2 Mystery Baby Names: Ardis & Irva

Not only were the girl names Ardis and Irva the dual top baby name debuts of 1899, but they were also tied for the 5th-highest debut of the late 1800s, according to SSA data:

  1. 38 baby boys: Hobson in 1898 (influence: war)
  2. 35 baby girls: Manilla in 1898 (influence: war)
  3. 25 baby boys: Admiral in 1898 (influence: war)
  4. 23 baby boys: Corbett in 1892 (influence: boxing)
  5. 19 baby girls: Ardis and Irva in 1899 (influence: ?)
  6. 18 baby girls: Ebba in 1888 (influence: royalty)

So far I haven’t been able to figure out what caused either debut, though. Maybe you guys can help me out?

Here’s what I know so far…

Ardis

According to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), the number of people named Ardis jumped from at least 10 in 1898 to at least 86 in 1899. (The SSDI is a better source of raw-number data than the SSA for the late 1800s and early 1900s.)

  • 1901: 47 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1900: 59 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1899: 86 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1898: 10 people with the first name Ardis
  • 1897: 15 people with the first name Ardis

The SSDI data also indicates that the usage of Ardis was highest during three successive months: July (12 births), August (17 births), and September (12 births).

Getting back to the SSA data…when Ardis was at peak popularity from the 1910s through the 1940s, it was particularly trendy in the Midwest (especially Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin). This regional preference may have existed in 1899 as well, though it’s hard to tell.

Finally, a novel with the name Ardis in the title — Frank R. Stockton’s Ardis Claverden — existed in 1899. It had been published in 1890, though, so it probably didn’t cause the debut. (Unless it was serialized in the newspapers a decade later…?)

Irva

The SSDI shows that the number of people named Irva jumped from at least 7 in 1898 to at least 64 in 1899:

  • 1901: 14 people with the first name Irva
  • 1900: 18 people with the first name Irva
  • 1899: 64 people with the first name Irva
  • 1898: 7 people with the first name Irva
  • 1897: 5 people with the first name Irva

The name Erva also debuted in 1899. Alternative spellings sometimes point to an audio influence like talkies or television, but the debuts of Irva and Erva predate most of these technologies.

So does anyone out there have any theories on either Ardis or Irva?

(And if you like doing baby name detective work, check out these other open cases!)


Babies Named After “This Girl Tron”

Tron, Vietnamese girl, wooden leg, LIFE magazine, 1968Viet, Hoang, Phuong, and other Vietnamese baby names flooded onto the U.S. baby name charts in 1975, thanks to an influx of refugees.

But the female name Tron arrived conspicuously early, in 1969:

  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: 7 baby girls named Tron
  • 1968: unlisted

Then it fell off the list again, making it a one-hit wonder.*

Where did Tron come from?

A 12-year-old Vietnamese amputee named Nguyen Thi Tron, who was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in November of 1968. The cover showed Tron watching her new wooden leg being made at a government rehabilitation center in Saigon.

She and two friends, Nhien and Hai, had wandered into a “free-fire zone” to collect firewood and wild vegetables when an American helicopter happened to fly by and open fire. Nhien took shelter under an oxcart, but Hai got shot in the abdomen (she later recovered) and Tron in the leg.

I’m not sure what became of Tron. Her own view of the future was bleak (“I have only one leg. I can do nothing.”) but she did aspire to become a seamstress one day.

Regardless, her name lives on via the baby name charts. In fact, “Tron” is likely the first name to debut on the U.S. charts in connection with the Vietnam War.

*It was a one-hit wonder as a female name only. As a male name, Tron has appeared in the SSA data dozens of times.

Source: Moser, Dan. “The Edge of Peace.” LIFE 8 Nov. 1968: 26-36.
Image: © LIFE

Baby Names to Watch – Lyanna, Juno, Jupiter, Onyx, Solace

lyanna mormontHere are five names that have gotten some attention recently. Do you think this attention will translate into higher-than-expected usage in 2016? (I say “higher-than-expected” because all five are already on the rise.)

  • Lyanna: The 10-year-old Game of Thrones character Lyanna Mormont was introduced to viewers in June.
  • Juno & Jupiter: NASA’s space probe Juno entered orbit around Jupiter in July. (Jupiter’s jump in usage last year coincides with the release of the movie Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones.)
  • Onyx & Solace: Alanis Morissette announced the arrival of her daughter Onyx Solace via Instagram in July.

Which of the five do you like best?

Babies Named after the Pope’s Hospital?

During a pontificate that lasted over 26 years, Pope Saint John Paul II was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital nine times, spending “a total of 153 days and 152 nights there.” He was at Gemelli often enough that in the mid-1990s he jokingly dubbed it the “Third Vatican” — that is, the third papal residence after the Apostolic Palaces in Rome and Castel Gandolfo.

In early 2005, during John Paul II’s final months, he was taken to Gemelli for two long stretches: February 1 to 11, then again from February 24 to March 13. He passed away on April 2.

Also in 2005, for the first and only time, the baby name Gemelli appeared in the U.S. baby name data released by the Social Security Administration:

Agostino Gemelli
Agostino Gemelli
  • 2006: unlisted
  • 2005: 5 baby girls named Gemelli [debut]
  • 2004: unlisted

The Gemelli is a teaching hospital associated with Italy’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, which was founded in the early 1920s by Franciscan friar and doctor Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959).

The Italian surname, which is identical to the Italian word for “twins,” comes from the personal name Gemello, which in turn comes from the Latin word gemellus, “twin.”

The baby names Johnpaul, Juanpablo and Gianpaolo also saw increased usage in 2005.

Benedict, John Paul II’s successor, was elected in April of 2005. The same year, the usage of Benedict spiked and the one-hit wonders Benedicte and Johnbenedict (the top one-hit wonder of the year) popped up on the U.S. charts.

Sources: The Gemelli: The Pope’s hospital, Gemelli’s John Paul II Statue Unveiled, Pope John Paul II Fast Facts

Mardee, the Model-Inspired Baby Name

Mardee Hoff on cover of LIFE, 1940
Mardee Hoff
In late 1935, photographs of 21-year-old Mardee Hoff started appearing in the newspapers. She’d been selected from a pool of 2,600 models by the American Society of Illustrators as the girl with “the most beautiful figure in America.”

The papers said she would compete against Rosemary Andree, “Britain’s Venus,” for the international title in 1936. Many published side-by-side photos of the two women. I can’t find any record of this event actually happening, though.

But one thing that did happen in 1936 was the debut of Mardee on the SSA’s baby name list:

  • 1942: 7 baby girls named Mardee
  • 1941: 19 baby girls named Mardee
  • 1940: unlisted
  • 1939: 5 baby girls named Mardee
  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 9 baby girls named Mardee [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

The similar name Marti debuted in 1936 as well.

The usage spike in 1941, plus the debut Mardi in 1941, were likely influenced by Mardee Hoff’s appearance on a late 1940 LIFE cover. She’s identified by name inside the magazine: “Mardee Hoff, photographed in one of the new torso-length cardigans on this week’s cover, has for the past three years been one of the most popular models with both photographers and illustrators.”

Interestingly, Mardee Hoff also posed for Norman Rockwell in the 1930s. She was the model for “Hollywood Starlet,” which appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in March of 1936.

(And here’s another model name, Twiggy, that debuted about three decades later…)

Sources:

Image: “Winners to Model After.” Morning Herald [Johnstown, NY] 20 Apr. 1936: 13.

Catholic Names to Watch – Teresa and Fatima

children of fatima, lucia, francisco, jacinta, 1917The baby names Teresa and Fatima might see higher usage in 2016 and 2017, respectively, thanks to Catholic influence.

Teresa

On September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa will officially be declared a saint of the Catholic Church.

Mother Teresa’s religious name honors St. Thérèse de Lisieux, but she opted for the Spanish spelling “Teresa” when she took her religious vows (back in 1931) because another nun in the convent was already using the name “Thérèse.”

Her birth name was Anjezë, an Albanian form of Agnes, which can be traced back to the Ancient Greek word hagnos, meaning “pure, chaste.”

Fatima

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions seen by three shepherd children (Lúcia, Francisco, and Jacinta) near the town of Fátima, Portugal.

The place name Fátima is based on the Arabic personal name Fatimah, meaning “to wean.”

If the usage of Fatima does rise in the U.S. in 2017, I’ll be curious to see how much of that increase comes from states with large Portuguese populations (like Massachusetts, California, and Rhode Island).

Which of the two do you prefer?

