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.
The ebook highlights nearly 100 baby names that debuted in the U.S. data in the 1940s. All of them can be connected to ’40s pop culture and current events: comic strips, movie stars, radio programs, WWII headlines, etc.
These names are artifacts of their era and, put in order from 1940 to 1949, they become a quirky, one-of-a-kind timeline of the decade.
Many of the names remained rare, such as Angharad and Willkie, both of which were one-hit wonders. But a handful went on to see lots of usage, such as Sierra and Jade, both of which eventually reached the top 100.
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.
The 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:
1950: 5 baby girls named Caresse
1949: 7 baby girls named Caresse [debut]
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:
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?
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.
1944: 5 baby boys named Gehrig
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?