The Two Debuts of Durelle

durelle alexander, singer, 1930s, radio
Radio Guide, Sept. 1936

You could say that the name Durelle debuted in the U.S. baby name data twice — first as a girl name in the ’30s, next as a boy name in the ’50s.

The name’s very first appearance in the data was in 1936:

  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: 5 baby girls named Durelle
  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: 6 baby girls named Durelle
  • 1936: 12 baby girls named Durelle
  • 1935: unlisted

This initial influence here was female entertainer Durelle Alexander, who was born in Texas in 1918.

She’d started out as a child actor, then re-emerged during her teen years as a vocalist associated primarily with bandleader Paul Whiteman. She sang on the radio, made recordings, and toured with Whiteman’s orchestra (and several others) before getting married in 1939 and retiring from the music business.

Around that time, the name Durelle dropped off the charts entirely…

boxing, yvon durelle, archie moore
Yvon Durelle vs. Archie Moore, Dec. 1958

…But, about two decades later, the name reemerged on the boys’ side of the list:

  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: 6 baby boys named Durelle
  • 1957: unlisted

It was the year that French Canadian boxer Yvon Durelle, the “Fighting Fisherman,” challenged American boxer Archie Moore for the World Light Heavyweight title. By all accounts it was a sensational match, with each man knocking the other down multiple times before Moore finally prevailed in the 11th round.

The fight not only made Durelle a legend in Canada, but it “was one of the first to be broadcast coast-to-coast on American television.” This wide exposure of the surname Durelle — and the unmistakably masculine association — is what boosted the name back into the data, but as a boy name. The uncommon name Yvon also saw peak usage in 1958/1959.

I’m not sure about the origin (coining?) of Durelle Alexander’s first name, but Yvon Durelle’s surname can be traced back to the Old French word dur, meaning “hard(y).”

Do you like the name Durelle more as a girl name or as a boy name?

Sources:

  • Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Rayno, Don. Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music, 1930-1967. Vol. 2. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.
  • Sares, Ted. “Back from the Brink of Defeat: Archie Moore v. Yvon Durelle.” Bad Left Hook 20 Oct. 2010.

P.S. Durelle saw peak usage (as a boy name) in 1985 thanks to Star Search contestant Durell Coleman.

The Debut of Dewilla

The unusual baby name Dewilla debuted in the baby name data in 1935:

  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: 6 baby girls named Dewilla
  • 1936: unlisted
  • 1935: 8 baby girls named Dewilla [debut]
  • 1934: unlisted

What put it there initially?

A murder that began as a mystery.

On November 24, 1934, the bodies of three slain girls were discovered in the woods near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The case was dubbed the “babes in the woods” mystery by the press.

After about a week, the police were able to identify the bodies as belonging to sisters Dewilla Noakes (age 10) and Cordelia Noakes (age 8), and their older half-sister Norma Sedgwick (age 12).

They were originally from Roseville, California, and had recently traveled east with their father, Elmo, and his teenage niece, Winifred — both of whom were later found shot to death over 100 miles away in Altoona. Contemporary sources guessed that Elmo and Winifred were on the run because they were in an illicit relationship.

That doesn’t explain how or why the three girls ended up dead in Pennsylvania, though. The assumption is that Elmo suffocated them, but his motive isn’t known for sure. (Perhaps the family was out of money and Elmo didn’t want the girls to starve.)

This sensationalized, Depression-era crime happened around the same time that Charles Lindbergh‘s baby boy was kidnapped (1932) and the boy’s murderer was captured and put on trial (1934 to 1936).

Do you like the name Dewilla? (How about the names Cordelia and Norma?)

Sources:

Image: New York Daily News 2 Dec. 1934: 92.

The Debut of Dizzy

baseball card, 1930s, dizzy dean, baby name

The unlikely name Dizzy was being used often enough in the 1930s to register in the U.S. baby name data for three years straight:

  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: 5 baby boys named Dizzy
  • 1936: 6 baby boys named Dizzy
  • 1935: 8 baby boys named Dizzy [debut]
  • 1934: unlisted

So what’s the deal with Dizzy?

It came from professional baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean. He’s best remembered for his very successful 1934 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. It was “one of the memorable performances by any pitcher in history,” capped off by a World Series win over the Detroit Tigers. “Along with the aging Babe Ruth, “Dizzy” Dean was considered baseball’s major drawing card during the Depression years of the 1930s.”

His birth name wasn’t Dizzy, though. “Dizzy” was a nickname he’d acquired in the Army.

He was born in Arkansas with the name Jay Hanna Dean. His given names came from railroad magnate Jason “Jay” Gould (1836-1892) and Ohio politician Mark Hanna (1837-1904). But Dean gave reporters a different birth name: Jerome Herman (which was the name of a childhood friend who had died young). He also gave reporters various incorrect birthplaces and birthdates, claiming later: “I was helpin’ the writers out. Them ain’t lies; them’s scoops.”

Source: “Dizzy” Dean (1910–1974) – Encyclopedia of Arkansas

The Arrival of Ardoth

Ardoth after winning a race, circa 1930

The rare name Ardoth was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in 1933:

  • 1935: unlisted
  • 1934: unlisted
  • 1933: 6 baby girls named Ardoth [debut]
  • 1932: unlisted
  • 1931: unlisted

What gave the name a boost that year?

My guess is female jockey and trick rider Ardoth Schneider.

She’d been winning races since the late 1920s, so her name — often misspelled “Ardath” — had been mentioned in the newspapers before.

But 1933 was the year she was declared Sweetheart of California Rodeo:

While thousands cheered themselves hoarse at the western arena [in Salinas] this afternoon as the spectacular 22nd annual rodeo got under way, the 1933 Sweetheart crown was placed over the lustrous, black locks of winsome Ardoth Schneider, 23, of Long Beach.

Following the win, various photos of Ardoth — typically astride or beside a horse — began popping up in the newspapers. And I think the photos (as opposed to the mere mentions) are what made the difference.

As the new “Sweetheart,” she went on a tour of Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador with a letter of introduction from President Roosevelt that described her as California’s “finest outdoor girl.”

What are your thoughts on the name Ardoth? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

Sources:

  • “The Fair Sex in a New Field.” Cincinnati Enquirer 1 Apr. 1928: 110.
  • “Favorite of Rodeos.” Oakland Tribune 24 Sept. 1933: 57.
  • “Girl Student Rise to Tijuana Triumph.” New York Times 12 Mar. 1928: 25.
  • “Long Beach Girl Wins Sweetheart of Rodeo Honors.” Santa Cruz Sentinel 22 Jul. 1933: 3.
  • Davis-Platt, Joy. “She filled a long life with love, adventures.” St. Petersburg Times 1 Mar. 2003.

Image: Screenshot from USA: Female Jockeys Competing In Turf Classic Race (British Pathe)

P.S. For several months in the winter of 1928, Ardoth was in Japan performing for the coronation of Emperor Hirohito. Twice a day, she jumped her Shetland pony Betty off a 40-foot platform into a pool of water “to entertain the enthusiastic Japanese crowds.”

P.P.S. Tuesdee is another female jockey-inspired baby name I discovered in the data.