The curious name Ilomay appeared in the U.S. baby name data several times in the 1930s:
1936: 5 baby girls named Ilomay
1933: 7 baby girls named Ilomay
1932: 5 baby girls named Ilomay
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:
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:
# Boys Named Christopher
# Girls Named Christopher
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?
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:
1938: 6 baby girls named Farida [debut]
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?
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).
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.”
In the second remake — the 1976 Barbra Streisand version — the character was called Esther throughout the film. Even if there had been a name change, 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.)