The Arrival of Arbadella

Amos ‘n’ Andy baby-naming contest ad, 1936

The similar names Arbadella and Arbedella both debuted in the SSA baby name data in 1936, and both saw peak usage the following year:

ArbadellaArbedella
19408 baby girlsunlisted
19397 baby girlsunlisted
193812 baby girls5 baby girls
193733 baby girls [peak]9 baby girls [peak]
19366 baby girls [debut]6 baby girls [debut]
1935unlistedunlisted

What was the influence?

The radio serial Amos & Andy — one of the very first situation comedies. The initial version of the show (1928-1943) aired for 15 minutes, five days per week, and was the most popular radio program in the nation in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. In fact, the show’s “popularity ensured the success of radio broadcasting as a form of mass entertainment.”

The show “was based on the model of minstrel shows, [and] thus based on racial stereotypes.” The main characters — African-American men named Amos Jones and Andy Brown — were played by white radio performers Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll.

In an episode that aired during October of 1936, Amos and his wife Ruby welcomed their first child, a baby girl. The baby wasn’t named right away — instead, the show’s sponsor, Pepsodent Tooth Paste, held a baby-naming contest.

The contest was advertised in newspapers nationwide. The ads noted that the judges would consider “originality, uniqueness, and suitability” when making their decision, and also offered some name-choosing prompts, such as:

  • “…you might think “Amanda” would be a suitable name because it contains so many of the letters of both “Amos” and “Andy.””
  • “…remember, too, the baby’s maternal grandmother is named Lillian.”

Thousands of prizes were offered, including a $5,000 grand prize. Here’s the full list (and what the prizes would be worth in today’s dollars):

  • 1st: $5,000 in baby bonds (equivalent to $92,183.93 in 2020)
  • 2nd: $1,000 in baby bonds ($18,436.79)
  • 3rd: $100 baby bond to each of 10 winners ($1,843.68)
  • 4th: $50 baby bond to each of 100 winners ($921.84)
  • 5th: $25 baby bond to each of 720 winners ($460.92)
  • 6th: $2 cash to each of 2000 winners ($36.87)

The contest closed in mid-November. The winning name, Arbadella — suggested by Mrs. Joseph L. Smith of Ohio — was announced in mid-December. (The second-place name, Ladicia Ann, was suggested by 12-year-old Indiana boy Urcel D. Miller.)

The late-in-the-year announcement of the winning name accounts for why the baby name Arbadella (and spelling variant Arbedella) debuted in the data in 1936, but saw even higher usage in 1937.

After welcoming Arbadella, Amos and Ruby went on to have two more children: Amos, Jr., and Amosandra. Neither of these fictional babies had a discernible impact on U.S. baby names, though.

What are your thoughts on the name Arbadella? Do you like it?

Sources/Tools:

P.S. Norita was also a contest-winning name of the 1930s…

P.P.S. In the early 1950s, The Amos ‘n Andy Show aired on television. This time around, the characters were played by African-American actors. Despite good ratings, the show was cancelled after two years due to pressure from the NAACP.

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