The Ephemeral Mateel

Kansas newspaper editor Edgar Watson “E. W.” Howe published his first novel, The Story of a Country Town, in his own newspaper, the Atchison Daily Globe, in 1883.

Encyclopedia Britannica said the novel “was the first realistic novel of Midwestern small-town life,” but an early 20th-century review said that the realism wasn’t, in fact, very realistic at all: “[T]he test of veracity fails in the unrelieved gloom of the story, which is bereft of all sunshine and joyousness, and even of all sense of relation to happier things.”

mateel, baby name, book, 1920s
Mateel Howe

One of the characters in the novel was pretty-but-shallow Mateel Shepherd, the daughter of a Methodist minister (named Rev. Goode Shepherd, naturally).

E. W. Howe must have liked the name “Mateel” quite a bit, because he named one of his children Mateel in 1883.

Readers must have like it, too, becase the number of U.S. babies named Mateel rose in the 1880s and was at its highest from the 1890s to the 1910s, judging by the records I’ve seen.

But the rare name Mateel didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data until 1927, and it only stuck around for a single year:

  • 1929: unlisted
  • 1928: unlisted
  • 1927: 6 baby girls named Mateel [debut]
  • 1926: unlisted
  • 1925: unlisted

Why?

Well, Mateel Howe went on to become a writer like her father. Her career seems to have peaked with her debut novel, Rebellion, which won the Dodd, Mead & Co. and Pictorial Review “First Novel Prize” of $10,000 in 1927.*

What was Rebellion about? Essentially, the book was about “the difficulties of a daughter living with a depressed, authoritative and demanding father.” (Hm…)

Though both Edgar and Mateel publicly denied that the characters and conflict were inspired by real life, Edgar cut Mateel out of his will soon after the book was published. Here’s how Time put it:

Left. By Editor-Author Ed Howe, an estate valued at $200,000; in Atchison, Kans. To Society Editor Nellie Webb of his Globe, he left $1,500. To Niece Adelaide Howe he left $50,000. To Sons Eugene Alexander and James Pomeroy he left the remainder except for $1, which went to Daughter Mateel Howe Farnham who in 1927 won a $10,000 prize for Rebellion, a novel in which she satirized her father.

Old-timey drama aside, I’m still left wondering about the name Mateel. Did E. W. Howe create it for the character, or discover it somewhere? (I do see a couple of early Mateels in Louisiana. “Cloteal” was often used for Clotilde there, so I wonder if “Mateel” arose as a form of Matilde…?)

What are your thoughts on the name Mateel?

Sources:

*The very same year, author Mazo de la Roche also won $10,000 in a novel-writing contest…

Babies Named for Malvern Hill

Battle of Malvern Hill

The Civil War’s Battle of Malvern Hill was fought on July 1, 1862, near the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

And, as with the battles of Fort Sumter and Gettysburg, Malvern Hill had an influence on baby names. I’ve found dozens of U.S. babies with the name “Malvern Hill” — though many got the combo decades after the fact, which is interesting.

Here are the Malvern Hills I found from the 1860s specifically:

  • Malvern Hill Lash (Virginia, 1862)
  • Malvern Hill Barnum (New York, 1863)
    • Union soldier Henry Barnum, the father of Malvern Hill Barnum, was declared dead following the Battle of Malvern Hill. After his family held a funeral for him, he was discovered alive in a Confederate prison. He was rescued and sent home in mid-July. Baby Malvern arrived the following September.
  • Malvern Hill Logan (Georgia, 1864)
  • Malvern Hill Watts (Missouri, 1864)
  • Malvern Hill Foster (Virginia, 1865)
  • Malvern Hill Hill (Virginia, 1868) — yes, Hill twice

Speaking of Hill twice…the name Malvern can be traced back to the Welsh words moel and bryn, meaning “bare, bald” and “hill.” So, if you take etymology into account, the place name Malvern Hill is redundant, and Mr. Malvern Hill Hill’s name contains Hill thrice.

Source: Battle of Malvern Hill – Wikipedia, Notes for Henry Alanson Barnum, Malvern Hill Barnum – Find a Grave

Babies Named for Fort Sumter

Bombardment of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter — the sea fort near Charleston, South Carolina — wasn’t fully built yet in the spring of 1861 when the Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off the Civil War. The Second Battle of Fort Sumter, two years later, reduced the never-finished fort to rubble. (It has since been restored and is now a National Park.)

As with the Battle of Gettysburg, the two Fort Sumter battles had a small influence on baby names. I found about a dozen U.S. babies — all male, all born in the South — named “Fort Sumter”:

  • Fort Sumter Williamson (North Carolina, c1861)
  • Fort Sumter Roebuck (Virginia, c1861)
  • Fort Sumter Richards (South Carolina, 1861)
  • Fort Sumter Earle (Alabama, 1864)
  • Fort Sumter Sparrow (Alabama?, 1867)
  • Fort Sumter Liscomb (Texas, 1869) — but buried as a “John
  • Fort Sumter Brooks (Georgia, 1877)
  • Fort Sumter Sumter (Louisiana, 1881) — yes, Sumter twice
  • Fort Sumter Black (Georgia?, 1881)
  • Fort Sumter Cannon (Georgia, 1884)
  • Fort Sumter Everett (Virginia, 1900)
  • Fort Sumter Falls (North Carolina, 1910)

Notice how only half of them were born in the 1860s. A few — like “Fort Sumter Cannon” and “Fort Sumter Falls” — may have gotten the name simply because of the play on words.

Source: Battle of Fort Sumter – Wikipedia

Baby Named for Knowlton Nash

In early 1986, a couple in Windsor, Ontario, named their baby boy “Knowlton” after Knowlton Nash, anchor of the Canadian news show The National (not to mention “the mother’s favorite television personality”).

When Nash learned about the baby, he gave the couple a phone call and sent them an autographed copy of one of his books.

Knowlton Nash’s full name at birth was Cyril Knowlton Nash — “Cyril” after his father. But he disliked being called “Cyril Jr.,” so at the age of five he asked to be known as “Knowlton” instead.

Sources:

The Baby Named Astralabe

Here’s the story of an unusual baby name that was bestowed way back in 12th-century Paris.

The parents were French philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard and his brilliant student, Héloïse d’Argenteuil. They started their infamous love affair (“one of the best known love tragedies of history,” according to Britannica*) in the year 1115, and in 1118 they welcomed their only child, a son.

Because he was illegitimate, it fell upon Héloïse to do the naming, and she chose Astralabe — after the Astrolabe, a sophisticated navigational device being used at that time in the Islamic world (which included much of Spain). Astrolabes coud “locate and predict the positions and risings of the sun, moon, planets, and stars.”

In Catholic France, where most babies were named after saints, “Astralabe” was a highly unconventional choice. (One science writer, in 2008, compared Héloïse’s choice to “a woman in a sci-tech backwater today naming her son iPod.”)

Abelard and Héloïse soon married and legitimized Astralabe, but that didn’t stop Héloïse’s outraged relatives from attacking and castrating Abelard. Both went into religious life, though they technically remained married. No one is certain what became of Astralabe, but name-based evidence (a “Canon Astralabe” at Nantes cathedral circa 1150, for instance) suggests that he entered the church as well.

The word “astrolabe” is ultimately derived from the ancient Greek compound noun astrolabos organon, meaning “star-taking instrument.” Astrolabos is made up of the elements astron, meaning “star,” and lambanien, meaning “to take.”

Sources:

*The encyclopedia, not this person.