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 Introduction of Ilomay

ilomay bailey, 1933, radio mirror, radio, baby name
Ilomay Bailey, 1933
The curious name Ilomay appeared in the U.S. baby name data several times in the 1930s:

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 5 baby girls named Ilomay
  • 1935: unlisted
  • 1934: unlisted
  • 1933: 7 baby girls named Ilomay
  • 1932: 5 baby girls named Ilomay
  • 1931: unlisted

The similar name Ilomae popped up for the first time in 1932 as well.

Where did these names come from?

A long-forgotten radio singer named Ilomay [eye-loh-mae] Bailey. She could be heard with her husband, pianist Lee Sims, on a weekday radio show called “Piano Moods” (NBC) during the early 1930s.

Ilomay was a Julliard-trained soprano originally from Kansas. She met Lee in Chicago (she took piano lessons from him) and they ended up becoming a team, both professionally and personally. The couple also performed on other radio programs, on stage, and sometimes in films:

Do you like the name Ilomay?

Source: Lee Sims – Wikipedia

Christopher as a Girl Name?

Orson Welles, his first wife Virginia, and their daughter Christopher (1938)
Legendary actor Orson Welles was married three times and had one daughter per marriage. The last two daughters had conventional names (Rebecca and Beatrice), but the first had an unexpected name: Christopher.

On the day Christopher Welles arrived in March of 1938, her father sent out a short telegram that read: “Christopher, she is born.” The name Christopher was chosen simply because “Orson liked the sound of the name.”

The same year, the baby name Christopher appeared as a girl name for the first time in the SSA data:

Year # Boys Named Christopher # Girls Named Christopher
1940 500 7
1939 359 5
1938 308 8 [debut]
1937 294 .
1936 277 .

My hunch is that Orson Welles’s daughter was the main influence behind the debut. That said, the name Christopher was on the rise (as a boy name) in the late ’30s, so it’s possible that some of these female Christophers were simply miscoded male Christophers.

As it turns out, Christopher Welles did not like her name as a child: “I was teased mercilessly in school and was quite miserable as a result. I wanted to change it to Linda.” As an adult, she went by the shortened form Chris.

The name Christopher was in the top 10 for boys from 1967 to 2009, ranking #2 for many years from the ’70s to the ’90s. But it also ended up in the girls’ top 1,000 for 24 years, from 1967 to 1990.

What are your thoughts on Christopher as a girl name?

Sources: Orson Welles – Wikipedia, In My Father’s Shadow: a Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder: review, Daughter of Orson Welles: daddy never let me hold him back

The Rare Name Verree

verree teasdale, 1934
“Since deserting Broadway for Hollywood two years ago, Verree Teasdale has made rapid strides to movie fame. Her most difficult problem has been trying to get her name spelled correctly.”
The very rare name Verree debuted on the charts in 1934:

  • 1936: unlisted
  • 1935: 6 baby girls named Verree
  • 1934: 5 baby girls named Verree
  • 1933: unlisted

The similar name Veree also popped up in 1934 (and never came back, making it a one-hit wonder).

What was the influence? American actress Verree Teasdale, who appeared on stage and in films during the second quarter of the 20th century, particularly the 1930s.

I can’t pinpoint where her name came from, but apparently people misspelled it a lot (as per the photo caption).

What do you think of the name Verree?

Image: Verree Teasdale, Photoplay, July 1934

Royal Baby Name: Farida

farida, queen, egypt, 1938, baby nameYou may already know that the 2011 royal wedding of William and Kate in London helped boost the usage of Pippa, the name of Kate’s sister.

But did you know that several long-ago royal couples from a very different region of the world gave similar boosts to a handful of Arabic baby names in the U.S. — as far back as the 1930s?

In January of 1938, 17-year-old King Farouk of Egypt married 16-year-old Farida Zulficar in Cairo. LIFE made Farida a cover girl in February. The magazine even correctly defined her name as “unique” in the accompanying story.

Right on cue, the baby name Farida appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: 6 baby girls named Farida [debut]
  • 1937: unlisted

The name dropped off the charts the next year, but returned a few decades later. These days, dozens of U.S. babies are named Farida every year.

Interestingly, Farida Zulficar’s first name at birth was not Farida. It was Safinaz. (The components safi and naz mean “pure” and “pride” in Arabic.)

Why the name change? Because Farouk’s father Fuad had decided that all members of the royal family should have identical initials (to match his initials, naturally). Hence, the five children he had with his second wife were named Farouk, Fawzia, Faiza, Faika, and Fathia. To fit the pattern, Safinaz’s name was changed to Farida before her marriage to Farouk.

Farouk and Farida went on to have three F-named daughters — Ferial, Fawzia, and Fadia — before divorcing a decade later. Several years after that, Farouk was deposed.

Do you like the name Farida? Do you like it more or less than Safinaz?

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