A Star Is Born & a Name is Nudged

Vicki Lester, A Star is Born, 1937, name
Vicki Lester’s name in lights
outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

In April of 1937, the film A Star Is Born was released. It starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March as a married couple at opposite ends of their Hollywood careers: hers beginning, his ending.

The husband was named Norman Maine. The wife, on the other hand, had several identities. At first she was North Dakota farm girl Esther Victoria Blodgett. Then she morphed into movie star Vicki Lester for most of the film. Finally, in that memorable last line, she said: “Hello everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.”

So how did she go from Esther Blodgett to “Vicki Lester”? Here’s the scene:

Press Agent: Do you know what her name is? Esther Victoria Blodgett.
Producer: Gee, we’ll have to do something about that right away.
Press Agent: …Esther Victoria Blodgett
Producer: Well that Blodgett’s definitely out. See, uh…Esther Victoria, Victoria, Vicki…how about Vicki?
Producer’s Secretary: Oh I think that’s terribly cute.
Producer: Let’s see, Vicki…Vicki what?
Press Agent: Vicki Vicki, pronounced Vicki Vicki. [sarcasm]
Producer: Siesta, Besta, Sesta, Desta, Fester…
Press Agent: Oh that’s very pretty.
Producer: …Jester, Hester, Jester, Lester…Vicki Lester!
Secretary: Oh I like that!

Everyone in the office started chanting the newly minted name Vicki Lester…and with that the star was born.

On the name charts, the entire name-group — Vicki, Vickie, Vicky, Vickey, and so forth — rode a wave of trendiness that started in the ’30s, peaked around 1957, and was over by the ’80s. It’s hard to say how much of this trendiness (if any of it) was fueled by the movie, but one thing definitely attributable to the movie is the higher-than-expected usage of “Vicki” in the late ’30s:

  • 1941: 542 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 274th]
  • 1940: 405 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 316th]
  • 1939: 334 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 355th]
  • 1938: 367 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 332nd]
  • 1937: 148 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 555th]
  • 1936: 82 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 738th]
  • 1935: 70 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 822nd]

Notice how the number adjusted downward in 1939 before the name was picked back up by the wave.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that several baby girls born in the late ’30s were named “Vicki Lester.” In 1940, for instance, the Seil family of Washington included parents Orval (26 years old) and Beryl (25) and daughters Arlene (4) and Vicki Lester (1).

vicki lester, census, 1940
Vicki Lester Seil on 1940 U.S. Census

History repeated itself in 1954 upon the release of the first A Star is Born remake, which starred Judy Garland as Esther/Vicki. The name Vicki was again nudged upward a few years ahead of schedule:

  • 1958: 7,434 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 57th]
  • 1957: 8,101 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 51st]
  • 1956: 7,762 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 57th]
  • 1955: 7,978 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 52nd]
  • 1954: 8,220 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 50th]
  • 1953: 6,822 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 61st]
  • 1952: 6,774 baby girls named Vicki [ranked 61st]

And, again, records from the mid-1950s reveal a handful of baby girls named “Vicki Lester.”

The second remake — the 1976 Barbra Streisand version — didn’t include the name change. Even if it had, though, the popularity of Vicki was plummeting by the ’70s and I doubt the film could have done much to boost its image/usage.

Currently the name Vicki is only given to about a dozen baby girls in the U.S. per year. But another version of A Star is Born is in the works — a Lady Gaga version slated for 2018. If this third remake materializes, and if it features the name Vicki, do you think it will influence the baby name charts?

(While we wait for 2018, check out the original version of A Star is Born (1937), which is in the public domain.)

Sources: SSA, U.S. Census


The Baby Name Zorina

vera zorina

Vera Zorina, often credited simply as “Zorina,” was a German-Norwegian ballerina.

She was born Eva Brigitta Hartwig in Berlin in 1917 and was always called “Brigitta” by friends. But the public knew her by the Russian-sounding stage name “Vera Zorina,” which she adopted while dancing with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the mid-1930s.

