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, check out all the blog posts that mention the name Willis.

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Popularity of the Baby Name Willis


Posts that Mention the Name Willis

Contrarian Baby Names: Cliff, Janet, Steve, Wanda…

contrarian baby names, uncool baby names

“Everly” is hot…”Beverly” is not. It’s a one-letter difference between fashionable and fusty.

If you’re sensitive to style, you’ll prefer Everly. It fits with today’s trends far better than Beverly does.

But if you’re someone who isn’t concerned about style, or prefers to go against style, then you may not automatically go for Everly. In fact, you may be more attracted to Beverly because it’s the choice that most modern parents would avoid.

If you’ve ever thought about intentionally giving your baby a dated name (like Debbie, Grover, Marcia, or Vernon) for the sake of uniqueness within his/her peer group — if you have no problem sacrificing style for distinctiveness — then this list is for you.

Years ago, the concept of “contrarian” baby names came up in the comments of a post about Lois. Ever since then, creating a collection of uncool/contrarian baby names has been on my to-do list.

Finally, last month, I experimented with various formulas for pulling unstylish baby names out of the SSA dataset. Keeping the great-grandparent rule in mind, I aimed for names that would have been fashionable among the grandparents of today’s babies. The names below are the best results I got.

Contrarian Baby Names: Girls

Alberta
Anita
Ann
Annetta
Annette
Bambi
Becky
Benita
Bertha
Bessie
Beth
Betty
Beverley
Beverly
Blanche
Bobbie
Bobby
Bonita
Candy
Caren
Carlene
Carol
Carole
Cary
Caryn
Cathleen
Cathy
Charla
Charlene
Charmaine
Cheri
Cherie
Cheryl
Chris
Christi
Cindy
Claudette
Coleen
Colleen
Connie
Dale
Danette
Danita
Darlene
Dawn
Dawna
Deanne
Debbie
Debora
Debra
Deirdre
Delores
Denice
Denise
Diane
Dianna
Dianne
Dollie
Dolores
Dona
Donna
Doreen
Dori
Doris
Dorthy
Eddie
Edwina
Ernestine
Ethel
Gail
Gayle
Gena
Geralyn
Germaine
Gilda
Glenda
Glenna
Harriett
Jackie
Janet
Janice
Janis
Jayne
Jean
Jeanette
Jeanie
Jeanine
Jeanne
Jeannette
Jeannie
Jeannine
Jeri
Jerri
Jerry
Jill
Jimmie
Jo
Joan
Joann
Joanne
Jodi
Jody
Joellen
Joni
Juanita
Judi
Judy
Juli
Kandi
Karin
Kathie
Kathy
Kay
Kaye
Kerrie
Kerry
Kim
Kimberley
Kitty
Kris
Kristi
Ladonna
Laureen
Lauretta
Laurie
Lavonne
Lee
Leesa
Lois
Lorene
Lori
Lorie
Lorinda
Lorna
Lorraine
Lorrie
Lou
Louann
Lu
Luann
Luanne
Lucretia
Lupe
Lyn
Lynda
Lynn
Lynne
Madonna
Marcia
Marcy
Margie
Mariann
Marianne
Marla
Marsha
Maryjo
Maureen
Meg
Melba
Melinda
Melva
Michele
Migdalia
Mitzi
Myrna
Nanette
Nelda
Nicki
Nita
Norma
Pamela
Patrice
Patsy
Patti
Patty
Pauline
Peggy
Pennie
Phyllis
Randy
Reba
Rene
Rhonda
Rita
Robbie
Robbin
Roberta
Robin
Rochelle
Ronda
Rosanne
Roseann
Roxane
Roxann
Sandy
Saundra
Sharon
Sheila
Shelia
Shelley
Shelly
Sheri
Sherri
Sherry
Sheryl
Shirley
Sondra
Sue
Susanne
Suzan
Suzanne
Tammie
Tammy
Tena
Teri
Terri
Terry
Thelma
Theresa
Therese
Tina
Tonia
Tonya
Tracey
Traci
Tracie
Tracy
Treva
Trina
Trudy
Velma
Verna
Vicki
Vickie
Vicky
Wanda
Wendy
Willie
Wilma
Yolanda
Yvonne

Contrarian Baby Names: Boys

Adolph
Al
Alford
Alphonso
Arne
Arnie
Arnold
Artie
Barry
Barton
Bennie
Bernard
Bernie
Bert
Bill
Billie
Bob
Bobbie
Brad
Bradford
Brent
Bret
Britt
Bud
Buddy
Burl
Burt
Butch
Carey
Carleton
Carlton
Carmen
Carroll
Cary
Cecil
Chester
Chuck
Clarence
Claude
Cletus
Cleveland
Cliff
Clifford
Clifton
Columbus
Curt
Curtiss
Dale
Dan
Dana
Dannie
Darrel
Darryl
Daryl
Dave
Davie
Del
Delbert
Dell
Delmer
Denny
Derwin
Dewey
Dirk
Don
Donnie
Donny
Doug
Douglass
Doyle
Duane
Dudley
Duwayne
Dwain
Dwaine
Dwane
Dwight
Earl
Earnest
Ed
Edsel
Elbert
Ernie
Farrell
Floyd
Fred
Freddie
Fredric
Gale
Garland
Garry
Garth
Gene
Geoffrey
Gerard
Gerry
Gilbert
Glen
Glenn
Greg
Gregg
Greggory
Grover
Guy
Hal
Haywood
Herbert
Herman
Homer
Horace
Howell
Hubert
Irwin
Jackie
Jame
Jeff
Jefferey
Jeffry
Jerald
Jerold
Jess
Jim
Jimmie
Jodie
Jody
Johnie
Johnnie
Karl
Kelly
Ken
Kenney
Kennith
Kent
Kermit
Kerry
Kim
Kirk
Kraig
Kurt
Laurence
Lawrance
Len
Lenard
Lennie
Les
Leslie
Lester
Lindell
Lindsay
Lindsey
Linwood
Lloyd
Lonnie
Lonny
Loren
Lorin
Lowell
Loyd
Lynn
Marion
Marty
Matt
Maxie
Mel
Merle
Merrill
Mickel
Mickey
Millard
Milton
Mitch
Mitchel
Monty
Neal
Ned
Nicky
Norbert
Norman
Norris
Orville
Perry
Pete
Phil
Ralph
Randal
Randel
Randell
Randolph
Rayford
Rick
Rickey
Rickie
Rob
Robby
Robin
Rock
Rodger
Rogers
Rojelio
Rolf
Ron
Roosevelt
Rudolfo
Rudolph
Rufus
Russ
Rusty
Sal
Sammie
Sandy
Sanford
Scot
Sherman
Sherwood
Skip
Stan
Stanford
Steve
Stevie
Stewart
Stuart
Sylvester
Tad
Ted
Terence
Thurman
Tim
Timmothy
Timmy
Tod
Todd
Tom
Tommie
Toney
Tracey
Tracy
Val
Vernell
Vernon
Waymon
Wendell
Wilbert
Wilbur
Wilford
Wilfred
Willard
Willis
Winfred
Woody

Interestingly, thirteen of the names above — Bobbie, Cary, Dale, Jackie, Jimmie, Jody, Kerry, Kim, Lynn, Robin, Sandy, Tracey, Tracy — managed to make both lists.

Now some questions for you…

Do you like any of these names? Would you be willing to use any of them on a modern-day baby? Why or why not?

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.