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.

Casablanca Baby Names: Ilsa & Rick

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

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…she walks into mine.”

Who is “she”? Ilsa Lund, the ex-lover of Rick Blaine in the classic film Casablanca, which was released in late 1942 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture (plus two other Oscars) in early 1944.

  • 1945: 5 baby girls named Ilsa
  • 1944: 12 baby girls named Ilsa
  • 1943: 6 baby girls named Ilsa [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1942: unlisted

The baby name Ilsa (a variant of Ilse, which is a pet form of Elisabeth, the German form of Elizabeth) promptly debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1943.

The movie was based upon a never-produced play written in 1940. In the play, the female lead was an American named Lois Meredith, but in the screenplay the character evolved into a Norwegian woman named Ilsa Lund.

Ingrid Bergman (the mother of Pia) played Isla, while Humphrey Bogart played protagonist Rick — who likely kicked off the sharp rise in the usage of Rick that began in the early ’40s:

  • 1945: 505 baby boys named Rick
  • 1944: 431 baby boys named Rick
  • 1943: 237 baby boys named Rick
  • 1942: 96 baby boys named Rick
  • 1941: 60 baby boys named Rick

What do you think of the name Ilsa? Do you prefer this spelling, or the original spelling (Ilse)?

Source: Rode, Alan K. Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2017.

The Baby Name Nyoka

nyoka, 1940s, movie, character, baby name

The curious name Nyoka [pronounced nye-OH-kah] first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1941. Usage of the name peaked two years later:

  • 1946: 20 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1945: 26 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1944: 28 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1943: 60 baby girls named Nyoka [peak; ranked 1,034th]
  • 1942: 45 baby girls named Nyoka
  • 1941: 5 baby girls named Nyoka [debut]
  • 1940: unlisted

Where did this one come from? A character named Nyoka who appeared in two 15-part movie serials in the early ’40s. In the first serial, Jungle Girl (1941), Nyoka was played by Frances Gifford. In the second serial, Perils of Nyoka (1942), she was played by Kay Aldridge.

The serials were based (very loosely) upon an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel from a decade earlier called Jungle Girl. In the book, the titular jungle girl was named Fou-tan, not Nyoka.

The character also inspired a comic book series called Nyoka the Jungle Girl. Issue #1 came out in 1942.

What are your thoughts on the name Nyoka?

The Arrival of L’Tanya

L'Tanya Griffin, 1950s, fashion designer, baby name
L’Tanya Griffin w/ daughter L’Tanya.

In the late ’40s, long before the name Tanya (a diminutive of Tatiana) reached peak trendiness in the ’70s, some specific Tanya-based names started debuting:

YearLatanya usageLatonia usageLtanya usage
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950
1949
1948
1947
1946
67 baby girls
31 baby girls
24 baby girls
12 baby girls
9 baby girls
13 baby girls
7 baby girls
6 baby girls
7 baby girls [debut]
.
10 baby girls
9 baby girls
8 baby girls
6 baby girls
8 baby girls
.
.
6 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]
.
32 baby girls
22 baby girls
11 baby girls
5 baby girls
.
5 baby girls
9 baby girls [debut]
.
.
.

Latanya and Latonia first appeared in ’47. Ltanya followed in ’49. Latonya popped up in 1951, and other variants appeared later, including the intriguing LaTanga.

What influenced the usage of these names?

My guess is Hollywood-based African-American fashion designer L’Tanya Griffin.

She started to become famous during the second half of the ’40s. Her name began appearing newspapers around 1946, and it was often spelled “LaTanya” and “La Tanya.” (Her birth name was Julia Bernice Hilbert, incidentally.)

In mid-1949, a specific event made L’Tanya Griffin front-page news: Her estranged husband Earl tried to assault her with a beer can full of lye at racetrack in Atlantic City. She was uninjured, but her friend Marshall Miles (former manager of boxer Joe Louis) and several other people suffered first degree burns. Worst off was Earl himself, as the lye had splashed back into his face. It got into his eyes and blinded him (not permanently, turns out).

L’Tanya was at the height of her fashion-fame during the 1950s. She was even on the cover of Jet in mid-1954. The magazine sometimes ran pictures of her young daughter L’Tanya as well.

I’m not sure what became of L’Tanya Griffin after her fame waned in the ’60s, but I did discover that one of the babies named “LaTanya” in 1949 was none other than Samuel L. Jackson’s wife LaTanya Richardson.

Do you like the name L’Tanya?

Sources:

  • “Acid Toss by Hubby Backfires.” New York Age 20 Aug. 1949: 1.
  • “Fashions by L’Tanya” Ebony Aug. 1947: 24.
  • Kirkham, Pat and Shauna Stallworth. “”Three Strikes Against Me”: African American Women Designers.” Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference, ed. by Pat Kirkham, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, 2000, pp. 123-144.
  • LaTanya Martinique, Los Angeles, California, ca. 1945
  • “Lye Hurled at Pretty Designer.” Pittsburgh Courier 20 Aug. 1949: 1.

Image: © 1954 Jet

Our First Taste of Taffy…

taffy, baby name, comic
Taffy Tucker

…in the baby name data!

Taffy isn’t just a type of candy — it’s also a name, and it debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1943:

  • 1947: 12 baby girls named Taffy
  • 1946: 6 baby girls named Taffy
  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 5 baby girls named Taffy
  • 1943: 6 baby girls named Taffy [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: unlisted

Why?

Because of Taffy Tucker, a new character introduced in the Terry and the Pirates comic strip during 1942.

Titular character Terry Lee joined the military in 1942, and there he met new people, including Taffy Tucker, an Army nurse, and Flip Corkin, an Army flight instructor (who was also Taffy’s boyfriend).

Taffy Tucker was a “spunky, dedicated nurse, hardworking and tireless, cheerful and caring and always feminine.”

At one point in the storyline, Taffy was kidnapped by a Japanese agent. She was beaten up and left for dead deep in the interior of China. Thankfully, she was eventually rescued by Terry and Flip.

It took cartoonist Milton Caniff about three months to create the character:

[He] spent several days just worrying about a name for Taffy. Since he visualized her as a pert, snub-nosed girl from Georgia, he wanted a name with a typically Old South sound. He finally settled on Guinevere Marianne Tucker, nicknamed Taffy because of her candy-colored hair. She had to be short, because she was scheduled to fall in love with Flip Corkin, who is short, and she had to be blond [sic] for contrast with Flip, who is dark.

Caniff had modeled Taffy after a photo of real-life WWII military nurse Bernice Taylor of Kansas.

What do you think of Taffy as a baby name?

Sources:

P.S. The name Taffy got a slight boost around 1949 thanks to the film The Doctor and the Girl, in which the young Dr. Corday has a love interest named Evelyn “Taffy” Heldon who operates a taffy machine in a candy store.

P.P.S. Other Terry and the Pirates-inspired baby names include Normandie, Merrily, and Raven.