She was introduced to American film audiences in The Goldwyn Follies (1938). The next year, she had a starring role in On Your Toes (1939).

In response, a handful of American parents named their baby girls Zorina around that time, and the name ended up debuting on the U.S. charts:

  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: 6 baby girls named Zorina
  • 1939: 6 baby girls named Zorina [debut]
  • 1938: unlisted

Zorina’s film career — as well as her first marriage, to the famous choreographer George Balanchine — lasted until the mid-1940s.

The name, on the other hand, is still around. In 2015 it was given to 5 baby girls.

Source: Vera Zorina, 86, Is Dead; Ballerina for Balanchine

The Baby Name Thayle

thalye, name, 1936, short story
Thayle & Malvern
The baby name Thayle appeared in the SSA data for one year only:

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 6 baby girls named Thayle [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The source is the long-forgotten short story “Company for the Milkman” by Florence Leighton Pfalzgraf. It was published in various newspapers in 1936.

The protagonist is 24-year-old working girl Thayle. She wants to settle down, but first has to choose between two suitors: Nigel “Nig” Duffield (who’s poor, but perfect for her) and Malvern “Mal” Kay (who’s wealthy, but a bad match).

“I don’t mean to offend you, Nig. But — but I’m tired of my tuppenny job. I hate the real estate office, that cold iron typewriter. I don’t want to work after I’m married.”

She nearly marries Mal, but of course there’s a twist (involving a milkman) and she ends up with Nig.

The only thought-provoking thing about this story? The nickname “Nig.” I suspect the author wanted it pronounced “Nige” (long I, soft G–as in Nigel). So why did she leave off the E so that it rhymes with “pig” (or Twig)? Weird omission.

Source: Pfalzgraf, Florence Leighton. “Company for the Milkman.” Reading Eagle 3 May 1936: 14.

Mardee, the Model-Inspired Baby Name

Mardee Hoff on cover of LIFE, 1940
Mardee Hoff
In late 1935, photographs of 21-year-old Mardee Hoff started appearing in the newspapers. She’d been selected from a pool of 2,600 models by the American Society of Illustrators as the girl with “the most beautiful figure in America.”

The papers said she would compete against Rosemary Andree, “Britain’s Venus,” for the international title in 1936. Many published side-by-side photos of the two women. I can’t find any record of this event actually happening, though.

But one thing that did happen in 1936 was the debut of Mardee on the SSA’s baby name list:

  • 1942: 7 baby girls named Mardee
  • 1941: 19 baby girls named Mardee
  • 1940: unlisted
  • 1939: 5 baby girls named Mardee
  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 9 baby girls named Mardee [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

The similar name Marti debuted in 1936 as well.

The usage spike in 1941, plus the debut Mardi in 1941, were likely influenced by Mardee Hoff’s appearance on a late 1940 LIFE cover. She’s identified by name inside the magazine: “Mardee Hoff, photographed in one of the new torso-length cardigans on this week’s cover, has for the past three years been one of the most popular models with both photographers and illustrators.”

Interestingly, Mardee Hoff also posed for Norman Rockwell in the 1930s. She was the model for “Hollywood Starlet,” which appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in March of 1936.

(And here’s another model name, Twiggy, that debuted about three decades later…)

Sources:

Image: “Winners to Model After.” Morning Herald [Johnstown, NY] 20 Apr. 1936: 13.

The Movie-Star Baby Name Franchot

Franchot Tone, 1930s
Franchot Tone
Uniquely named female film stars were inspiring debuts on the baby name charts as early as the 1910s, starting with Francelia in 1912.

But the first male film star to inspire a baby name debut didn’t come along until the 1930s.

That film star was actor Franchot Tone. He shot to fame in 1933, the year he appeared in seven films — including one with Jean Harlow, another with Loretta Young, and two with Joan Crawford (his future wife).

