Actress Neva Patterson, mentioned in yesterday’s post about Diana Lynn, was born in 1920 on a farm near Nevada [neh-VAY-duh], Iowa.
So she must have been named for her birthplace, right?
Nope. Neva, called “Nevada’s gift to acting” by the Des Moines register, “spent much of her life explaining that she really wasn’t named for her hometown.” Instead, she was named after one of her mother’s friends. (Her parents were named Marjorie and George, btw, and she also had a brother named Harlon.)
Do you like the name Neva? How would you pronounce it?
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.”
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:
1927: 6 baby girls named Mateel [debut]
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…?)
Yesterday’s name, Broderick, was popularized by a movie based on the life of populist politician Huey P(ierce) Long, nicknamed “The Kingfish,” who served as Governor of Louisiana (1928-1932), U.S. Senator (1932-1935), and was gearing up for a presidential run in 1935. At that time…
Long’s Senate office was flooded with thousands of letters daily, prompting him to hire 32 typists, who worked around the clock to respond to the fan mail. As the nation’s third most photographed man (after FDR and celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh), Long was recognized from coast to coast simply as “Huey.”
He never ran for president, though, because he was assassinated in September of 1935.
So how did Long’s his political rise (and sudden death) affect the usage of the baby name Huey?
In April of 1929, newspapers reported that, since the gubernatorial election the previous May, “Governor Long has presented a [silver] cup to every baby in the state which is made his namesake. He says there are now are 90 “Huey P’s” and he believes the total will run well over 200 before his term of office expires.”
According to the SSA’s baby name data, the national usage of Huey spiked twice: the year Long was elected governor, and the year he was killed. Notice how much of the usage happened in Huey’s home state of Louisiana:
U.S. boys named Huey
Louisiana boys named Huey
214 boys [rank: 378th]
95 boys (44% of U.S. usage) [rank: 50th]
353 boys [288th]
153 boys (43%) [30th]
494 boys [237th]
202 boys (41%) [14th]
187 boys [403rd]
86 boys (46%) [48th]
154 boys [447th]
66 boys (43%) [67th]
144 boys [480th]
76 boys (53%) [61st]
162 boys [443rd]
98 boys (60%) [39th]
174 boys [447th]
119 boys (68%) [37th]
194 boys [424th]
146 boys (75%) [26th]
215 boys [411th]
159 boys (74%) [22nd]
114 boys [579th]
62 boys (54%) [75th]
62 boys [840th]
22 boys (35%) [179th]
Huey P. Long was named after his father. He had nine siblings: brothers Julius, George and Earl (who also served as governor of Louisiana) and sisters Charlotte, Clara, Helen, Lucille, and Olive. Speedy Long was a cousin.
Movie director King W. Vidor [pronounced vee-dor] and his second wife, Eleanor Boardman, welcomed their first child together in November of 1927. They had a name picked out for a boy — “Boardman Vidor” — but didn’t have anything ready for a girl.
So, of course, it was a girl. :)
According to news reports, the baby remained nameless until at least April, when she was named Joyce.
But while the couple was abroad promoting Vidor’s latest film, The Crowd, she was renamed Antonia. They announced the change in early July, on the day they returned to the U.S. aboard the SS De Grasse.
We already know how Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, came up with her stage name — “Marilyn” was from Marilyn Miller, and “Monroe” was her mother’s maiden name.
But why was she named “Norma Jeane” as a baby?
In 1922, her mother Gladys, originally from California, moved to Kentucky to try to get her first two children (Robert and Berniece) back from her former husband’s family.
While there, Gladys worked as a housekeeper in the home of Harry and Lena Cohen of Louisville. She also helped care for the couple’s young daughters, Dorothy and Norma Jean.
She eventually returned to California, alone.
In 1926, Gladys had her third and final baby. “She named the child after the little girl she had looked after whilst in Kentucky and, for the sake of respectability, also gave the surname of her former husband, hence naming her Norma Jeane Mortenson (she added an ‘e’ to Norma Jean and changed Mortensen to Mortenson on the birth certificate).”
Which first name do you like more, Marilyn or Norma? Vote below, then leave a comment with your reason…
Source: Morgan, Michelle. Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. London: Little, Brown Book Group, 2012.