The 2014 film Maleficent gave rise to the unlikely baby name Maleficent. So will the upcoming film Cruella similarly inspire parents to name their kids Cruella?
Cruella de Vil is the well-known Disney villainess from the 1961 animated movie 101 Dalmations. In mid-2021, Disney plans to release the live-action Cruella, which will apparently feature a younger, pre-evil version of Cruella (played by Emma Stone). The story will be set in “the punk rock era of the 1970s.”
On the one hand, the name Cruella is clearly based upon the word “cruel,” and the character’s intent in original movie was to capture, kill and skin a bunch of puppies (!) in order to make a fur coat.
On the other hand, the name Cruella easily shortens to Ella, which has been a trendy top-20 name for over a decade now. And the character in the upcoming movie will no doubt be portrayed in a more sympathetic manner (taking a page out of the Maleficent playbook).
A few months ago, while perusing the records for real-life instances of the unusual name “Gloomy” for a Patreon post, I happened to spot a 3-year-old Georgia boy listed as “Gloomy Gus Edwards” on the 1920 U.S. Census.
Turns out that wasn’t his real name — the 1930 U.S. Census reveals that he was simply a Floyd — but spotting him did make me curious about the origin of the phrase.
“Gloomy Gus” — defined by dictionaries as a someone with a sullen outlook or demeanor — can be traced back to a character in the comic strip Happy Hooligan (1900-1932). Happy and Gloomy were brothers.
Of course, after learning this, I had to check for people named Happy Hooligan. And you know what? I discovered two. One was another census find, so it may not have been legit, but the other came from a birth record, which is more promising. Happy Hooligan Johnson was born in Tennessee in 1909:
Happy and Gloomy also had a snobbish third brother named Montmorency. I wasn’t able to find any 20th-century Americans with the name “Montmorency,” though.
England’s canal era (from the 1760s to the 1830s) was kicked off by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater*, who’d commissioned the construction of the Bridgewater Canal (1761) from his coal mines in Worsley to the city of Manchester.
The most notable feature of his canal was the stone aqueduct across the River Irwell at Barton-upon-Irwell. It was the first navigable aqueduct in England, and it allowed the horse-towed canal boats to cross the river at an elevation of nearly 40 feet. (This engineering feat even attracted tourists, who came to marvel at the boats on the aqueduct floating over the boats on the river.)
My favorite part of this story? The name of the canal, Bridgewater, just happens to mirror the description of canal’s most notable feature, the water bridge, which itself happens to bridge water. What fun coincidences. :)
*The dukedom took its name from the town of Bridgwater in Somerset. The settlement was originally called Brigge/Brugge/Brigga — “bridge.” After the Norman Invasion, the land on which the settlement stood was given to Norman knight Walter of Douai, so the settlement became known as Brugge-Walter/Brigge-Walter — “Walter’s bridge.” This later evolved into Bridgwater.