Baby Names from “How Green Was My Valley”

Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley told the story of a Welsh coal-mining family during the late 19th century. The story’s narrator was schoolboy Huw Morgan, eighth of nine* siblings, and the symbolic greenness of the valley referred to the fact that, over the course of the Huw’s life, the valley where he lived changed color from green to black due to the mining.

In 1940, How Green Was My Valley was the best-selling book of the year and won the National Book Award for fiction the same year. In late 1941, a Hollywood film based on the book was released. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and ended up winning in five categories, including Best Picture.

Thanks to the book and the movie, two Welsh names (and one sort-of Welsh name) ended up appearing in the SSA’s baby name data…

The baby name Angharad debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1943.

Let’s go alphabetically, starting with Angharad, pronounced ahn-HAHR-ahd, roughly. In the story, Angharad (played by Maureen O’Hara in the film) was Huw’s older sister.

American audiences heard this name loud and clear within the first few minutes of the movie:

The name Angharad was a one-hit wonder in the data in 1943:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 5 baby girls named Angharad [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

While the name didn’t catch on in the U.S., one name-book notes that it “has been strongly revived in Wales since the 1940s.”

The middle element of Angharad has the same root as the Welsh word caru, meaning “love.”

The baby name Bronwyn debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1942.

Next we have the names Bronwen and Bronwyn. The first appeared in 1941:

  • 1945: 10 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1944: 8 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1943: 9 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1942: 8 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1941: 7 baby girls named Bronwen [debut]
  • 1940: unlisted

And the second followed in 1942:

  • 1945: 20 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1944: 9 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1943: 10 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1942: 9 baby girls named Bronwyn [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

In the story, Bronwen/Bronwyn was Huw’s sister-in-law (the wife of his brother Ivor).

For the book, the name was spelled Bronwen, which is the traditional form of the name. It can be traced back to Welsh elements meaning “breast” (bron) and “white, fair; blessed, holy” (gwen).

But for the movie, the name was respelled Bronwyn, inexplicably. The film character Bronwyn (played by Anna Lee**) was typically called “Bron.”

Notably, one of the babies named after the character was Maureen O’Hara’s only child, Bronwyn, born in 1944. Her birth is likely what boosted the -wyn spelling ahead of the -wen spelling in 1945.

Which Welsh name do you like more, Angharad or Bronwen?

Which Welsh name do you prefer?

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*The nine Morgan siblings in order were Ivor, Ianto, Davy, Owen, Gwilym Jr., Angharad, Ceridwen, Huw, and Olwen.
**Anna Lee’s five children were named Joanna Venetia, Caroline, John, Stephen, and Timothy.

Sources:

What Kicked Off the Name “Caresse”?

dinner at antoines, book, 1940s, caresse, baby nameThe unusual baby name Caresse saw its highest usage in the late ’80s and early ’90s (no doubt thanks to commercials for Caress soap, which was launched by Lever in 1985). But it debuted in the U.S. data way back in the 1940s:

  • 1951: unlisted
  • 1950: 5 baby girls named Caresse
  • 1949: 7 baby girls named Caresse [debut]
  • 1948: unlisted
  • 1947: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The 1949 novel Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes, which became one of the bestselling books in the United States that year. The story was also serialized in several newspapers.

It was murder mystery set in New Orleans; the “Antoine’s” of the title refers to the famous Antoine’s Restaurant. One of the characters, Caresse Lalande, was a radio star (her show was called Fashions of Yesteryear). She was also carrying on an affair with her sister’s husband, Léonce. When the sister (named Odile) ended up murdered, both Caresse and Léonce (and many other people in their circle) became suspects.

The name got even more exposure that year thanks to the Literary Guild Book Club, which ran ads that featured not just Dinner at Antoine’s, but Caresse specifically:

caresse in literary guild advertisement

The French word Caresse (and also the English word Cherish) can be traced back to the Latin word carus, meaning “dear, costly, beloved.”