The name Franchot debuted on the SSA’s baby name list the very next year:

  • 1938: 7 baby boys named Franchot
  • 1937: 10 baby boys named Franchot
  • 1936: 21 baby boys named Franchot
  • 1935: 6 baby boys named Franchot
  • 1934: 9 baby boys named Franchot [debut]
  • 1933: unlisted

In fact, it was one of the top baby name debuts of 1934.

The usage of Franchot peaked in 1936, the year Tone appeared in the very successful 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty. (Movita, Marlon Brando’s future wife, was also in the film.)

Franchot Tone’s birth name was Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone. Franchot, pronounced fran-cho, was his mother’s maiden name. It’s one of the many names (and surnames) that can be traced back to the Late Latin Franciscus, meaning “Frankish” or “Frenchman.”

What do you think of the baby name Franchot?

Source: Franchot Tone – Wikipedia

Normandie, Take Two

Normandie from Terry and the Pirates (comic strip)
The elusive Normandie Drake!
Last year I guessed that the 1935 debut of Normandie on the SSA’s list was inspired by the maiden voyage of the SS Normandie.

Just a few weeks ago, though, I stumbled upon a theory that makes a lot more sense.

I was in the middle of researching the name Terrylea (a one-hit wonder from 1948 — any guesses?) when I found myself on the IMDB page for Terry and the Pirates (1940).

IMDB pages are full of names, so whenever I land on one I feel compelled to skim. And on this particular page I happened to spot the character name “Normandie Drake.”

It made me think of the baby name Normandie, of course, but the release year didn’t match up to any of the SSA data, so…dead end, right?

Well, turns out the movie was based on a popular comic strip of the same name by cartoonist Milton Caniff. The strip was first published in late 1934.

And which character was introduced in January of 1935? Normandie Drake.

Very intriguing — especially when you consider that a number of baby name debuts from that era were inspired by comic strip characters (e.g., Clovia, Dondi).

Another interesting point: Normandie Drake wasn’t featured in every storyline, and her comings and goings in the comic seem to correspond with the fluctuating usage of the name.

In 1942, for instance, she reappeared after an absence. That same year, the usage of Normandie increased:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 9 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1943: 9 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1942: 14 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted
  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: 11 baby girls named Normandie
  • 1936: unlisted
  • 1935: 7 baby girls named Normandie [debut]
  • 1934: unlisted

Not only that, but she brought along her young daughter Merrily* and the baby name Merrily** promptly skyrocketed into the top 1,000:

  • 1944: 71 baby girls named Merrily
  • 1943: 120 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 914th]
  • 1942: 201 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 698th]
  • 1941: 13 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 513th]
  • 1940: unlisted

A magazine interview with Milton Caniff from a few years later (1945) included a photo of two little girls named Merrily after the character. The caption also mentioned young girls named Normandie after Normandie Drake and April after another Terry character, April Kane.

So, in light of all this new information, I have to admit that my first theory was incorrect. The debut was much more likely caused by Normandie Drake than by the SS Normandie. (Although I do think the ocean liner could have been a secondary influence here.)

Sorry I didn’t have the full story on this one before posting about it initially. Better late than never, though. :)

*Milton Caniff named and modeled Merrily after Mary Lee Engli, the daughter of fellow cartoonist Frank Engli.
**The baby names Merrilee and Merrilie were also affected.

Sources:

Mystery Monday: The Baby Name Clione

I’ve long been curious about the name Clione.

It debuted rather impressively on the national list in 1938, but dropped off the next year and hasn’t been back since.

  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: 16 baby girls named Clione [debut]
  • 1937: unlisted

Clione is similar to the name Cleone, which was in use during the first half of the 20th century, but I doubt it’s a variant because Clione’s single-year appearance doesn’t match up with Cleone’s peak usage (from the mid-1910s to the mid-1920s).

One adorable thing that kept thwarting my search efforts was the genus Clione, which includes floating sea slugs or “sea angels”:

clione - sea angel
Clione limacina

Not the source of the name, but makes a great image for this post. :)

Can anyone offer any clues about Clione?