The inspiration was either (or both?) of two 1916 films featuring characters named Ysobel:
The Yaqui, released in March of 1916. Ysobel was played by actress Yona Landowska.
Lieutenant Danny, U.S.A., released in August of 1916. Ysobel was played by actress Enid Markey.
(My guess is that the first film had more influence, both because it was released earlier and because another character name, Modesta, also saw higher usage in 1916.)
The rare spelling “Ysobel” is likely based on the Old Spanish version of the name, Ysabel.
In fact, did you know that the historic Spanish queen we call “Isabella” in English was actually known as “Ysabel” during her lifetime? (And her husband Ferdinand was actually “Fernando.”) Their initials, “F” and “Y,” were featured on the banner that Christopher Columbus created for his 1492 expedition to the New World.
The Movie Picture World, Mar. 18, 1916: 1847.
Lossing, Benson J. The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851.
I doubt the name “George Barr McCutcheon” means much to you. But the name has become quite familiar to me. Why? Because George Barr McCutcheon — who wrote dozens of novels in the early 1900s — put several brand new baby names on the map during 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 would have to be the 1985 version starring comedians Richard Pryor (as protagonist Montgomery Brewster) and John Candy.
So which baby names did McCutcheon introduce/influence? Here’s what I’ve found so far:
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, inspired by the character Princess Yetive from the first two books. First appeared in the SSA data in 1911.
Truxton, inspired by Truxton King from the 3rd book. First appeared in the data in 1912.
Gerane, inspired by Gerane Davos from the final book. First appeared in the data 1928.
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.)
Because that’s the year Westmoreland Delaware “Morely” Davis was elected 48th Governor of Virginia.
But the early SSA data only accounted for a portion of the U.S. population, so the actual number of Westmorelands born that year is higher. For instance, according to records I’ve seen, at least 7 Westmorelands were born in Virginia alone in 1917:
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to cross the Northwest Passage (1905), to reach the South Pole (1911), and to reach both poles (1926).
His name, Roald, can be traced back to an Old Norse name made up of the words hróðr, meaning “fame,” and valdr, meaning “ruler.” It first appeared on the U.S. baby name charts in 1912:
1915: 6 baby boys named Roald
1914: 7 baby boys named Roald
1913: 5 baby boys named Roald
1912: 10 baby boys named Roald [debut]
Why 1912? Because, even though Amundsen reached the South Pole in December of 1911, the rest of the world wasn’t aware of his accomplishment until after he’d left Antarctica and arrived in Tasmania in March of 1912.
The SSDI shows a similar rise in the number of Roalds born in 1912:
1915: 4 people named Roald
1914: 5 people named Roald
1913: 6 people named Roald
1912: 9 people named Roald
1911: 3 people named Roald
Many of the U.S. babies named Roald during the 1910s were born to parents who had emigrated from Norway.* Amusingly, four or five of these baby Roalds were born into families with the surname Amundson or Amundsen.
Peak usage happened in 1928, the year Roald Amundsen went missing and was presumed dead after a plane crash in the Arctic.**
Finally, though I don’t have any data to back it up, my hunch is that the name Roald also saw increased usage in other regions in the 1910s and 1920s, and perhaps later. Amundsen’s two most famous namesakes are writer Roald Dahl, born in Wales in 1916, and chemist Roald Hoffmann, born in Poland in 1937.
*Similar to the way Bertil became trendy among Swedish immigrants.
**Same thing happened to the name Knute the year Knute Rockne died, also in a plane crash.
Crown Prince Gustaf VI of Sweden welcomed a baby boy named Bertil in early 1912.
The same year Prince Bertil was born, the baby name Bertil appeared on the U.S. baby name charts:
1917: 21 baby boys named Bertil
1916: 28 baby boys named Bertil
1915: 24 baby boys named Bertil
1914: 31 baby boys named Bertil
1913: 17 baby boys named Bertil
1912: 16 baby boys named Bertil [debut]
Bertil was the second-highest debut that year, after Woodroe (inspired by Woodrow Wilson, who was elected president in November).
