Name Spotting: Malancthon

sign, colorado, names
Sign inside Garden of the Gods

My dad came out to visit us in Colorado recently. He loves geology, so we made sure to take him to several different places with impressive rocks/terrain.

One place we visited was Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. In this park we spotted the above sign, which described how the park got its name back in the 1850s:

As they looked over this area of cathedral-like rock spires, one man, Malancthon Beach, commented that the spot would be a great place for a beer garden someday. His friend, a poetic young man named Rufous Cable, replied that it was a place “fit for the Gods.”

It’s a cool story, but, to me, that first name “Malancthon” is way more interesting than the origin of the park name. Where did it come from?

My best guess is that Malancthon is a tribute to 16th-century German theologian Philipp Melanchthon, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. His surname at birth was Schwartzerd (“black earth” in German), but as a young man he Latinized his name to the classical equivalent Melanchthon (“black earth” in Greek).

Civilian Conservation Corps, new deal
CCC Company 1848

We also saw some names at Red Rocks, which is both a park and a famous amphitheater.

The amphitheater was constructed from 1936 to 1941 by men in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program that existed during the Great Depression. One display included a photo of 124 of the men in the local CCC. Here are their first names, sorted by frequency:

  • 5: Joe, Raymond
  • 4: Charles
  • 3: Arthur, Clarence, Edward
  • 2: Bill, Byron, Carl, David, Earnest, Edwin, Everett, Jack, James, Leo, Maurice, William
  • 1: Aaron, Albert, Aldine, Alfonso, Allen, Alva, Amos, Ancelmo, Arleigh, Aubrey, Audrey, Barnett, Blaine, Calvin, Celestino, Charley, Claud, Claude, Clayton, Cleston, Dale, Damas, Dan, Darold, Dick, Don, Donald, Ed, Elden, Elias, Elipio, Emerson, Emilio, Eric, Ernest, Eston, Fares, Frank, Fred, Glenn, Grant, Gust, Guy, Horace, Hubert, Irvin, Jake, Jasper, Jesse, Jim, John, Jose, Kenneth, Lawrence, Leland, Leonard, Lester, Louis, Lyman, Manual, Marvin, Max, Merce, Noah, Norman, Orval, Pasqual, Paul, Pete, Richard, Rowland, Rudolfo, Russel, Russell, Sandeford, Trenton, Willard

…What interesting names have you spotted while out and about recently?

Babies Named for Milton Berle

zsa zsa gabor, milton berle, tv, 1950
Milton Berle kisses Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1956

In yesterday’s post about Zsa Zsa Gabor, I mentioned Milton Berle.

Though he’d been in the public eye since the 1930s, Milton Berle didn’t become “Mr. Television” until he started hosting NBC’s Emmy-winning Tuesday night show Texaco Star Theater (1948–55). The show turned Berle into “perhaps the most famous man in America in the late 1940’s and 50’s.”

Nightclubs changed their closing to Tuesday nights from Monday because of the popularity of Mr. Berle’s show. Restaurants were empty for the hour he was on the air and business in movie houses and theaters plummeted.

“In Detroit, an investigation took place when the water levels took a drastic drop in the reservoirs on Tuesday nights between 9 and 9:05,” Mr. Berle wrote. “It turned out that everyone waited until the end of the ‘Texaco Star Theater’ before going to the bathroom.”

So perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that, during the years that Texaco Star Theater was on the air, the downward-trending baby name Milton leveled off, then increased in usage a little, before continuing to decline in the later ’50s.

baby name milton, popularity graph
Milton’s slight mid-century rebound

A handful of these mid-century Miltons even got the middle name Berle (thought it was sometimes spelled “Burl” or “Berl”). One example is Milton Berle Nelon, who was born in North Carolina in 1951.

Sources: Milton Berle, TV’s First Star As ‘Uncle Miltie,’ Dies at 93, Milton Berle – Wikipedia

Mystery Monday: LaFondra

Ready for another mystery? This month we’ve got the name Lafondra, which was the top debut name of 1962:

  • 1964: unlisted
  • 1963: 10 baby girls named Lafondra
  • 1962: 30 baby girls named Lafondra (7 born in California specifically)
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted

Though it’s written “Lafondra” in the SSA data, elsewhere on the internet it’s usually written “LaFondra” (with a capital F).

The first thing I should note is that actress Jane Fonda became popular in the early 1960s. As a result, usage of the baby name Fonda was boosted into the top 1,000 from 1960 to 1966:

  • 1967: 97 baby girls named Fonda
  • 1966: 118 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 930th]
  • 1965: 128 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 884th]
  • 1964: 145 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 864th]
  • 1963: 181 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 767th] – peak usage
  • 1962: 161 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 826th]
  • 1961: 143 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 904th]
  • 1960: 152 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 841st]
  • 1959: 108 baby girls named Fonda

The trendiness of “Fonda” in turn gave a boost to Lafonda (typically written “LaFonda”):

  • 1964: 21 baby girls named Lafonda
  • 1963: 24 baby girls named Lafonda
  • 1962: 35 baby girls named Lafonda – peak usage
  • 1961: 24 baby girls named Lafonda
  • 1960: 9 baby girls named Lafonda

But LaFonda saw peak usage the year before Fonda, in 1962 — the same year that LaFondra-with-an-R debuted. So perhaps the event that gave LaFondra-with-an-R a boost had an effect upon LaFonda as well.

