The Apex of Arlynne

arlynne, roller derby, baby name, news, sports, 1950s

The baby name Arlynne popped up a few times in the SSA data in the ’30s and ’40s before seeing its highest-ever usage in 1951:

  • 1953: unlisted
  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: 15 baby girls named Arlynne [peak]
    • 5 in New York specifically
  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted

What caused this isolated popularity spike?

Arlynne Buchmann, a 19-year-old New Jersey roller skater who was voted Roller Derby Beauty Queen of 1950. At least two different photos of her ran in various newspapers in from mid-1950 to mid-1951.

A former model, Arlynne had only been skating for only 14 months in the fledgling National Roller Derby League (NRDL) before being voted “Queen” by fans. At that time, the league consisted of six teams. Arlynne’s was the Jersey Jolters.

In fact, the early 1950s was when Roller Derby itself was at peak popularity. The sport, which had been around since the 1930s, began to be televised locally in New York City in 1948 — back when TV sets could only be found in bars and storefronts. This coverage was enough to kick off a national craze.

For instance, Roller Derby fans included well-known celebrities like Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Cesar Romero, Sonja Henie, Eddie Cantor, Marilyn Maxwell, Eleanor Powell, George Raft, Jack Benny, W. C. Fields, Cary Grant, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. Many were photographed either at games or socializing with Derby athletes.

Also notable is the fact that a multi-day “Roller Derby World Series” was held annually at Madison Square Garden starting in 1949. Here’s some video footage of the very first one.

By the mid-1950s, the public had grown tired of the sport due to TV overexposure (ironically). Though Roller Derby continues to this day, it has never again achieved the level of popularity that it had for a handful of years in the middle of the 20th century.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Arlynne? Would you use it?

Sources:

The One-Hit Wonder Name Deltina

deltina, 1956, baby name
Deltina in the news (late April, 1956)

The name Deltina was in the U.S. baby name data for one year only in the mid-1950s:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: 6 baby girls named Deltina [debut]
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted

Why? Because of a sad news story.

On March 24, 1956, 7-year-old Deltina “Tina” Norvall of Tennessee got too close to a burning trash pile. A spark from the flame landed on her dress, the dress caught fire, and she received third-degree burns to over 65% of her body.

She had two major skin graft operations — one with the help of a donor, Pfc. Gene E. McDonald (pictured above). Ultimately, though, neither operation was successful. Deltina died on May 12.

Deltina…was happily munching a cherry popsicle seconds before her death. She had craved the treat for days. She looked at a friend, Mrs. Mary Summers, who had brought her the popsicle, and said: “I feel so funny. Something is happening.” She closed her eyes and died.

Newspapers nationwide covered the story, but Nashville newspaper The Tennessean followed Deltina’s seven-week ordeal particularly closely.

(It looks like her name was inspired by the middle name of her father, William Delton Norvall, who had drowned while swimming less than a year earlier, tragically.)

What are your thoughts on the baby name Deltina?

Source: “Plucky Little Girl Loses Fight Of Life.” Lubbock Morning Avalanche 14 May 1956: 8.

The Emergence of Mala

mala powers, roxane, cyrano de bergerac, 1950
Mala Powers in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

The name Mala first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in the early 1950s:

  • 1957: 17 baby girls named Mala
  • 1956: 51 baby girls named Mala [peak]
  • 1955: 17 baby girls named Mala
  • 1954: 18 baby girls named Mala
  • 1953: 13 baby girls named Mala
  • 1952: 10 baby girls named Mala
  • 1951: 12 baby girls named Mala [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted

Whenever I see the name Mala, I think of the Indian name that’s based on the Sanskrit word mala, meaning “garland” or “necklace.”

But Sanskrit isn’t the source for these mid-century American Malas — these Malas were named with actress Mala Powers in mind. In her case, “Mala” was a stage name that came from a childhood nickname:

I was born Mary Ellen Powers, December 20, 1931, in San Francisco, but I never used that name. Even as a small child, whenever someone would call me Mary Ellen, I would say, ‘No, my name is Mala!’

During the second half of 1950, Mala Powers could be seen at the theaters in three different films: Edge of Doom, Outrage, and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Her portrayal of Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac earned her a nomination for the “New Star of the Year” Golden Globe in 1951. (Her co-star José Ferrer* won an Oscar for his performance as Cyrano.)

After this early success, however, Mala Powers’ career was derailed by serious illness.

The story of her illness was brought to TV in early 1956, when Mala was featured on This is Your Life in January. This television appearance may have been what gave the name a boost in 1956 specifically.

Mala’s only child, Toren Michael, was born in mid-1957. The name Toren didn’t appear in the SSA’s data that year, but did show up a couple of years later. (It may have been a delayed celebrity baby name debut, though so far I can’t find any 1959 media coverage of Toren.)

Do you like the name Mala?

Sources:

*Ferrer was the first Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award.