But the early SSA numbers tend to be low, so here’s some SSDI data for a different perspective. (I’m only counting people with the first name Bertil.)
1917: 24 Bertils born (SSDI)
1916: 33 Bertils
1915: 39 Bertils
1914: 47 Bertils
1913: 33 Bertils
1912: 36 Bertils
1911: 16 Bertils
Just about all of the surnames I saw for Bertils in the SSDI were Swedish. Even more interesting, the SSA data indicates that many of these Bertils were born in Minnesota, Illinois and Massachusetts — states with large Swedish communities:
By 1910 the position of the Midwest as a place of residence for the Swedish immigrants and their children was still strong, but had weakened. Fifty-four percent of the Swedish immigrants and their children now lived in these states, with Minnesota and Illinois dominating. Fifteen percent lived in the East, where the immigrants were drawn to industrial areas in New England. New York City and Worcester, Massachusetts, were two leading destinations.
I think it’s safe to conclude that this usage of Bertil was occurring among Swedish immigrants (and their descendants) exclusively.
So what’s the etymology of Bertil? The Handbook of Scandinavian Names says Bertil and Bertel (which debuted the very next year) are “forms of the first element in German names like Berthold, from bert ‘bright, shining.’ Behind the Name simply says Bertil is a form of Berthold, meaning “bright ruler.”
Surprisingly, Bertil isn’t the first U.S. baby name debut we can link to Swedish royalty. Ebba, which debuted in 1888, was inspired by Princess Ebba Bernadotte — baby Bertil’s great aunt.
A while back we talked about a bunch of actress-inspired name debuts from the 1910s (Francelia, Ormi, Seena, Allyn). So far, though, we haven’t talked much about movie-inspired baby name debuts from the decade — even though there are over a dozen of them (including Zudora).
The earliest one I’ve seen so far? Undine.
The name Undine comes directly from the word undine, which is a type of water nymph found in European folklore. The mythological creature was originally dubbed undina by Swiss-German physician Paracelsus during the 16th century. He’d based the name on the Latin word unda, meaning “wave.”
Undines later began making appearances in the arts — first in the German novella Undine, eine Erzählung (1811) by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, then in operas and plays, then in paintings and sculptures.
Eventually, Undine started seeing occasional usage as a female name. But the baby name Undine didn’t appear on the SSA’s baby name list until 1912 — the same year the SSDI shows a spike in the number of people with the first name Undine.
9 Undines [debut]
What was the cause?
Well, we have two films to choose from: Undine and Neptune’s Daughter.
Both were short, silent, black-and-white films based on the German novella and released in September of 1912.
In Undine, put out by Thanhouser, Undine was played by actress Florence La Badie (whose untimely death in late 1917 may have caused the 1918 spike in the usage of Florence).
In Neptune’s Daughter, put out by Essanay, Undine was played by actress Martha Russell.
My guess is that Undine had a greater influence on baby names than Neptune’s Daughter did, simply because it features the name in the title.
(The Edith Wharton novel The Custom of the Country, which was serialized in Scribner’s Magazine during the first half of 1913, features a protagonist named Undine Spragg. I wonder if Wharton wasn’t influenced by these movies as well…?)
What do you think of the name Undine? Do you like this version of the name, or do you prefer one of the other forms (like Ondine or Undina)?
That headline makes me squirm a little, but it’s true: I’ve found a handful of baby names on the SSA’s list inspired by racists.
Racist politicians, to be specific.
Decades ago, these demagogues used race‑baiting as a way to win elections in the former Confederate states — the same states that have only recently started to pull down their Confederate flags in the wake of last month’s horrific Charleston church shooting.
In fact, the ongoing Confederate flag controversy is what reminded me to finally post about these names, as the names (just like the flag) can be seen as symbols of either “racism” or “southern pride” depending on your point of view.
