The Ephemeral Mateel

Kansas newspaper editor Edgar Watson “E. W.” Howe published his first novel, The Story of a Country Town, in his own newspaper, the Atchison Daily Globe, in 1883.

Encyclopedia Britannica said the novel “was the first realistic novel of Midwestern small-town life,” but an early 20th-century review said that the realism wasn’t, in fact, very realistic at all: “[T]he test of veracity fails in the unrelieved gloom of the story, which is bereft of all sunshine and joyousness, and even of all sense of relation to happier things.”

mateel, baby name, book, 1920s
Mateel Howe

One of the characters in the novel was pretty-but-shallow Mateel Shepherd, the daughter of a Methodist minister (named Rev. Goode Shepherd, naturally).

E. W. Howe must have liked the name “Mateel” quite a bit, because he named one of his children Mateel in 1883.

Readers must have like it, too, becase the number of U.S. babies named Mateel rose in the 1880s and was at its highest from the 1890s to the 1910s, judging by the records I’ve seen.

But the rare name Mateel didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data until 1927, and it only stuck around for a single year:

  • 1929: unlisted
  • 1928: unlisted
  • 1927: 6 baby girls named Mateel [debut]
  • 1926: unlisted
  • 1925: unlisted

Why?

Well, Mateel Howe went on to become a writer like her father. Her career seems to have peaked with her debut novel, Rebellion, which won the Dodd, Mead & Co. and Pictorial Review “First Novel Prize” of $10,000 in 1927.*

What was Rebellion about? Essentially, the book was about “the difficulties of a daughter living with a depressed, authoritative and demanding father.” (Hm…)

Though both Edgar and Mateel publicly denied that the characters and conflict were inspired by real life, Edgar cut Mateel out of his will soon after the book was published. Here’s how Time put it:

Left. By Editor-Author Ed Howe, an estate valued at $200,000; in Atchison, Kans. To Society Editor Nellie Webb of his Globe, he left $1,500. To Niece Adelaide Howe he left $50,000. To Sons Eugene Alexander and James Pomeroy he left the remainder except for $1, which went to Daughter Mateel Howe Farnham who in 1927 won a $10,000 prize for Rebellion, a novel in which she satirized her father.

Old-timey drama aside, I’m still left wondering about the name Mateel. Did E. W. Howe create it for the character, or discover it somewhere? (I do see a couple of early Mateels in Louisiana. “Cloteal” was often used for Clotilde there, so I wonder if “Mateel” arose as a form of Matilde…?)

What are your thoughts on the name Mateel?

Sources:

*The very same year, author Mazo de la Roche also won $10,000 in a novel-writing contest…

More Literary Baby Names: Alayne, Jalna, Renny

baby name, alayne, book, movie, 1920s, 1930s
Alayne Archer, character in the movie Jalna (1935)

Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche found fame in her late 40s when her third novel, Jalna, won first prize (and $10,000) in the first “Atlantic Novel Contest” in 1927. The book was serialized in Atlantic Monthly, then released as a standalone volume.

The book’s main characters were members of the prosperous Whiteoak family. They lived at an estate in southern Ontario called Jalna. The estate had been built by family patriarch Capt. Philip Whiteoak, a retired officer of the British Army in India. He’d named it “Jalna” after the garrison town in India where he’d met his Irish wife, Adeline.

The book was a top-10 bestseller in the U.S. in both 1927 and 1928. It was such a big commercial success that the author kept writing novels about the Whiteoaks. She ended up with a total of 16 books, now known as the “Whiteoak Chronicles,” which cover four generations (1850s-1950s) of the fictional family.

Many of de la Roche’s character names — which included Finch, Pheasant, and Wakefield/”Wake” — came directly from from gravestones in Ontario’s Newmarket cemetery.

Given the popularity of the book, and the distinctiveness of the character names, it’s not too surprising that Jalna had an influence on U.S. baby name data in the ’20s and ’30s…

Alayne

Character Alayne Archer was introduced in Jalna when Eden Whiteoak, an aspiring poet, traveled to New York City to meet with a publisher. Alayne was the publisher’s assistant, and she and Eden became romantically involved.

The debut of the baby name Alayne in 1929 was due to the much-anticipated follow-up book, Whiteoaks of Jalna — specifically, to the book reviews that ran in newspapers throughout the U.S. during the second half of 1929. Many of them mentioned Alayne.

  • 1937: 19 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1936: 23 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1935: 16 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1934: 9 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1933: 5 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1932: 5 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1931: 9 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1930: 7 baby girls named Alayne
  • 1929: 11 baby girls named Alayne [debut]
  • 1928: unlisted

Notice how usage rose during the mid-1930s. This was due to a related reason: the movie Jalna (1935), which was based on the first book and featured actress Kay Johnson as Alayne. (By 1935, five of the 16 books were out.)

Jalna & Renny

The year after the movie came out, two more Jalna-inspired names emerged in the data. One was Jalna itself, which didn’t stick around long:

  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: 9 baby girls named Jalna
  • 1936: 6 baby girls named Jalna [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

(You could compare to Jalna to Tara, the plantation in Gone with the Wind.)

The other was Renny, from Eden’s half-brother Renny Whiteoak, who became Alayne’s love interest after Alayne and Eden grew apart.

  • 1941: 8 baby boys named Renny
  • 1939: 5 baby boys named Renny
  • 1937: 8 baby boys named Renny
  • 1936: 9 baby boys named Renny [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

Another factor that could have given Renny a boost that year was the fifth book in the series, Young Renny, which focused on that character specifically.

