The Start of Scheherazade

Scheherazade, movie, 1940s, baby name

The name Scheherazade (sheh-hehr-uh-zahd) comes to us from classic literature: Scheherazade was the wife of the sultan Shahryar in The Arabian Nights*, the collection of Middle Eastern and Indian folk tales first published in English in the early 18th century.

The name didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data, though, until 1948:

  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted
  • 1948: 5 baby girls named Scheherazade [debut]
  • 1947: unlisted
  • 1946: unlisted

What put it there?

My guess is the movie Song of Scheherazade, which was released in March of 1947. The main female character, Cara de Talavera (played by actress Yvonne De Carlo), moonlighted as a cabaret dancer known as Scheherazade.

(The name might have debuted earlier had the 1942 film Arabian Nights similarly featured Scheherazade’s name in the title.)

So…what does the name Scheherazade mean? Good question. Sources agree that it’s Persian, but don’t agree on the definition. One defintion I’ve found is “city-freer.” Another is “born to a good race” (which reminds of the definition of Eugene: “well-born”).

What are your thoughts on the baby name Scheherazade? Would you considering using it?

Sources:

  • Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001.
  • Nurse, Paul McMichael. Eastern Dreams: How The Arabian Nights Came To The World. Ontario: Penguin, 2010.
  • The Thousand and One Nights – Britannica.com

*Shahryar and Scheherazade are part of the collection’s frame story. Scheherazade — like all of the sultan’s previous wives — had been sentenced to die. (Not because of something she did; the sultan had a habit of killing his wives, because he presumed they would all be unfaithful.) So, every night, clever Scheherazade told Shahryar a story that ended with a cliffhanger. Because the sultan always wanted to hear the ending, he kept putting off Scheherazade’s execution…

The War-Inspired Name Wainwright

baby name, war, wainwright

The baby name Wainwright was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data back in 1942:

  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: unlisted
  • 1942: 6 baby boys named Wainwright
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who was in command of the Filipino and U.S. Army forces (under Gen. Douglas MacArthur) when the Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines in December of 1941. He surrendered to the Japanese in May of 1942, and was held in prisoner by the Japanese until 1945.

An original bearer of the surname Wainwright would have been a person who either made or repaired wagons and carts. (The name Wayne has a similar derivation.)

Source: Jonathan M. Wainwright (general) – Wikipedia

The Arrival of Allyson

allyson, baby name, movies, 1940s
June Allyson

The names Alison and Allison had been in the U.S. baby name data for decades by the time the names Alyson and Allyson popped up, one after the other, in the mid-1940s:

YearAllyson usageAlyson usage
194862 baby girls24 baby girls
194753 baby girls25 baby girls
194632 baby girls24 baby girls
194518 baby girls [debut]7 baby girls
1944.5 baby girls [debut]
1943..

The double-L version was particularly popular. Why?

Because of June Allyson, the actress who “came to personify the perfect screen wife” in the ’40s and ’50s.

Her birth name was Eleanor “Ella” Geisman. She chose her stage name in the late ’30s, when her career was just beginning. June was for the month of June, and Allyson was “derived from the pet form of her first name.”

Fame finally came in the mid-1940s, when she landed her first starring role in a movie: Two Girls and a Sailor. She went on to star in many movies. For a time, she even had her own TV show (from 1959 to 1961).

In the 1980s, Allyson described her unique appeal:

I have big teeth. I lisp. My eyes disappear when I smile. My voice is funny. I don’t sing like Judy Garland. I don’t dance like Cyd Charisse. But women identify with me. And while men desire Cyd Charisse, they’d take me home to meet Mom.

Do you like the name Allyson? (Do you like that specific spelling?)

Sources:

The Debut of Darina

The baby name Darina debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1948.

In 1948, the baby name Darina first appeared in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1950: 5 baby girls named Darina
  • 1949: unlisted
  • 1948: 7 baby girls named Darina [debut]
  • 1947: unlisted
  • 1946: unlisted

Where did it come from?