(Please note that the SSA data below refers only to male usage, and that I’ve only included state data that refers to the state in question.)
White supremacist Coleman “Coley” Blease was a politician from South Carolina:
U.S. Senator from South Carolina, 1925-1931
South Carolina Governor, 1911-1915
South Carolina Senator, 1907-1909
South Carolina Representative, 1890-1894, 1899-1901
Here’s part of an article about a speech Blease delivered regarding the lynching of Willis Jackson in 1911:
“[Blease] stated that rather than use the office of governor in ordering out troops to defend a negro brute and require those troops to fire on white citizens, he would resign from the office to which he had been elected, and would have caught the train to Honea Path and led the mob.”
Of all the men listed here, Blease (rhymes with “please”) had the biggest impact on baby names, including not one but two SSA debuts. I’d call this impressive if it weren’t so disturbing.
The baby names Colie and Blease both debuted in 1911. Colie was the top debut on the national list that year, in fact. The names Coley, Cole, and Coleman also started seeing more usage in South Carolina around that time.
13 (9 in SC)
19 (5 in SC)
19 (6 in SC)
110 (8 in SC)
9 (8 in SC)
22 (13 in SC)
18 (7 in SC)
25 (10 in SC)
120 (10 in SC)
15 (14 in SC)
21 (12 in SC)
21 (7 in SC)
26 (13 in SC)
116 (8 in SC)
17 (15 in SC)
18 (15 in SC)
23 (10 in SC)
23 (12 in SC)
102 (12 in SC)
15 (14 in SC)
16 (8 in SC)
15 (6 in SC)
19 (9 in SC)
75 (5 in SC)
20 (19 in SC)
23 (21 in SC)
19 (9 in SC)
23 (11 in SC)
69 (15 in SC)
12 (all 12 in SC)
16** (8 in SC)
9 (7 in SC)
8** (all 8 in SC)
40 (6 in SC)
**Debut on national list.
And, just to be thorough, here’s the SSDI data for these five names over the same time period. (As usual I’m only counting first names here, not middles.)
If you do want to count middle names, though, Blease was much more common than the above number suggest, as many people got first-middle combos such as…
Theodore G. Bilbo was a politician from Mississippi:
U.S. Senator from Mississippi, 1935-1947
Mississippi Governor, 1916-1920, 1928-1932
Mississippi Lt. Governor, 1912-1916
Mississippi State Senator, 1908-1912
Here’s a quote from Bilbo’s book Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, published in 1947:
“The South stands for blood, for the preservation of the blood of the white race. To preserve her blood, the white South must absolutely deny social equality to the Negro regardless of what his individual accomplishments might be. This is the premise — openly and frankly stated — upon which Southern policy is based.”
The baby name Bilbo appeared on the SSA’s list during the 1910s and 1920s, and almost all of these Bilbos were born in the state of Mississippi:
1916: 22 baby boys named Bilbo, 22 (100%) born in Mississippi
1915: 17 baby boys named Bilbo, 17 (100%) born in Mississippi
1914: 12 baby boys named Bilbo, 12 (100%) born in Mississippi
1913: 8 baby boys named Bilbo, 8 (100%) born in Mississippi
1912: 8 baby boys named Bilbo, 7 (88%) born in Mississippi
1911: 9 baby boys named Bilbo, all 9 (100%) born in Mississippi
1910: 7 baby boys named Bilbo [debut], 6 (86%) born in Mississippi [MS debut]
According to the SSA data, peak usage was in 1916. According to the SSDI data, though, it was in 1911, with 45 babies getting the first name Bilbo that year.
James K. Vardaman, a.k.a. the “Great White Chief,” was another politician from Mississippi:
U.S. Senator from Mississippi, 1913-1919
Mississippi Governor, 1904-1908
Mississippi Representative, 1890-1896
Here’s a quote from Vardaman (there were many to choose from, but this was the worst):
“If it is necessary every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.”
