Mystery Monday: Elwanda

Ready for another baby name mystery? I present to you Elwanda, which saw a sharp increase in usage in 1921:

  • 1923: 54 baby girls named Elwanda
    • 61% in 4 states: 14 TX, 7 WV, 6 AR, 6 KY
  • 1922: 85 baby girls named Elwanda [rank: 791st]
    • 66% in 5 states: 17 TX, 15 AR, 8 MO, 8 TN, 6 OK
  • 1921: 98 baby girls named Elwanda [rank: 739th]
    • 72% in 6 states: 25 TX, 18 AR, 9 OK, 7 MO, 6 KY, 6 WV
  • 1920: 5 baby girls named Elwanda [debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

So far, I can’t explain that spike (which was the steepest rise overall that year). But I can tell you that most of that 1921 usage took place in an interesting grouping of Southern states:

On the one hand, higher usage of Wanda-based names in the early 1920s makes sense because that’s when name Wanda itself was very trendy. (Wanda entered the top 100 in 1922.)

On the other hand, when you compare the usage of Elwanda to that of the other Wanda-variants (like Wandalee and Lawanda), it’s clear that something else must have happened in Elwanda’s case for the rise to be that steep — not to mention so regionally specific.

Any ideas about what influenced Elwanda?

P.S. Other names that saw movement during the 1920s were influenced by things like movies, music (but not radio), literature (particularly serialized stories), and news stories.

Mystery Monday: Versie

According to the SSA data, one of the fastest rising baby names of 1894 was the girl name Versie. The SSDI similarly indicates a spike in Versies in 1894:

Versie (SSA)Versie (SSDI)
189616 baby girls16 baby girls
18957 baby girls14 baby girls
189421 baby girls21 baby girls
18935 baby girls11 baby girls
1892unlisted7 baby girls

What caused it?

I’m not sure! I’ve tried searching for an explanation, but so far I’ve come up short.

The 1894 spike isn’t related to the usage of the similar name Versa (which disappeared from the data that year, in fact). And I haven’t found any news stories or pop culture from that era that would have spotlighted the name.

All I can tell you is that, according to the records I’ve seen, usage was primarily in the South (in states like Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee). Also, usage was primarily in white families, though I did find Versies in African-American families as well.

Any ideas on this one?

P.S. Incidentally, versie means “version” in Dutch.

Mystery Monday: Quovadis

Here’s an eye-catching baby name: Quovadis. It’s appeared in U.S. baby name data a total of three times so far:

  • 1983: unlisted
  • 1982: 5 baby girls named Quovadis
  • …unlisted…
  • 1975: 6 baby girls named Quovadis (all 6 born in Georgia)
  • 1974: unlisted
  • 1973: 5 baby girls named Quovadis [debut]
  • 1972: unlisted

This one is a semi-mystery. I know the ultimate origin, but not what (if anything) caused the name to surface in the ’70s specifically.

The Polish novel Quo Vadis (1896) by Henryk Sienkiewicz told the story of a romance between a Roman patrician and a Christian woman during ancient times. The title means “where are you going?” in Latin and alludes to the New Testament verse John 13:36.

The English translation of the book became the bestselling novel in the U.S. in 1897. Since then, the book has been adapted for the big screen multiple times (1901, 1912, 1924, 1951*, etc.) and also adapted for television.

But nothing new happened in the ’70s to draw attention to the phrase, beyond the 1973 Broadway play Status Quo Vadis and a 1975 M*A*S*H episode called “Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?”

Do you have any thoughts on this one?

P.S. Though the name only appears in the SSA data in the ’70s and ’80s, records reveal that dozens of people (male and female) have been named Quovadis since the late 1890s. Here’s one on the 1930 U.S. Census:

Quovadis Dukes, female, born in Ohio in 1929

Source: Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1890s – Wikipedia

*The 1951 movie starred Deborah Kerr and was nominated for eight Oscars.

Mystery Monday: Caricia

The baby name Caricia, which is the Spanish word for “caress,” appeared in the U.S. baby name data for two years in the early 2000s:

  • 2004: unlisted
  • 2003: 5 baby girls named Caricia
  • 2002: 20 baby girls named Caricia [debut]
    • 6 born in California specifically
  • 2001: unlisted

Why did it debut? I have two theories so far, but I’m not 100% convinced by either one.

The first has to do with music. In 2000, Spanish singer Rocío Dúrcal released an album called Caricias. The lead track was also called “Caricias.” That August, the album reached #2 on Billboard’s Latin Pop Album chart.

(radio channel logo)

The second theory also has to do with music, but in a different way. The XM Satellite Radio channel Caricia, which played Spanish-language adult contemporary music, was launched in September of 2001. (It was axed in 2004, but relaunched a few years later as a Latin oldies channel.)

The first theory makes sense in terms of source, but not in terms of timing. The second theory is more of a long shot (I’ve never seen a radio station influence baby names, unless it was a contest) but the years line up quite well.

What are your thoughts on this one? What am I missing here?

Sources: Rocío Dúrcal Chart History | Billboard, Caricia – Wikipedia

P.S. The French word for “caress,” Caresse, is also a baby name.

Mystery Monday: Malia, Melia, Melea, Malea…

This month’s mystery isn’t a name, but a name group.

The group saw its highest-ever usage in circa 2009, thanks to presidential daughter Malia Obama, but it also saw a strong rise in usage back in the mid-1950s. Why? I don’t know!

From 1954 to 1956, not only did the rare names Malia and Melia re-emerge in the data and see peak in usage (up to that point), but eight new variants of Malia/Melia surfaced:

Name 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957
Malia . 48 88 68 59
Melia . 11 42 43 35
Melea . 7* 16 24 10
Malea . 5* 25 20 14
Meleah . . 9* 12 12
Maleia . . . 10* 5
Mylea . . . 9* .
Meleia . . . 7* .
Maleah . . . 6* 9
Milia . . . 5* .

*Debuts in the data.

Usage of these names was relatively high in several states. Of the 88 Malias born in 1955, for instance, 33 were born across six states: Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Alabama, Kansas, and North Carolina.

And the SSA data doesn’t account for the many baby girls who got Malia-related middles during that time period. One semi-famous example is JFK niece Sydney Maleia Kennedy, born in California in 1956.

The variety of spellings makes me think the source was audio, e.g., radio, music, cinema, television. (But it wasn’t the lady who played Vampira — that was a Maila, not a Malia.)

What are your thoughts on this one?