My guess is the movie The Unfinished Dance (1947).

The main character was a young girl in ballet school named Meg. She idolized the head of the school, Ariane Bouchet (played by Cyd Charisse), so when she learned that Ariane would not be dancing the lead in the upcoming production of Swan Lake — that the part would instead go to visiting prima ballerina Anna La Darina — she was not pleased. In fact, she set out to sabotage “La Darina.”

But things went too far: while La Darina was dancing a solo sequence on opening night, Meg went for the light switch…but ended up pulling the trap door lever instead. La Darina fell through the stage, injured her spine, and was told that she would never dance again.

By the end of the movie, Meg discovered that she’d been idolizing the wrong person all along. Ariane was revealed to be self-absorbed, whereas La Darina proved to be generous and forgiving.

What are your thoughts on the name Darina?

Sources: The Unfinished Dance (1947) – IMDB, The Unfinished Dance (1947) – TCM

The Height of Harolyn

Harolyn, 1945

The baby name Harolyn saw peak usage in the U.S. in 1945:

  • 1947: 28 baby girls named Harolyn
  • 1946: 19 baby girls named Harolyn
  • 1945: 45 baby girls named Harolyn
    • 13 born in New York
    • 6 born in Pennsylvania
  • 1944: 12 baby girls named Harolyn
  • 1943: 13 baby girls named Harolyn

Why?

Because of a pint-sized beauty queen from New Jersey named Harolyn Cheryl Meyer.

It all started the year before, in May of 1944, when the men aboard the USS New Jersey (at that time involved in WWII and stationed near the Philippines) decided to hold a beauty contest. The crew “wrote to the New Jersey state Chamber of Commerce proposing a pinup contest among girls from the state whose pictures would be posted on the battleship’s bulletin boards.”

On May 17th, the request was published in the Newark Evening News. The crew soon ended up with about 75 entrants. All of them were young women…except for one. The odd one out was a smiling 5-month-old baby in her birthday suit.

That was baby Harolyn Meyer, born in December of 1943. The photo had been taken for her father, Army Air Forces pilot Lieutenant Harold Meyer, who hadn’t yet seen her. Harold’s Flying Fortress had recently been shot down over Europe, and he was being held as a prisoner of war in Germany.

The photo was submitted by Harolyn’s mother’s mother, who thought entering the baby’s picture in a pin-up contest as a joke would lift her daughter’s spirits.

The crew of the USS New Jersey took a vote in November, and, surprisingly, Harolyn won the contest with 555 out of 1,376 votes. One crewmember later suggested that “his fellow seamen may have been captivated by the photograph of the infant because she reminded them of home and family.”

In December, Mrs. Meyer was notified by letter that Harolyn had become the ship’s official pin-up girl. The win was also announced in the papers.

More importantly, though, an updated photo of Harolyn — now 15 months old — ran on the front pages of various newspapers starting in March of 1945. (The photo appeared as late as July in some papers.) It showed Harolyn and her mother meeting with New Jersey governor Walter E. Edge, who was presenting Harolyn with $3,200 in War Bonds “through donations by the crew of the USS New Jersey for use in obtaining her future education.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Harolyn?

Sources:

  • Journal Page 7b – Battleship USS New Jersey BB-62
  • “Bonds for Pin-up Baby.” Record [Hackensack, New Jersey] 16 March 1945: 1.
  • “Pinup Baby Given War Bonds” Mount Dora Topic 17 May 1945: 1.
  • “Pin-up Girl Poses in Birthday Suit.” News-Press [Fort Myers, FL] 14 Dec. 1944: 2.

P.S. A secondary influence on this name may have been Harolyn (b. 1943), the daughter of Dorothy Dandridge and Harold Nicholas.

P.P.S. Harolyn’s middle name, Cheryl, was very on-trend for the mid-1940s.