Silent film star Vilma Banky was born in Hungary circa 1901 and started appearing in American movies after she immigrated in 1925.
She was Valentino’s co-star in his last two pictures: The Eagle (1925) and The Son of the Sheik (1926). A year later, in 1927, she married fellow actor Rod La Rocque. Her highly publicized wedding, produced by Samuel Goldwyn himself, “was the most elaborate of the silent-film era.”
She was at the height of her fame at that time, and, correspondingly, usage of the bay name “Vilma” doubled in 1926 and peaked in 1927:
1930: 147 baby girls named Vilma [rank: 563rd]
1929: 198 baby girls named Vilma [rank: 481st]
1928: 177 baby girls named Vilma [rank: 523rd]
1927: 213 baby girls named Vilma [rank: 478th]
1926: 117 baby girls named Vilma [rank: 673rd]
1925: 54 baby girls named Vilma
1924: 33 baby girls named Vilma
Her film career ended not long after this, though, because she — along with her heavy Hungarian accent — were unable to make the transition to talkies.
The female name Vilma (just like the male name William) can be traced back to the Germanic name Willahelm, made up of the elements wil, meaning “will, desire,” and helm, meaning “helmet, protection.”
Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla was born in Italy in 1895 and emigrated to America in 1913.
He began getting bit parts in silent films in the mid-1910s. As he progressed to larger parts in the later 1910s, he started being credited as “Rudolph Valentino” or some variant thereof.
He finally achieved fame in 1921 with his breakthrough role as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the top-grossing film of the year.
He went on to make more than a dozen other films — including The Sheik (1921), which turned Valentino into America’s first sex symbol.
But his superstardom was cut short when, at the age of 31, he died suddenly (of peritonitis, after suffering from a perforated peptic ulcer) soon after the premiere of his final film, The Son of the Sheik (1926).
The death of Valentino not only “caused worldwide hysteria, several suicides, and riots at his lying in state, which attracted a crowd that stretched for 11 blocks,” but also influenced U.S. baby names.
The name Rudolph, which had been on the rise during the early 1920s, saw peak usage in 1927. (So did the spelling Rudolf.)
1929: 1,220 baby boys named Rudolph [rank: 140th]
1928: 1,308 baby boys named Rudolph [rank: 134th]
1927: 1687 baby boys named Rudolph [rank: 110th]
1926: 1636 baby boys named Rudolph [rank: 111th]
1925: 1243 baby boys named Rudolph [rank: 136th]
Similarly, the name Valentino saw a spike in usage in 1927, reaching a level that wasn’t surpassed until the late 1990s.
1929: 30 baby boys named Valentino
1928: 49 baby boys named Valentino [rank: 991st]
1927: 90 baby boys named Valentino [rank: 682nd]
1926: 49 baby boys named Valentino [rank: 990th]
1925: 43 baby boys named Valentino
What are your thoughts on the names Rudolph and Valentino? Would you use either one? (If so, which?)
P.S. One factor — beyond style — that could have contributed to the decreasing usage of the name Rudolph from the mid-20th century onward is the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It was the top song in the nation at the end of 1949 — a year before “Frosty the Snowman” hit big — and went on to become a holiday classic, cementing the association between the name Rudolph and not just reindeer, but Christmastime in general.
The Dolores-like baby name Dellora appeared in the U.S. data for a total of six years, seeing peak usage in 1922:
1924: 8 baby girls named Dellora
1923: 13 baby girls named Dellora
1922: 14 baby girls named Dellora
1921: 7 baby girls named Dellora
1919: 7 baby girls named Dellora
1918: 5 baby girls named Dellora
Much of this usage is attributable to heiress Dellora Angell (1902-1979) of St. Charles, Illinois.
Her name first started popping up in the newspapers in late 1918, upon the death of her maternal aunt, Dellora Gates. Aunt Dellora was the widow of wealthy industrialist John W. Gates, and she left the bulk of the Gates fortune to her last two close relatives: her brother Edward, and her teenage niece/namesake Dellora (the daughter of her deceased sister Lavern).
In the early 1920s, the newspapers began linking young Dellora to various suitors (e.g., a Brazilian physician named Vantini, an oil man named Campbell).
In late 1922, she finally got engaged to a childhood friend from St. Charles named Lester Norris, described as a “poor artist and son of the village undertaker.” (He was a newspaper cartoonist; he later became a businessman.)
They had a small wedding in March of 1923. After that, they rented a small apartment in St. Charles, where Dellora “began housekeeping, doing her own cooking and sewing, and having a lot of fun doing it.”
For several years the newspapers continued to report on Dellora’s growing family, and her unusual decision to live so simply:
The richest young woman in the world, who, from the number of her millions, and her youth and beauty, one would expect to find wintering at Cannes, moving with the seasons from one smart watering place to another and filling her wardrobe with Parisian gowns and jewels, lives quietly in a Middle Western town, wears gingham dresses, as she does own housework, and looks after her two babies herself.
(They went on to have a total of five children: Lavern, Lester*, Joann, Robert, and John.)
The baby name Nalda debuted in the SSA baby name data in 1923. In fact, it was the top debut name of the year.
1923: 15 baby girls named Nalda [debut]
What gave it a boost?
A story called “The Regeneration of Malcolm Starmount” that had been serialized in the newspapers in 1923. One of the characters was a beautiful actress named Nalda Courteney.
I haven’t read the entire story, but I do know that Nalda ended up dying in a plane crash (along with the married man she’d been dating). The character’s obituary read: “Nalda Courteney had for some years been noted on Broadway. Her pearls, motors and love affairs have featured [on] the first pages of newspapers for the last five or six years.”
The story was written by journalist Idah McGlone Gibson (1860-1933), who, according to one source, was the “writer of the first syndicated story ever published in a newspaper in this country.” (Tantalizing claim! I don’t have any other details, though.)
What are your thoughts on the baby name Nalda?
Gibson, Idah McGlone. “The Regeneration of Malcolm Starmount.” Hamilton Daily News 1 Sept. 1923: 5.
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.”
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:
1927: 6 baby girls named Mateel [debut]
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…?)