Obama’s Mama: Stanley Ann

It’s election day!

While we wait for news about the next U.S. president, let’s talk about Stanley, the late mother of the current U.S. president.

Stanley Ann Dunham was born in 1942 to Stanley and Madelyn Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. According to most sources, her father had been hoping for a baby boy. When a baby girl arrived instead, he stubbornly decided to pass his name down regardless.

But Pulitzer-winning journalist David Maraniss has another theory: “The naming of Stanley Ann had less to do with the dictates of a presumptuous father than with the longing for sophistication of a starstruck mother.” He explains:

Since her teenage years as a moviegoer at the commodious Augusta Theatre, Madelyn had devoutly followed the film career of Bette Davis, her favorite actress. A new picture starring Davis and Olivia de Havilland reached Kansas during the summer of 1942, while Madelyn was pregnant. In the movie, In This Our Life, Davis and de Havilland played the two Timberlake sisters, each with a man’s name: Davis was Stanley and de Havilland was Roy.

In This Our Life, Bette Davis, Stanley
Bette Davis as Stanley in the movie In This Our Life

According to Maraniss, this is what inspired Madelyn to name the baby Stanley, and the fact that the baby’s father was also named Stanley was just a coincidence.

The movie In This Our Life was based on a Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name by author Ellen Glasgow. The 1941 novel is set in Glasgow’s home state of Virginia — one of the many states throughout the South in which family surnames were often bestowed upon baby girls (especially in families without many sons).

Stanley Ann Dunham “was teased mercilessly for her name” as a youngster, according to Barack Obama in his book Dreams from My Father. She ended up dropping “Stanley” and simply going by “Ann” as an adult.

Where did her father get his name? “His mother, an avid reader, named him in honor of one of her favorite historical characters, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the British newspaperman and adventurer who became famous probing the nether regions of interior Africa.”

Interestingly, Sir Henry Morton Stanley was born John Rowlands; he created the name “Henry Morton Stanley” for himself upon emigrating to America from England.

What do you think of the name Stanley for a baby girl?

Sources:

  • Maraniss, David. Barack Obama: The Story. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.
  • Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995.

Baby Born at Police Station, Named for Cop

On October 6, 1947, a 20-year-old Los Angeles County resident named Dolores Del Real went into labor. She wasn’t going to make it to the hospital on time, so she stopped at the El Monte police station for help.

The on-duty policeman, Joseph V. Ervin, “acted as midwife” and “delivered the boy in a rear room of the station.” In honor of Officer Ervin, Dolores named her baby Joseph.

(And records show that the baby’s middle name was Virgil — this may have come from Ervin as well.)

Source: “Infant Born in Station Named After Policeman.” Los Angeles Times 7 Oct. 1947: A1.

Sicilian Baby Named for Uncle Sam During WWII

Uncle Sam army posterOn July 9, 1943, the Allies invaded the island of Sicily. Within six weeks they had expelled the Axis entirely, opening up Mediterranean sea lanes for Allied ships and setting the stage for the invasion of mainland Italy.

But before the battle was over, in early August, two American servicemen — 1st Lt. Lawrence Taylor (who was a doctor) and Sgt. Milton Spelman — helped a Sicilian woman give birth a baby boy amid the chaos.

As a thank-you to the American doctor, she decided to name the baby Sam after Uncle Sam.

“The shells were landing all about,” Taylor recalled, “but we got through the delivery okay. The mother, who lived in New York once, told us her husband was with an Italian combat unit near Rome and believed in fascism. But she didn’t. Spelman and I became little Sam’s god-fathers.”

So how did Uncle Sam get his name? The Library of Congress says that the origin of the term “Uncle Sam” is obscure, but “[h]istorical sources attribute the name to a meat packer who supplied meat to the army during the War of 1812” — Samuel Wilson (1766-1854) of Troy, New York. According to the story, the soldiers who knew of “Uncle Sam” Wilson began to associate his nickname with the “U.S.” stamp on packaged meats, and over time the nickname simply became associated with anything marked “U.S.”

The name Samuel comes from the Hebrew name Shemuel/Shmuel and is typically defined as “name of God” (shem + el). Another possible definition is “heard of God” (shama + el).

Sources:

More WWII baby names: Adolf Hitler, Dorie, Fifinella, Hai-Hu, Irene, Jesse Roper, Linda Ann, Linda Vista, Roger, Tunisia, Vee

NYC Baby Named “Adolf Hitler” Promptly Renamed

Remember when 3-year-old birthday boy Adolf Hitler Campbell caught everyone’s attention back in 2008 for being named after the most infamous dictator of all time?

Believe it or not, a similar thing happened way back in 1943 — right in the middle of WWII.

Adolf Hitler Mittel, born in 1943 in QueensJoseph and Bertha Mittel of Astoria, Queens, welcomed their seventh child in January of 1943 and decided to name him Adolf Hitler Mittel.

Joseph said that “the whole thing started as a joke. Before the baby was born, I bet my wife that she would have triplets and that if she didn’t I’d name the baby Adolf Hitler. And I did.”

Bertha didn’t care for the name, “but [she] named the other kids and [she] thought he ought to have his say this once.”

Adolf Hitler Mittel became front-page news across the country. Here’s some of what Joseph told the press:

“Yes, sir, the baby’s name is Adolf Hitler and it’s not a joke.” declared the father, an unemployed woodworker.

“The real Adolf Hitler doesn’t mean anything to me, but I’m of German-Austrian descent and that’s one reason why I picked the name. I don’t think the name will be a handicap, because after all there are lots of people named after persons in the same class as Hitler, such as Napoleon, Caesar and others.