The Height of Hildy

Hildy McCoy, Hildy Ellis, 1957
Mr. & Mrs. Melvin Ellis with Hildy (in May of 1957)

The rare baby name Hildy — which can be traced back to the Germanic name element hild, meaning “battle” — saw successive increases in usage in 1955, 1956, and 1957:

  • 1959: 13 baby girls named Hildy
  • 1958: 19 baby girls named Hildy
  • 1957: 36 baby girls named Hildy [peak popularity]
  • 1956: 24 baby girls named Hildy
  • 1955: 15 baby girls named Hildy
  • 1954: 9 baby girls named Hildy
baby name Hildy popularity graph

What caused all this heightened interest in the name Hildy?

A little girl named Hildy who was at the center of “the most controversial and mass-mediated adoption struggle of the 1950s.”

She was born in Boston on February 23, 1951, to a 21-year-old unmarried Roman Catholic woman named Marjorie McCoy — a nursing student who’d had a romance with an intern at the Children’s Hospital.

Before the birth, Marjorie had arranged (through her family physician) for the baby to be privately adopted. So, in early March, when she was ten days old, the baby was taken home by Melvin and Frances Ellis, a “childless Jewish couple from nearby Brookline” who had paid Marjorie’s medical bills as part of a prenatal adoption agreement.

The Ellises named their new baby Hildy Carol Ellis.

Six weeks later, Marjorie learned that the Ellises were Jewish.

She didn’t want the baby back, but she also didn’t want the baby placed with a non-Catholic family. So she asked the couple to hand the child over to the Catholic Charitable Bureau. When the Ellises refused, Marjorie filed suit.

The legal battle lasted for four years, with Massachusetts courts continually siding with Marjorie (because state adoption law at the time required that, “where practicable, a child be placed with foster parents of the same religious faith as the mother”). On February 14, 1955, the highest court in the commonwealth handed down the final ruling — in Marjorie’s favor, yet again.

Now out of appeals, the Ellises promised to raise Hildy as a Catholic. The court rejected their plea and ordered them to surrender the child by June 30th.

The Ellises, unwilling to surrender Hildy, fled from Massachusetts in April. When that happened, “Hildy’s custody battle quickly became national news, captivating a large audience.”

The fugitive family “lived secretly in no less than six places” while on the run. The media was still able to keep tabs on them, though. For instance, in January of 1956, a recent photo of Hildy ran in newspapers nationwide (but her location was not disclosed).

The Ellises eventually settled in Miami, Florida — this is where Massachusetts discovered them in March of 1957. The state requested that Melvin Ellis be extradited immediately in order to face kidnapping charges.

In May, Florida governor LeRoy Collins eloquently denied the request. He said, in part:

It is clear to me that the criminal proceedings against Mr. and Mrs. Ellis are synthetic. No crime of kidnapping in a proper sense is involved.

[…]

It has been argued that the natural mother has the right to have Hildy reared in the environment of her own faith. This is a right I respect, but it must yield to more fundamental rights. The great and good God of all of us, regardless of faith, grants to every child to be born first the right to be wanted, and secondly the right to be loved. Hildy’s mother has denied both of these rights to her.

[…]

It was the Ellises in truth and in fact who have been the persons through whom God has assured to Hildy these first two rights as one of His children. It was the Ellises who wanted Hildy to be born. It was they who anxiously awaited her birth with tender emotions of excitement, anticipating fulfillment of the joys and obligations of parenthood. It was the Ellises also who have given of themselves to Hildy, as only parents can understand, thereby fulfilling Hildy’s right to be loved.

With no feeling against the natural mother, except that of pity and compassion; with no antagonism toward our great sister State of Massachusetts; I further deny this application based upon the equities involved.

In July, a Dade County judge formally approved the adoption under Florida law.

“The child shall be hereafter known as Hildy Ellis,” the judge decreed.

Sources:

Image from The New York Times, 24 May 1957, page 1.

Tammis: Baby Name Inspired by Hanky Designer?

tammis keefe, crocodile handkerchief, 1950s, baby name
Handkerchief by Tammis Keefe

The interesting name Tammis was a one-hit wonder in the baby name data right in the middle of the 1950s:

  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: 6 baby girls named Tammis [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: unlisted

What was the inspiration?

A mid-century textile artist, fascinatingly.

Her name was Tammis Keefe, and she was best known for the whimsical, colorful artwork she created for handkerchiefs, scarves, dish towels, and similar items.

During the ’50s her products were sold in department stores, advertised in newspapers, and sometimes even spotlighted in museum exhibits.

Her inventive designs included things as varied as circus poodles, zodiac signs, cowboys, cigar store Indians, fortune teller cards, antique automobiles, airships, piggy banks, mermaids, crocodiles (above), kangaroos, and weather vanes. They also featured her signature:

tammis keefe

Tammis Keefe was born Margaret Thomas Keefe in 1913. According to one newspaper article, she said her name was Gaelic for Thomas. (I haven’t found any proof of this yet, though “Tammis” seems pretty close to the Scottish form of Thomas, “Tamhas.”) Sadly, she died in 1960 at the age of 46.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Tammis?

Sources:

  • Roe, Dorothy. “Good Design Booms In America Today.” Paris News [Paris, Texas] 27 Oct. 1957: 15.
  • TammisKeefe.com

(Another fashion-inspired baby name: L’Tanya.)