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One-Hit Wonder Baby Name: Tootie

The name Tootie appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the first and only time in 1958:

  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: 5 baby girls named Tootie [debut]
  • 1957: unlisted

What gave the usage of Tootie a boost that year?

My guess is 13-year-old Dorothea “Tootie” Stevens of Washington, D.C., whose picture ran in the newspapers in August of 1958. (I couldn’t find a non-watermarked copy, unfortunately, so this will have to do.)

tootie stevens, 1958, with letter from North Pole
Dorothea “Tootie” Stevens, 1958

Why was her picture in the papers?

Because she’d just received “a letter from the top of the world” — the North Pole. The letter came from a family friend by the name of Richard F. Dobbins, who was at that time serving as medical officer aboard the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus, which had just made the very first undersea transit of the Arctic ice cap.

What do you think of the name Tootie — does it work on its own, or is it better as a nickname?

Image: 1958 Press Photo Dorothea “Tootie” Stevens

Finesse, Another Shampoo Baby Name

Ad for Stopette and Finesse from Life Magazine, 1953
© LIFE
The baby name Finesse debuted on the U.S. baby name charts in 1953, then disappeared again (until the 1980s).

  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: 7 baby girls named Finesse [debut]
  • 1952: unlisted

What inspired the debut?

Finesse, the “flowing cream shampoo” that was introduced to American consumers in late 1952.

It was the creation of cosmetic chemist Jules Montenier, whose first product had been the best-selling spray deodorant Stopette, introduced in the late 1940s.

Advertisements for both Stopette and Finesse ran in major magazines and also on television, which was still relatively new in the early ’50s. The print ad to the right appeared in LIFE magazine in early 1953, and here’s a Finesse commercial that aired as part of the game show What’s My Line? in late 1952. (For most of the 1950s, Montenier was the main sponsor of What’s My Line?)

Both products were notable because of their innovative polyethylene packaging. Stopette’s squeeze-bottle allowed the product to be sprayed upward (as opposed to being dabbed on manually, like most deodorants of the era) and Finesse’s “accordion” bottle and flip-cap were much safer in the shower than typical glass shampoo bottles.

In 1956, Montenier sold his brands to Helene Curtis. Stopette was eventually taken off the shelves, but Finesse is still available today. (The brand is currently owned by Lornamead.)

Curiously, Finesse wasn’t the first shampoo-inspired name on the baby name charts. The earliest was Drene, which debuted in 1946, and next came Shasta, which was given a boost in 1948.

The word finesse has several definitions, including “refinement or delicacy of workmanship, structure, or texture.” It can be traced back to the Old French word fin, meaning “subtle, delicate.”

Sources:

Image: Ad from LIFE 9 Feb. 1953: 32.

Will the Baby Name Bison Get a Boost?

Bison in Yellowstone National Park
Bison in Yellowstone, 2012 © Nancy’s anonymous husband

Early last month, the North American bison — which was brought back from the brink of extinction in the late 1800s — was given a special honor: it was declared the national mammal of the United States via the newly enacted National Bison Legacy Act.

Though the baby name Bison is rare, it’s been used often enough to appear on the national baby name list twice: once in 2011, and again in 2013. Do you think this recent national focus on the bison could give the name boost in 2016?

(BTW, slightly more common than Bison on the baby name charts is Eagle.)

Sources: 15 Facts About Our National Mammal: The American Bison, Frequently Asked Questions: Bison

The Sad Story of Sherianne

On February 22, 1944, Spencer and Easter Hutto of rural Alabama welcomed quadruplets: Dianne, Yvonne, Spencer and Sherianne.

The quads were born about 30 days premature, and though they were said to be in “good condition” at first, none of them lived very long. Dianne, the first-born, was the only one that lived longer than 24 hours.

For the short time they were alive, their story was front-page news. And that was enough for expectant parents to pick up on the baby name Sherianne (and the variant spelling Sheriann) in 1944:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 23 baby girls named Sherianne [debut]; 8 baby girls named Sheriann [debut]
  • 1943: unlisted

The other three names saw decreased usage that year, ironically.

The Huttos, who had already lost a baby named Daphne prior to having the quads, did go on to have three babies that lived to adulthood: Gloria, Felton, and Cornelia.

Sources:

[Etan, Roni Sue and Rainelle are three more baby names linked to sad news stories.]