.

Other namesakes, like Theodore Bilbo Crump (b. 1912 in Mississippi), got Bilbo as a middle name.

James Vardaman

(1861-1930)

James K. Vardaman, a.k.a. the “Great White Chief,” was another politician from Mississippi:

  • U.S. Senator from Mississippi, 1913-1919
  • Mississippi Governor, 1904-1908
  • Mississippi Representative, 1890-1896

Here’s a quote from Vardaman (there were many to choose from, but this was the worst):

“If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.”

The rare baby name Vardaman is a 2-hit wonder that debuted in 1911:

  • 1912: unlisted
  • 1911: 8 baby boys named Vardaman [debut], 6 (75%) born in Mississippi [MS debut]
  • 1910: unlisted

According to the SSA data, peak usage was in 1911. But according to the SSDI data there were two peaks: one in 1911 (16 babies with the first name Vardaman) and and earlier one in 1903 (20 babies with the first name Vardaman, including one with the full name Vardaman Vandevender).

Also, randomly, I happened to see a Vardaman in a Mississippi phone book several years ago.

Other namesakes, like James Vardaman Womack (b. 1930 in Mississippi), got Vardaman as a middle name.

Thomas Heflin

(1869-1951)

J. Thomas “Cotton Tom” Heflin was a politician from Alabama:

  • U.S. Senator from Alabama, 1920-1931
  • U.S. Representative from Alabama, 1904-1920
  • Alabama Secretary of State, 1903-1904

Here’s a vignette about Heflin:

In 1908, while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he had shot and seriously wounded a black man who confronted him on a Washington streetcar. Although indicted, Heflin succeeded in having the charges dismissed. In subsequent home-state campaigns, he cited that shooting as one of his major career accomplishments.

The baby name Heflin was another 2-hit wonder. It debuted 1920:

  • 1921: unlisted
  • 1920: 5 baby boys named Heflin [debut], 5 (100%) born in Alabama [AL debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

Other namesakes, like Thomas Heflin Hamilton (b. 1913 in Alabama), got Heflin as a middle name.

Hoke Smith

(1855-1931)

M. Hoke Smith was a politician from Georgia:

  • U.S. Senator from Georgia, 1911-1921
  • Georgia Governor, 1911-1911
  • U.S. Secretary of the Interior, 1893-1896

Here are some quotes from Smith:

According to [Hoke] Smith, it would be “folly for us to neglect any means within our reach to remove the present danger of Negro domination.” He also approved the use of “any means” to purge elected African American officeholders.

Usage of the baby name Hoke began to peter out mid-century, but during the first half of the century (when it was making the U.S. national list regularly) most of the baby boys named Hoke were born in Georgia specifically:

  • 1916: 15 baby boys named Hoke, 9 (60%) born in Georgia
  • 1915: 15 baby boys named Hoke, 10 (67%) born in Georgia
  • 1914: 18 baby boys named Hoke, 11 (61%) born in Georgia
  • 1913: 12 baby boys named Hoke, 7 (58%) born in Georgia
  • 1912: 9 baby boys named Hoke, 8 (89%) born in Georgia
  • 1911: 9 baby boys named Hoke, 8 (89%) born in Georgia
  • 1910: 19 baby boys named Hoke, 16 (84%) born in Georgia [GA debut]
  • 1909: 10 baby boys named Hoke, unlisted in Georgia

Some of these namesakes, like Hoke Smith Rawlins (b. 1931 in Georgia), got Smith as a middle name.

Murphy Foster

(1849-1921)

Murphy J. Foster was a politician from Louisiana:

  • U.S. Senator from Louisiana, 1901-1913
  • Louisiana Governor, 1892-1900
  • Louisiana State Senator, 1880-1892

Here’s Foster (as governor) talking about the disfranchisement of blacks under the newly approved Louisiana Constitution:

“The white supremacy for which we have so long struggled at the cost of so much precious blood and treasure is now crystallized into the Constitution as a fundamental part and parcel of that organic instrument […] There need be no longer any fear as to the honesty and purity of our future elections.”

For at least half of the 20th century (from the 1910s to the 1960s) a significant proportion of the U.S. baby boys named Murphy were born in Louisiana specifically:

  • 1916: 69 baby boys named Murphy, 24 (35%) born in Louisiana
  • 1915: 61 baby boys named Murphy, 36 (59%) born in Louisiana
  • 1914: 51 baby boys named Murphy, 18 (35%) born in Louisiana
  • 1913: 28 baby boys named Murphy, 8 (29%) born in Louisiana
  • 1912: 41 baby boys named Murphy, 15 (37%) born in Louisiana
  • 1911: 18 baby boys named Murphy, 9 (50%) born in Louisiana
  • 1910: 14 baby boys named Murphy, 6 (43%) born in Louisiana [LA debut]
  • 1909: 15 baby boys named Murphy, unlisted in Louisiana

Some of these namesakes, like Murphy Foster Kirkman (b. 1886 in Louisiana), got Foster as a middle name.

…And the racist-inspired baby names don’t end there! Many other racist politicians from the South, even if they didn’t appreciably affect the baby name charts, still had an influence on baby names. Here are two examples:

Still other politicians, like 2-time Alabama Governor Bibb Graves, are borderline cases. Graves was a progressive politician, but he was initially elected with the help of the Klu Klux Klan, which he was a member of at the time (he later quit).

Finally, here’s the thing I’m most curious about: How did all of the namesakes accounted for above come to feel about their names in adulthood? Were they proud? Ashamed? A mix of both…?

Sources:

Twins Named After Joe Louis and Marva

Joe LouisWillis and Esther Scott of Beloit, Wisconsin, welcomed twins (one boy, one girl) on the evening of September 24, 1935 — the day heavyweight boxer Joe Louis both got married to his girlfriend Marva Trotter and defeated fellow heavyweight Max Baer at Yankee Stadium.

What did they name the twins? Joseph Louis and Josephine Marva, of course.

And they weren’t the only ones to opt for Marva that year. Usage of the girl name rose significantly following the marriage:

  • 1937: 343 baby girls named Marva (ranked 342nd)
  • 1936: 350 baby girls named Marva (ranked 334th)
  • 1935: 187 baby girls named Marva (ranked 466th)
  • 1934: 74 baby girls named Marva (ranked 785th)
  • 1933: 60 baby girls named Marva (ranked 873rd)

Source: “Wisconsin Twins Named After Joe Louis and Bride.” Afro-American 5 Oct. 1935: 1.