The baby name Ena saw its highest-ever usage in the U.S. in 1906. It was the fastest-rising baby name of the year that year, in fact.
1908: 27 baby girls named Ena
1907: 52 baby girls named Ena
1906: 89 baby girls named Ena
1905: 16 baby girls named Ena
1904: 8 baby girls named Ena
What drew so much attention to the name Ena in 1906?
Princess Ena of England, who married King Alfonso of Spain on the last day of May, 1906.
The wedding got a lot more media attention than it otherwise would have because, after the wedding ceremony, a Spanish anarchist tried to assassinate the couple. (He threw a bomb concealed in a bouquet of flowers at the royal procession.) Ena and Alfonso were uninjured, but over a dozen were killed and many more were wounded.
Though she was called “Princess Ena” in the newspapers and simply “Ena” by family members, her name at birth was actually Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena. Not only that, but the name “Ena” itself may have been unintentional:
[T]here are differing accounts of that name’s origin, with some stating that it was chosen by her grandmother as ‘a Gaelic Highland name’ to mark the first royal birth in Scotland since the seventeenth century, and other accounts putting the name down to a misreading of her mother’s writing of the name ‘Eva’. Queen Victoria’s journal entry for the occasion of her christening lists the names as ‘Victora, Eugénie, Julia, Eva’.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Ena? Would you choose it over Eva?
The name “George Barr McCutcheon” probably doesn’t mean anything to you. But the name has become pretty familiar to me over the years, because George Barr McCutcheon — who wrote dozens of novels in the early 1900s — put several brand new baby names on the map in the early 20th century.
The Indiana-born writer lived from 1866 to 1928, and many of his books became bestsellers. Today, his best-remembered story is Brewster’s Millions, which has been adapted into a movie several times. The most memorable adaptation was the 1985 version starring comedians Richard Pryor (as protagonist Montgomery Brewster) and John Candy.
So which baby names did McCutcheon introduce/influence?
McCutcheon’s novel Nedra (1905) was the 5th best-selling book of 1905. Though there’s a lady on the front cover, “Nedra” isn’t a female character, but the name of an island on which several of the characters are shipwrecked.
SSDI data confirms that the name Nedra saw noticeably higher usage after the book was released.
One of these baby Nedras grew up to become actress Nedra Volz (b. 1908).
Yetive, Truxton, Gerane, Beverly
McCutcheon wrote six novels about the fictional Eastern European country of Graustark:
Graustark (1901) – the 9th best-selling book of 1901
Beverly of Graustark (1904) – the 6th best-selling book of 1904
Truxton King (1909) – the 6th best-selling book of 1909
The Prince of Graustark (1914) – the 10th best-selling book of 1914
East of the Setting Sun (1924)
The Inn of the Hawk and Raven (1927)
Several of these books were later made into movies and plays. The three Graustarkian names I’ve noticed on the charts are:
Yetive (debuted in 1911), inspired by Princess Yetive, a character in the first two books.
Truxton (deb. 1912), inspired by Truxton King, a character in the 3rd book.
Gerane (deb. 1928), inspired by Gerane Davos, a character in the final book. (The variant spelling “Geraine” was a one-hit wonder the same year.)
Plus there’s Beverly, which was used for a female character in Beverly of Graustark. The novel, along with a 1926 film adaptation, helped pull the once-gender-neutral name onto the girls’ side definitively. (Ironically, the actress who played Princess Yetive in a 1915 film adaptation of Graustark used the stage name Beverly Bayne.)
Here are some of Graustarkian names that did not make the charts: Ganlook, Grenfall, Dantan, Dannox, Marlanx, Bevra (the daughter of Beverly), Hedrik, and Pendennis.
McCutcheon’s novel West Wind Drift (1920) is like his earlier book Nedra in that both stories involve a shipwreck and an island. In Nedra, “Nedra” is the name of the island; in West Wind Drift, “Doraine” is the name of the ship.
The year West Wind Drift came out, the name Doraine debuted in the baby name data.
1923: 5 baby girls named Doraine
1921: 6 baby girls named Doraine
1920: 11 baby girls named Doraine [debut]
It was tied for 2nd-highest debut name that year. (#1 was Dardanella.)
Coincidentally, the shipwrecked characters in West Wind Drift have a debate at one point about using “Doraine” as baby name. They argue over whether or not they should give the name to an orphaned baby girl who had been born aboard the ship. Here’s the opinion of character Michael Malone: “We can’t do better than to name her after her birthplace. That’s her name. Doraine Cruise. It sounds Irish. Got music in it.”
