The unusual name Maravene popped up in the U.S. baby name data just twice, both times in the 1910s:
1917: 6 baby girls named Maravene
1913: 5 baby girls named Maravene [debut]
Ohio-born author Maravene Kennedy Thompson, whose short stories were being published in magazines like McClure’s, The American Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and Harper’s Weekly in the 1910s.
She also put out multiple books, many of which were made into movies. Her 1916 book Persuasive Peggy, for instance, was adapted for the screen in 1917. (The book in the image, The Secret Love House, didn’t come out until 1926.)
Has some grumpy person ever called you a “Pollyanna”? That person may have meant it pejoratively, but take it as a compliment! (And tell that grump to go take a nap.) Because for over a century now the name has been a vocabulary word with a seriously pleasant meaning: “an excessively cheerful or optimistic person.”
So how did the compound name come to have that meaning? With the help of a popular book from the 1910s.
Pollyanna (1913) by Eleanor H. Porter was the first in a series of books about Pollyanna Whittier, one of the famous optimistic orphans of literature. (Think Anne of Green Gables, or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) But Pollyanna Whittier, “a girl who preaches the gospel of Gladness,” was the most optimistic of them all:
After her father’s death, the orphan moves to Beldingsville, Vt. In the next hundred pages, this juvenile social worker persuades the whole town to play the Glad Game. Cranky Mr. Pendleton, the bedridden Mrs. Snow, the dispirited Reverend Ford, the forlorn Dr. Chilton, a loose woman contemplating divorce and (finally) her sclerotic aunt succumb to the power of positive thinking and begin to hunt for and find things to be glad about.
The original Pollyanna book was the 8th-bestselling book of 1913 and the 2nd-bestselling book of 1914. It was so successful that Porter turned it into a series, starting with the sequel Pollyanna Grows Up (1915), which ranked 4th on the bestseller list in 1915.
As one critic explained in 1947, “The publication of the story in 1913 was only less influential than the World War. White Mountain cabins, Colorado teahouses, Texas babies, Indiana apartment houses, and a brand of milk were immediately named for the new character.”
The critic mentioned Texas specifically because a Texas baby named for the character (Pollyanna Houston, born in Waco) was in the news in 1915. But babies elsewhere got the name as well. Here’s the SSA data for the usage of Pollyanna during the 1910s:
1919: 15 baby girls named Pollyanna
1918: 13 baby girls named Pollyanna
1917: 21 baby girls named Pollyanna
1916: 20 baby girls named Pollyanna
1915: 12 baby girls named Pollyanna
1914: 6 baby girls named Pollyanna [debut]
And here’s the SSDI data for the same window of time:
1919: 10 Pollyannas
1918: 9 Pollyannas
1917: 15 Pollyannas
1916: 18 Pollyannas
1915: 11 Pollyannas
1914: 3 Pollyannas
1913: 6 Pollyannas
1912: 2 Pollyannas
The greatest usage of the name came in the 1960s, with the Disney movie adaptation of the book…but we’ll talk more about that (and the name Hayley!) tomorrow.
Until then, why not leave me a comment with your thoughts on the baby name Pollyanna? Do you think it’s usable these days?
“Books.” Gazette Globe [Kansas City, Kansas] 18 Feb. 1915: 4.
Here’s a name that, year after year on November 11, I keep forgetting to write about: Armistice. It debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1918:
1921: 6 baby boys named Armistice
1919: 5 baby boys named Armistice
1918: 5 baby girls named Armistice [debut]
The influence, of course, was the Armistice declared on November 11, 1918, that signaled the end of World War I. From that point forward, November 11 became known as Armistice Day. (It was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.)
A few of the babies named Armistice even got “Day” as a middle name. And at least one of these “Armistice Day” babies, born in Connecticut in 1927, managed to make it into newspapers:
Bridgeport, it has developed, is to have an Armistice Day the year round. Born on Nov. 11 last, the infant daughter of a local family is believed to be the first child in the country named in honor of the world holiday. Her official name is “Armistice Day Guiseppina [sic] Olympia Bredice.” Her father is an employee of a local sewing machine factory.
The Transcontinental Air Race of 1919 began began 100 years ago today, on October 8, 1919. It was the longest airplane race ever attempted (up to that point) and was followed closely by the public via the newspapers.
It even ended up having an influence on baby names: the boy name that saw the steepest rise in usage in 1919, Belvin, was the name of the winning pilot.
1921 – 13 baby boys named Belvin
1920 – 10 baby boys named Belvin
5 in N.C. specifically
1919 – 23 baby boys named Belvin [peak]
6 in N.C. specifically
1918 – 5 baby boys named Belvin
1917 – 5 baby boys named Belvin
Belvin Womble Maynard was born in North Carolina in 1892. He’d gone to school to become a Baptist minister in the early 1910s, but ended up discovering an aptitude for piloting airplanes while stationed in France during WWI.
Not long after returning to the U.S. in the summer of 1919, Maynard entered and won an air race from Long Island, New York, to Toronto, Canada.
Following that success, the “flying parson” (as he’d been dubbed by the press) entered an even more ambitious air race: the Army Air Service’s “Transcontinental Reliability and Endurance Test.” It required that entrants cross the nation not once, but twice.
Sixty-three planes entered. Most of them (48) started in New York and headed west, while the rest (15) started in San Francisco and headed east.
Maynard, his mechanic, and his dog (Trixie) took off from New York at the start of the contest. They were the first to reach California, on October 11.
They stayed until the 15th, then headed back toward the East Coast. On the return trip their engine failed, which could have cost them the race…but they cleverly replaced it with the engine of a wrecked plane nearby (that had been participating in the very same race). They made it back to New York on October 18 and were declared the winners.
(As for the other entrants, only about half of them completed the race. In total there were 54 accidents and seven deaths.)
For a time, Belvin Maynard was a national hero. The first commercial airfield in North Carolina, which opened in December of 1919, was named “Maynard Field” in his honor.
But sadly, in mid-1922, several weeks before his 30th birthday, Belvin was killed when his plane crashed during an air show in Vermont.