What do you think of the baby names Caresse and Caress? Would you use them?

Sources: Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1940s – Wikipedia, Caress – Online Etymology Dictionary
Image: from the October 1949 issue of Radio Mirror

The Emergence of Gehrig

lou gehrig, baseball, baby name
Lou Gehrig in 1923
Lou Gehrig was the talented first baseman who played his entire career (1923-1939) for the New York Yankees. He was a seven-time All-Star and set several major league records during his career, including most grand slams and most consecutive games played.

He retired days after being diagnosed with ALS (now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S.). He died in mid-1941.

So the the baby name Gehrig surpassing that 5-baby threshold and debuting in the U.S. baby name data in the year 1944 — years after Gehrig was gone — didn’t make much sense to me at first.

  • 1946: unlisted
  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 5 baby boys named Gehrig
  • 1943: unlisted
  • 1942: unlisted

It made more sense after I learned about the movie The Pride of the Yankees, a fictionalized account of Lou Gehrig’s life. It was first released in New York for one night only in the summer 1942, but didn’t see nationwide release until the spring of 1943. The film “was awash in honest sentiment and became a sizable box-office hit.” It was also nominated for 11 Academy Awards, though it won only one.

Where does the surname Gehrig come from? It’s German — a variant of Gehring, which is based on the Germanic element gar or ger, meaning “spear.”

What are your thoughts on using Gehrig as a baby name?

Sources:

The Start of Sierra

The baby name Sierra debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1940.

Back in 1940, the baby name Sierra debuted in the U.S. baby name data rather impressively. It was the top newbie name of the year, in fact.

  • 1942: 13 baby girls named Sierra
  • 1941: 24 baby girls named Sierra
  • 1940: 32 baby girls named Sierra [debut]
  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: unlisted

What was behind the debut?

“Sierra Sue,” a song that was a #1 hit in 1940 for Bing Crosby. A version by The Glenn Miller Orchestra also charted the same year.

The song was actually an updated version of an older song written by Joseph B. Carey (a “blind San Francisco organist”) in 1916. Carey died in 1930, and in 1939 the Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. sheet music company secured the rights to the song from Carey’s widow. The song “was probably revived because of the popularity of other western-style songs in the late ’30s.”

And, yes, a large number of the babies named Sierra in 1940 also had the middle name “Sue.” :) Here’s a Sierra Sue who was born in Kansas in 1940.

The Spanish word sierra, which refers to a mountain range, can be traced back to the Latin word serra, meaning “saw.”

In November of the next year, a movie called Sierra Sue starring Gene Autry was released. Here’s the scene in which Gene sings the title song:

Decades later, in 1985, usage of the name began to rise rapidly thanks to soap opera character Sierra Estaban from As the World Turns. Sierra was a top-100 name from 1993 to 2004, peaking in 1999 at 49th (just below Jordan, just above Sara).

Do you like the name Sierra?

Sources:

The First Appearance of Phronsie

The baby name Phronsie debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1940.

The curious name Phronsie first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in 1940, and it popped up three more times that decade before leaving the charts for good:

  • 1946: unlisted
  • 1945: 6 baby girls named Phronsie
  • 1944: 5 baby girls named Phronsie
  • 1943: unlisted
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: 8 baby girls named Phronsie
  • 1940: 5 baby girls named Phronsie [debut]
  • 1939: unlisted

Where did it come from?

A cute movie character named Phronsie (Sophronia) Pepper. She was the youngest Pepper child in a series of four feature films (Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Five Little Peppers at Home, Out West with the Peppers, and Five Little Peppers in Trouble) released in 1939 and 1940. Phronsie was played by child actress Dorothy Ann Seese in all four films.

The films were loosely based on the the series of “Five Little Peppers” books by author Margaret Sidney.

The names of the four other Peppers were Ben (Ebenezer), Polly (Mary), Joey (Joel), and Davie (David).

What are your thoughts on the name Phronsie?

Source: Filmography for Dorothy Ann Seese – TCM