Have you ever a George Barr McCutcheon book? If so, do you remember any unusual character names? (If not, and you’d like to check him out, here are dozens of George Barr McCutcheon novels archived at Project Gutenberg.)
Who knew that the only U.S. governor assassinated while in office would have so many namesakes?
In 1899, the two men running for governor of Kentucky — “the most violent state in the union” at the end of the 19th century — were William Goebel (Democrat) and William S. Taylor (Republican).
Goebel — a crafty politician who had murdered one of his rivals several years earlier — was the favorite.
But, in an unexpected turn of events, Taylor ended up defeating Goebel by a narrow margin.
While Goebel was ready to accept the loss, his supporters were not, and the election results were challenged on the grounds of voter fraud.
Taylor was inaugurated on December 12, but chaos reigned in Kentucky for many weeks. In fact, “Kentucky was teetering on the brink of civil war by January 30, 1900” — the day an unseen gunman shot William Goebel in the chest while he was walking toward the State House.
The very next day, the Kentucky General Assembly decided that Goebel had indeed won the election. He was immediately sworn in as governor, but died on the evening of February 3.
Thus, Goebel became the only U.S. state governor to be assassinated while in office.
And 1899-1900 is exactly when we first see the baby name Goebel appear in the SSA’s baby name data:
1900: 10 baby boys named Goebel
1899: 5 baby boys named Goebel [debut]
The SSA data from that era is incomplete, though, so let’s also look at data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI):
1904: 2 people named Goebel
1903: 5 people named Goebel
1902: 8 people named Goebel
1901: 10 people named Goebel
1900: 73 people named Goebel
1899: 54 people named Goebel
1898: 5 people named Goebel
1897: 2 people named Goebel
1896: 1 person named Goebel
1895: no one named Goebel
I don’t know for sure where all of the 1899/1900 Goebels listed in the SSDI were born, but I can tell you that most died in the state of Kentucky.
Finally, other turn-of-the-century records reveal hundreds of babies named “William Goebel” specifically. Here are a dozen of them:
So what does the German surname Goebel mean? It’s a respelling of Göbel, a pet form of the Germanic personal name Godebert, made up of the elements g?d, “good,” or god, “god,” and berht, “bright; famous.”
Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Newton, Michael. Famous Assassinations in World History, vol. 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2014.
The names Dorcasina, Malaeska, and Trilby were inspired by characters from 19th-century novels. Altruria also comes from a 19th-century novel, but not from a character.
A Traveler from Altruria (1894) by William Dean Howells was first published in installments in Cosmopolitan in 1892-1893. The protagonist is Aristides Homos, a visitor to America from the fictional island of Altruria, “a Utopian world that combined the foundations of Christianity and the U.S. Constitution to produce an “ethical socialism” by which society was guided.”
The fictional place-name Altruria is a play on the word “altruism,” which was coined relatively recently (circa 1830) by French philosopher Auguste Comte.
Though A Traveler from Altruria isn’t well-remembered today, it was influential during the 1890s. Altrurian Clubs started sprouting up across the country. A short-lived commune called Altruria was established in Sonoma County, California, in the mid-1890s. And at least two babies were given the (middle) name Altruria:
Carrie Altruria Evans, born in 1900 in Van Wert, Ohio
Lester Altruria Eby, born in 1895 in Des Moines, Iowa
The official history book of the Van Wert Altrurian Club even mentions Carrie by name:
What do you think of Altruria as a baby name? Do you think it could be an alternative to the fast-rising Aurora (which broke into the top 100 last year)?
William McKinley may have lost his mountain namesake, but he still got plenty of human namesakes back in the 1890s and early 1900s.
For instance, the New York Times reported in June of 1896 that Mr. and Mrs. John Karl of South Baltimore had welcomed a son named William McKinley Karl. “It is the first baby in Baltimore, so far as is known, to be named for the popular statesman, and the parents are proud of the fact.”
Turns out there were at least two earlier Baltimore babies named William McKinley, though. One was William McKinley Tilghman, born in October of 1895.
William McKinley’s election in 1896 had no discernible influence on the already-popular baby name William, but it did give the name McKinley a boost nationally:
1898: 79 baby boys named McKinley
1897: 115 baby boys named McKinley
1896: 121 baby boys named McKinley
1895: 34 baby boys named McKinley
1894: 19 baby boys named McKinley
And his re-election in 1900 gave the surname another boost:
1901: 77 baby boys named McKinley
1900: 133 baby boys named McKinley
1899: 72 baby boys named McKinley
These days, though, most parents who bestow this name are giving it to girls as opposed to boys.