The rare baby name Vardaman is a 2-hit wonder that debuted in 1911:
1911: 8 baby boys named Vardaman [debut], 6 (75%) born in Mississippi [MS debut]
According to the SSA data, peak usage was in 1911. But according to the SSDI data there were two peaks: one in 1911 (16 babies with the first name Vardaman) and and earlier one in 1903 (20 babies with the first name Vardaman, including one with the full name Vardaman Vandevender).
J. Thomas “Cotton Tom” Heflin was a politician from Alabama:
U.S. Senator from Alabama, 1920-1931
U.S. Representative from Alabama, 1904-1920
Alabama Secretary of State, 1903-1904
Here’s a vignette about Heflin:
In 1908, while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he had shot and seriously wounded a black man who confronted him on a Washington streetcar. Although indicted, Heflin succeeded in having the charges dismissed. In subsequent home-state campaigns, he cited that shooting as one of his major career accomplishments.
The baby name Heflin was another 2-hit wonder. It debuted 1920:
1920: 5 baby boys named Heflin [debut], 5 (100%) born in Alabama [AL debut]
According to [Hoke] Smith, it would be “folly for us to neglect any means within our reach to remove the present danger of Negro domination.” He also approved the use of “any means” to purge elected African American officeholders.
Usage of the baby name Hoke began to peter out mid-century, but during the first half of the century (when it was making the U.S. national list regularly) most of the baby boys named Hoke were born in Georgia specifically:
1916: 15 baby boys named Hoke, 9 (60%) born in Georgia
1915: 15 baby boys named Hoke, 10 (67%) born in Georgia
1914: 18 baby boys named Hoke, 11 (61%) born in Georgia
1913: 12 baby boys named Hoke, 7 (58%) born in Georgia
1912: 9 baby boys named Hoke, 8 (89%) born in Georgia
1911: 9 baby boys named Hoke, 8 (89%) born in Georgia
1910: 19 baby boys named Hoke, 16 (84%) born in Georgia [GA debut]
1909: 10 baby boys named Hoke, unlisted in Georgia
Some of these namesakes, like Hoke Smith Rawlins (b. 1931 in Georgia), got Smith as a middle name.
Murphy J. Foster was a politician from Louisiana:
U.S. Senator from Louisiana, 1901-1913
Louisiana Governor, 1892-1900
Louisiana State Senator, 1880-1892
Here’s Foster (as governor) talking about the disfranchisement of blacks under the newly approved Louisiana Constitution:
“The white supremacy for which we have so long struggled at the cost of so much precious blood and treasure is now crystallized into the Constitution as a fundamental part and parcel of that organic instrument […] There need be no longer any fear as to the honesty and purity of our future elections.”
For at least half of the 20th century (from the 1910s to the 1960s) a significant proportion of the U.S. baby boys named Murphy were born in Louisiana specifically:
1916: 69 baby boys named Murphy, 24 (35%) born in Louisiana
1915: 61 baby boys named Murphy, 36 (59%) born in Louisiana
1914: 51 baby boys named Murphy, 18 (35%) born in Louisiana
1913: 28 baby boys named Murphy, 8 (29%) born in Louisiana
1912: 41 baby boys named Murphy, 15 (37%) born in Louisiana
1911: 18 baby boys named Murphy, 9 (50%) born in Louisiana
1910: 14 baby boys named Murphy, 6 (43%) born in Louisiana [LA debut]
1909: 15 baby boys named Murphy, unlisted in Louisiana
…And the racist-inspired baby names don’t end there! Many other racist politicians from the South, even if they didn’t appreciably affect the baby name charts, still had an influence on baby names. Here are two examples:
Still other politicians, like 2-time Alabama Governor Bibb Graves, are borderline cases. Graves was a progressive politician, but he was initially elected with the help of the Klu Klux Klan, which he was a member of at the time (he later quit).
Finally, here’s the thing I’m most curious about: How did all of the namesakes accounted for above come to feel about their names in adulthood? Were they proud? Ashamed? A mix of both…?