“He’ll grow up and be a good man despite the name.”

Needless to say, the public was not supportive.

And, almost immediately, Joseph announced that he was willing to change it. “I certainly don’t want to hurt the little guy’s future. Judging from the riding the papers and the public are giving us, the only thing to do is to find him another name.”

That new name? The very patriotic Theodore Roosevelt Mittel.

Mother Mittel said she always liked the name Theodore; Father Mittel said she always admired Theodore Roosevelt–and they filed the name forthwith with the Jamaica office of the board of health.

Dr. Ernest L. Stebbins, New York City’s Commissioner of Health at the time, called the name change a “humanitarian move.”

Sources:

  • “Dad Willing to Change Name of Son, ‘Adolf Hitler’ Mittel.” Evening News [Tonawanda, NY] 10 Feb. 1943: 6.
  • “Now It’s Theodore Roosevelt, Not Adolf H.” Deseret News 10 Feb. 1943: 3.
  • “This World We Live In.” Prescott Evening Courier 10 Feb. 1943: 1.

Celebrity Baby Name Drama from the 1940s

Mary Martin and daughter Heller, circa 1954.
Mary Martin and daughter Heller, circa 1954. © Sony
Broadway star Mary Martin welcomed a daughter on November 4, 1941. The baby was named Mary Heller. When Martin talked to the press about the newborn, though, she left out the name Mary and only mentioned the name Heller.

The actress-mother said they would name the child Heller.

“Down in Texas,” she explained, “Heller means a pert, vivacious youngster.”

One reporter decided to stir up trouble by asking residents of Weatherford, Texas — Mary Martin’s hometown — how they felt about the name Heller. The article was titled, in part, “Texas Town Shocked.”

[Mrs. Martin] announced immediately that she and her husband, Richard Halliday, would name her “Heller” because “that’s what folks in Weatherford call a particularly pert and vivacious girl.”

But the unanimous–and anonymous–consensus here was:

“Why I never heard the likes of that. Little girls aren’t called Heller in Weatherford.”

More anonymous quotes from Weatherford residents:

(1) “A name like that might do in Hollywood but never in Weatherford. We’re too conservative and too conventional.”

(2) “Mary was a little lady and a well-mannered child, certainly not a little devil and I don’t know where she could have gotten an idea like that.”

(3) “I think it’s not a very nice name for a girl to have.”

(4) “It’s probably just one of Mary’s passing whims. When the baby is christened, I’ll bet it will be as Mary and not as Heller.”

Oh, the drama!

The person who offered that last quote was correct, technically, but Mary Heller — who went on to play the role of Liza in Peter Pan with her mother several times — always went by the name Heller.

(In a People article from the early ’80s, Mary Martin altered her story on the origin of Heller. She said the name was inspired by the fact that Heller “kicked like mad” before she was born.)

Sources:

  • Faber, Nancy. “Mary Martin.” People 23 Nov. 1981.
  • “Mary Martin Names Daughter ‘Heller;’ Texas Town Shocked.” Reading Eagle 5 Nov. 1941: 14.
  • “Mary Will Name Baby “Heller.”” St. Petersburg Times 5 Nov. 1941: 13.

Image: Peter Pan – Original Broadway Cast 1954

Nameless Baby “Corey” – Where Is He Now?

Last week’s post on namelessness reminded me of another nameless baby I know of.

He was born on October 28, 1946, in San Pedro, California.

His parents, Joseph and Lucille Corey of nearby Wilmington, decided not to give him a name. “When our boy is old enough to know what he wants, he can choose his own name” is reportedly what they told the San Pedro General Hospital records clerk.

So the California Birth Index lists him simply as “Corey.”

Did he end up adding a first name when he got older? I wish I knew — I haven’t been able to find any later records or newspaper articles about Corey or his parents.

If you’re familiar with the family and know what happened next, please leave a comment!

Source: “Boy to Choose His Own Name.” Ludington Daily News 2 Nov. 1946: 1.

Hopi Baby Named for a Chicago Railroad Fair

Chicago Railroad Fair, which lasted from 1948 to 1949, commemorated 100 years of railroading in Chicago.

Dozens of railroads and railroad equipment manufacturers participated in the fair, which featured exhibits, reenactments, rides, musical shows, parades, and more.

One exhibit was an entire “Indian Village” created by the Santa Fe Railroad.

Santa Fe Railroad - Indian Village Sign

The village included tipis, hogans, a pueblo, an arts and crafts building, a medicine lodge and a trading post. (Here’s a map.)

The Santa Fe Railroad even brought in Hopi Indians from a reservation in Oraibi, Arizona, to live in the village and perform for fairgoers.

On September 23, 1949, a baby was born to Hopi parents Clara and Robert Lucas — described as a “blanket embroiderer” and a “doll maker,” respectively — in their one-room dwelling in the pueblo. (Their two older daughters were living there as well.)

The baby girl was named Seeva Fair Lucas. The name Seeva was derived from the Hopi word for railroad (one source says the full word is sivavö) and the middle name Fair effectively makes her name “Railroad Fair” — after the Chicago Railroad Fair.

Seeva’s parents also noted that the initials “S.F.” were a nod to the Santa Fe Railroad.

After the fair ended, the Lucas family returned to Arizona. Several newspapers mention Seeva’s 10th birthday party in 1959, and she attended high school in Holbrook, Arizona, in the mid-1960s.

Sources:

Image: AM05030 (Chicago Railroad Fair, 1949) by Joe+Jeanette Archie