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.)
Where did it come from? I haven’t been able to figure that out yet.
The name Shirley, which had been extremely popular in the 1930s, was trending downward by the 1960s. The sound-alike names Sherla or Shirla did not see a uptick in usage in 1961. And the somewhat similar name Shirelle, though it debuted the same year (thanks to girl-group The Shirelles), is probably not the cause.
Vital records indicate that the 1961 Shurlas were born in various places in the U.S., so they weren’t clustered in a specific region. (Here are two of them: one from Missouri, the other from Maryland originally but buried in Kansas.)
Do you have any idea where this one might have come from? (News? Television?)
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:
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.
Willadean: At least 880 baby girls named Willadean (1910s to 1960s)
Willodene: At least 241 baby girls named Willodene (1910s to 1940s)
44 in Alabama
Willadene: At least 220 baby girls named Willadene (1910s to 1940s)
5 in Indiana
Wylodean: At least 77 baby girls named Wylodean (1920s to 1930s)
5 in Alabama
Willadeen: At least 75 baby girls named Willadeen (1920s to 1930s)
9 in Texas, 6 in Arkansas
Willowdean: At least 63 baby girls named Willowdean (1920s to 1930s)
Wilodean: At least 55 baby girls named Wilodean (1920s to 1930s)
10 in Kentucky, 5 in Alabama
Wylodine: At least 32 baby girls named Wylodine (1920s to 1930s)
Willodeen: At least 29 baby girls named Willodeen (1920s to 1930s)
Wylodene: At least 23 baby girls named Wylodene (1920s)
5 in Alabama
Willadine: At least 16 baby girls named Willadine (1920s)
Wilodene: At least 11 baby girls named Wilodene (1920s to 1930s)
Willodine: At least 10 baby girls named Willodine (1930s)
Wilodyne: At least 6 baby girls named Wilodyne (1920s)
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?
Time for another mystery baby name! Today’s stumper is Zeline, a one-hit wonder that charted in 1957 with a dozen baby girls:
1957: 12 baby girls named Zeline
The name Zelene debuted the same year, with half as many baby girls.
I’ve done all my standard research, which includes looking at newspapers and periodicals of the era, and so far I haven’t found any notable people/characters/products named Zeline (or Zelene) in 1956-1957.
These names don’t appear to be a variant of a more popular name, though I should mention that Celine saw an uptick in usage in ’58, which is interesting.
At least three of the Zelines and two of the Zelenes were born in California, but this probably isn’t much a clue, given the relative population of California.
Anyone have a theory about the origin of this one?