The “La” prefix in both of these names suggests African-American usage, so I scanned copies of Jet and Ebony from the time period, but couldn’t come up with any clues.

Do you have any theories about where LaFondra came from? (Even better: If you’re a LaFondra, please leave a comment and tell us how you got your name!)

Mount Disappointment

At least two mountains have been named “Mount Disappointment.” One of these mountains is in California, the other is in Victoria, Australia.

The Australian Mount Disappointment was named in 1824 by explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell. Its name reflected “their disappointment that the dense tree growth prevented them from viewing Port Phillip Bay from the summit.”

The American Mount Disappointment was named in 1894 by USGS surveyors. The mountain “appeared to be the highest point in the immediate area…so they planned to use its peak at their next triangulation point. Upon reaching the summit, they were “disappointed” to find San Gabriel Peak, 1/2 mile further east, to be 167′ higher.”

When I searched for human beings with the name “Disappointment,” I was likewise disappointed to find only one: Charles Disappointment Croft, born in early 1871 in Norfolk, England.

Sources: Mt. Disappointment State Forest – State of Victoria (PDF), Hundred Peaks Section – Los Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club

Mystery Monday: Willodean

Usage of Willodean and variant names, 1920s and 1930s

Different versions of the name Willodean keep popping up around here. Last year’s W-names from early cinema list included a Willowdean, last month’s old-fashioned double names list also included a Willowdean, and last week’s post on Dolly Parton’s siblings featured a Willadeene.

So I’m taking this as a sign that it’s finally time to post about Willodean. :)

“Willodean” is the most popular spelling, but the group includes dozens of variants, 16 of which have been used frequently enough to register in the SSA data. Here are some specifics on each of the 16:

  1. Willodean: At least 1,236 U.S. baby girls have been named Willodean (which was in the data from the 1910s to the 1950s)
    • 595 in Ala., 76 Tenn., 47 Ark., 42 Ind., 16 Ky.
  2. Willadean: At least 880 baby girls named Willadean (1910s to 1960s)
    • 57 in Ala., 44 Tenn., 16 Ky., 15 Mo., 13 Ark., 11 Okla., 5 Ind., 5 Tex.
  3. Willodene: At least 241 baby girls named Willodene (1910s to 1940s)
    • 44 in Alabama
  4. Willadene: At least 220 baby girls named Willadene (1910s to 1940s)
    • 5 in Indiana
  5. Wylodean: At least 77 baby girls named Wylodean (1920s to 1930s)
    • 5 in Alabama
  6. Willadeen: At least 75 baby girls named Willadeen (1920s to 1930s)
    • 9 in Texas, 6 in Arkansas
  7. Willowdean: At least 63 baby girls named Willowdean (1920s to 1930s)
  8. Wilodean: At least 55 baby girls named Wilodean (1920s to 1930s)
    • 10 in Kentucky, 5 in Alabama
  9. Wylodine: At least 32 baby girls named Wylodine (1920s to 1930s)
  10. Willodeen: At least 29 baby girls named Willodeen (1920s to 1930s)
  11. Wylodene: At least 23 baby girls named Wylodene (1920s)
    • 5 in Alabama
  12. Willadine: At least 16 baby girls named Willadine (1920s)
  13. Wilodene: At least 11 baby girls named Wilodene (1920s to 1930s)
  14. Willodine: At least 10 baby girls named Willodine (1930s)
  15. Wilodyne: At least 6 baby girls named Wilodyne (1920s)
  16. Wiladean: At least 5 baby girls named Wiladean (1920s)

Overall, the group was most popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as you can see in the chart above.

Only the most popular variant, Willodean, was able to break into the top 1,000:

  • 1933: 43 baby girls named Willodean
  • 1932: 67 baby girls named Willodean [rank: 854th]
  • 1931: 66 baby girls named Willodean [rank: 856th]
  • 1930: 57 baby girls named Willodean [rank: 983rd]
  • 1929: 67 baby girls named Willodean [rank: 876th]
  • 1928: 76 baby girls named Willodean [rank: 830th]
  • 1927: 57 baby girls named Willodean
  • 1926: 64 baby girls named Willodean [rank: 941st]
  • 1925: 48 baby girls named Willodean

And now for the $64,000 question: What made the “Willodean” name-group so trendy in the Southeastern U.S. (particularly Alabama) in the late ’20s and early ’30s?

I wish I knew!

The data suggests that something kicked things off around 1924, and yet I haven’t been able to find a probable event. Was it something in the newspapers? On the radio?

The only clue I’ve found so far is a secondary character named Willowdean French from Summer Bachelors, which two things in 1926: a book published in August and a silent film released in December. But the book and movie were clearly just following the trend, not launching it.

I’ve known about the historical/regional trendiness of Willodean for a long time now. I even remember seeing posts about Willodean at other name blogs (like Spastic Onomastic and Baby Name Wizard). I held off writing about it myself because I figured I’d eventually stumble upon the influence and post something definitive. But, more than a decade later, I still haven’t solved the mystery.

So…does anyone out there have a theory about what made Willodean trendy in the early 20th century?

Even better: Do you happen to know a family with a Willodean who was born in the ’20s or ’30s? (I’m looking at you, Alabama peeps!) If so, would you please reach out and ask a family member if they know the story behind the name?