The Baby Name Dellora

Miss Dellora Angell, newspaper photo, February 1919
Dellora (Feb. 1919)

The Dolores-like baby name Dellora appeared in the U.S. data for a total of six years, seeing peak usage in 1922:

  • 1925: unlisted
  • 1924: 8 baby girls named Dellora
  • 1923: 13 baby girls named Dellora
  • 1922: 14 baby girls named Dellora
  • 1921: 7 baby girls named Dellora
  • 1920: unlisted
  • 1919: 7 baby girls named Dellora
  • 1918: 5 baby girls named Dellora
  • 1917: unlisted

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.)

In the meanwhile, Dellora and Lester (and Dellora’s uncle, Edward) quietly gave back to the community of St. Charles. They funded/created a theater, a municipal center, a hospital (named “Delnor,” a contraction of Dellora Norris), a hotel, a community center, and made numerous other contributions and donations to schools, churches, and so forth. Today, Dellora’s name lives on in the name of the Dellora A. Norris Cultural Arts Center.

What are your thoughts on baby name Dellora? Would you consider using it on a modern baby?

Sources:

  • “J. W. Gates’s Widow Dies at Age of 63.” New York Tribune 29 Nov. 1918: 12.
  • “Coming June Bride Is Worth at Least Million.” Riverside Daily Press 11 Jun. 1921: 1.
  • “Has Dellora Angell, $38,000,000 Heiress, Again Run Away From Love.” Evening World [New York] 18 Jul. 1922: 16.
  • “Heiress Engaged.” Riverside Daily Press 10 Nov. 1922: 1.
  • “Humble Life Preferred by Millionaire Bride.” Evening Star 16 Nov. 1923: 38.
  • “The Gates Heiress and Her “Love-In-a-Cottage”.” Ogden Standard Examiner 26 Jul. 1925: 22.
  • Szymczak, Patricia M. “The Legacy.” Chicago Tribune 15 Jan. 1989.

*In July of 1925, it was reported that baby Lester, born in April, was still nameless and “in lieu of a permanent name” was being called Skeezix after the comic strip character (see Clovia).

The Introduction of Nalda

The baby name Nalda debuted in the SSA baby name data in 1923. In fact, it was the top debut name of the year.

  • 1925: unlisted
  • 1924: unlisted
  • 1923: 15 baby girls named Nalda [debut]
  • 1922: unlisted
  • 1921: unlisted

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?

Sources:

  • Gibson, Idah McGlone. “The Regeneration of Malcolm Starmount.” Hamilton Daily News 1 Sept. 1923: 5.
  • Woman Writer Dies in Hollywood Home.” Ogden Standard-Examiner 17 Dec. 1933: 14.

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: