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…?)
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…
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]
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:
1937: 9 baby girls named Jalna
1936: 6 baby girls named Jalna [debut]
(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]
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.
The 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.
1922: 12 baby girls named Donaldine
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?
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.
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?