Right on the heels of Cheryl, the baby name Deborah skyrocketed in usage during the late ’40s and early ’50s:
1952: 49,808 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
1951: 42,060 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
1950: 29,067 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 7th]
1949: 19,208 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 15th]
1948: 11,245 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 30th]
1947: 5,838 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 62nd]
1946: 2,470 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 119th]
1945: 1,464 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 161st]
1944: 1,293 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 168th]
It peaked at 2nd place (behind Mary) in 1955.
Deborah, based on the ancient Hebrew word for “bee,” had already been on a slow and steady rise. So what fueled the explosion?
I’d say the one-two punch of actresses Deborah Kerr and Debra Paget.
Scottish-born Deborah Kerr, who had been in films since the early 1940s, didn’t became one of the biggest names in Hollywood until later in the decade. (Her surname rhymes with car; MGM cleverly came up with the line, “Kerr rhymes with star.”)
Kerr ended up in some of the most financially successful movies of the era, such as King Solomon’s Mines (1950), Quo Vadis (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), and The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner.
Denver-born* Debra Paget, a starlet of the 1950s, also appeared in some big films such as the top-grossing movie of the decade, The Ten Commandments (1956). The same year she appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender (1956).
Though many variants of Deborah were being used around that time, Debra saw particular success, thanks to Paget. In fact, Debra surpassed Deborah in usage for five years in a row:
22,153 [rank: 13th]
24,095 [rank: 10th]
26,737 [rank: 8th]
25,265 [rank: 10th]
31,371 [rank: 7th]
19,553 [rank: 9th]
35,520 [rank: 6th]
32,940 [rank: 7th]
42,734 [rank: 4th]
40,062 [rank: 6th]
48,299 [rank: 2nd]
47,830 [rank: 4th]
50,541 [rank: 4th]
52,314 [rank: 2nd]
45,894 [rank: 6th]
54,685 [rank: 3rd]
36,856 [rank: 7th]
52,188 [rank: 3rd]
26,832 [rank: 9th]
49,808 [rank: 4th]
17,074 [rank: 18th]
42,060 [rank: 4th]
(Interesting fact: One of the babies named for Debra Paget was future actress Debra Winger, born in 1955.)
The occupational surname Paget, a diminutive form of the word page (a “youth employed as a personal attendant to a person of rank”), was also appearing in the SSA’s data as a girl around this time. It debuted in 1948, the year Debra Paget appeared in her first film, Cry of the City.
Which spelling do you prefer, the traditional Deborah or the streamlined Debra?
In May of 1948, she was profiled in Life magazine in a 12-page, 24-image photo essay called “The Private Life of Gwyned Filling.” A 25th image of Gwyned was featured on the cover.
Gwyned, a recent college graduate from Missouri, was working in New York City as a copywriter at the Newell-Emmett advertising agency for $52 a week. The photos showed Gwyned in her day-to-day life: quarreling with her roommate Marilyn in their 11×15-foot apartment, eating breakfast at the diner for 15¢, going on a date, running to work in the rain, and so forth.
“In a world where television was still a novelty, the story turned her into a minor celebrity. The issue sold so fast it had to be reprinted in the first week.”
The very first paragraph of the accompanying article revealed that Gwyned’s mother Mildred had discovered the name “Gwyned” in the society column of a newspaper. Life called it an “odd name.” (It may have been based on Gwynedd, the name of an ancient kingdom in Wales.)
In November of the same year, Life gave readers an update on Gwyned: she had quit her job and married a co-worker named Charlie. For their honeymoon, they took a cruise to the Caribbean.
What are your thoughts on the name Gwyned? Do you like it more or less than the similar name Gwyneth?
The rare name Lillette appeared in the U.S. baby name data for four sequential years from the late ’40s to the early ’50s:
1951: 5 baby girls named Lillette
1950: 9 baby girls named Lillette
1949: 9 baby girls named Lillette
1948: 8 baby girls named Lillette
Where did the name come from?
A song called “Lillette,” written and composed by Jack Gold in 1948. The same year, it was recorded and released by various vocalists: Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Bill Lawrence, Jean Sablon, Johnny Desmond, and others.
Billboard preferred the King Cole Trio version:
Cole’s tasty rhythm treatment of the appealing rhythm ballad looks like a good bet for the jukes, the jocks, and the over-the-counter sales. Standout among some half-dozen waxings of the tune, the impeccable Cole treatment brings out the best in the lyric and melody. Worthy of attention, too, is Vic Damone’s Mercury platter of the ditty.
Here’s Nat King Cole’s version of “Lillette”:
I’m not sure where Jack Gold found the name Lillette, but one possibility is jazz vocalist/pianist Lillette Thomas, who was putting out singles on Sterling Records in the mid-1940s.
Do you like the name Lillette?
Source: “Record Possibilities.” Billboard 9 Oct. 1948: 39.
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…
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:
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.”
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]
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]
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?
*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.