…So how did Mazo de la Roche come by her own unique name?

She was born “Mazo Louise Roche” in Ontario in 1879. She added the “de la” not (necessarily) to sound noble, but to reflect the historical spelling of the family name. And here’s what she said in her autobiography about her first name:

When my father saw me he said to my mother, “Let me name this one and you may name all the others.” And so he named me and there were never any others. Mazo had been the name of a girl to whom he once had been attached.

For more baby names inspired by old books, check out the posts on Trilby and on Nedra, Gerane, Doraine, etc.

Sources:

The Debut of Donaldine

donaldine, baby name, 1922, newsThe American news is currently dominated by the name Donald, so I thought now would be a good time to talk about one of Donald’s feminized forms, Donaldine, which was not just a one-hit wonder in 1922, but the top one-hit wonder of 1922.

  • 1924: unlisted
  • 1923: unlisted
  • 1922: 12 baby girls named Donaldine
  • 1921: unlisted
  • 1920: unlisted

Where did it come from?

A Stanford co-ed named Donaldine Cameron, whose photo ran in the newspapers twice during the first half of the year.

The first time was in February, after Donaldine was declared the prettiest girl at Stanford:

Searching out the most beautiful girls on the Pacific coast finds Miss Donaldine Cameron getting the unanimous vote at Stanford University where she has been starring in amateur collegiate theatricals.

(Some of the plays she was in: “Wedding Bells,” “Charm School,” “Maid to Order.”)

The second time was in May, when Donaldine’s opinion that college boys spent too much money on girls somehow became the topic of an entire article:

“They have enough to do in carrying themselves through college without being burdened by extravagances. It’s up to the men to cut out their foolish spending.”

(The expenditures listed in the article: dances, movies, ice cream sodas.)

Donaldine graduated from Stanford in 1923 and, later the same year, married U.S. Navy officer Frank Pinckney Helm.

Donaldine’s father was named Donald, so no doubt she was named in honor of him. That said…around the time she was born (1902), and in the same region of California, there was a relatively famous missionary named Donaldina Cameron (often called “Donaldine” in the papers) who was helping female Chinese immigrants escape forced prostitution. I think it’s possible that the missionary was a secondary influence on the name (though I have no way to confirm this).

What are your thoughts on the baby name Donaldine?

Sources:

The Rise & Fall of Uldine

uldine utley, 1926, baby name
Uldine Utley in 1926 (from her magazine)

Have any 20th-century Uldines in your family tree? If so, there’s a good chance that your Uldine was named after pint-sized preacher Uldine Mabelle Utley.

Uldine Utley was born in Oklahoma in 1912, spent much of her youth in Colorado, and then moved with her family to California — where she first encountered Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, in 1921. Not long after witnessing Aimee preach, Uldine decided to begin her own preaching career.

By the mid-1920s, Uldine was one of America’s best-known child evangelists. She drew a crowd of 14,000 when she preached at Madison Square Garden at the age of 14, for instance. She even put out her own monthly magazine called Petals from the Rose of Sharon.

And when Uldine Utley was most popular — from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s — the usage of the rare baby name Uldine was at its highest, according to both the birth name data and the death name data (SSDI) from the Social Security Administration.

Year Uldine usage, birth data Uldine usage, death data
1939
1938
1937
1936
1935
1934
1933
1932
1931
1930
(under 5)
(under 5)
10 baby girls named Uldine
(under 5)
6 baby girls named Uldine
6 baby girls named Uldine
10 baby girls named Uldine
10 baby girls named Uldine
21 baby girls named Uldine
20 baby girls named Uldine
2 Uldines
2 Uldines
5 Uldines
1 Uldines
3 Uldines
3 Uldines
6 Uldines
6 Uldines
9 Uldines
8 Uldines
1929
1928
1927
1926
1925
1924
1923
1922
1921
1920
16 baby girls named Uldine
19 baby girls named Uldine
36 baby girls named Uldine [peak]
30 baby girls named Uldine
27 baby girls named Uldine
12 baby girls named Uldine
(under 5)
(under 5)
(under 5)
5 baby girls named Uldine [debut]
5 Uldines
10 Uldines
19 Uldines
19 Uldines
26 Uldines [peak]
9 Uldines
0 Uldines
2 Uldines
3 Uldines
4 Uldines

Uldine Utley kept up an intense preaching schedule until the end of 1936, when she suffered a nervous breakdown. She recovered temporarily, and even had a brief marriage, but spent most of the rest of her life in institutions or under family care.

Are you related to anyone named Uldine? What are your thoughts on the name? Any guesses about the name’s derivation?

Sources:

Image: Petals from the Rose of Sharon (pdf), November 1926.

McCutcheon’s Baby Names: Nedra, Yetive, Gerane, Doraine…

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?

Nedra

nedraMcCutcheon’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.

The next year, the name Nedra debuted on the baby name charts. In fact, it was the top debut name of 1906.

  • 1909: 14 baby girls named Nedra
  • 1908: 18 baby girls named Nedra
  • 1907: 10 baby girls named Nedra
  • 1906: 11 baby girls named Nedra [debut]
  • 1905: unlisted

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.

Doraine

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
  • 1922: unlisted
  • 1921: 6 baby girls named Doraine
  • 1920: 11 baby girls named Doraine [debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

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.)

Sources: The Books of the Century: 1900-1999 – Daniel Immerwahr, George Barr McCutcheon – Wikipedia