The Emergence of Gevan

area of suspicion, gevan dean, 1950s, baby name

The baby name Gevan was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in 1952:

  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: unlisted
  • 1952: 12 baby boys named Gevan
  • 1951: unlisted
  • 1950: unlisted

But it wasn’t just any old one-hit wonder — it was the top one-hit wonder of the year. And that’s not all — it also tied for top boy-name debut name of the year.

The influence behind Gevan eluded me for a long time…mainly because I wasn’t looking for it. The name Kevin was very trendy in the 1950s, so I initially wrote off Gevan as variant of fast-rising Kevin.

When I finally decided to take a second look at Gevan, though, I did indeed find a distinct explanation.

It was a story called “My Brother’s Widow,” published serially in Collier’s weekly magazine over five consecutive issues from mid-March to mid-April, 1952.

The story’s main character was Gevan “Gev” Dean. After his brother Ken was murdered, Gev returned to his hometown to mind the lucrative family business, Dean Products, where there was an internal power struggle going on. He also had to deal with Ken’s widow, Niki — who happened to be his former girlfriend:

gevan, 1952

After “My Brother’s Widow” came out in Collier’s, author John D. MacDonald beefed it up and released it as a standalone book with a new title, Area of Suspicion, in early 1954.

Further research reveals that at least two of the baby Gevans born in 1952 had the middle name Dean. And other Gevan Deans were born in later years/decades, no doubt to parents who had picked up the book.

Do you like the name Gevan? How would you pronounce it?

Sources: Area of Suspicion – The Trap of Solid Gold, John D. MacDonald – Wikipedia

P.S. John D. MacDonald’s 1957 novel The Executioners was turned into the 1962 movie Cape Fear.

The Rise of Krystal

The Rosebush quads: Kenneth, Krystal, Keith, and Kristine.
Kenneth, Krystal, Keith, and Kristine in late 1956.

The baby name Krystal saw a steep rise in usage in 1951. In fact, it was one of the fastest-rising baby names that year:

  • 1953: 40 baby girls named Krystal
    • 11 (27.5%) in MI
  • 1952: 59 baby girls named Krystal
    • 15 (25.4%) in MI
  • 1951: 55 baby girls named Krystal
    • 18 (32.7%) in MI
  • 1950: 8 baby girls named Krystal
  • 1949: 9 baby girls named Krystal

As you can see, much of the usage was in the state of Michigan specifically.

What was the influence?

A set of quadruplets — Krystal, Kristine, Keith, and Kenneth — born to Kenneth and Ann Rosebush of Oakwood, Michigan, on January 10, 1951. They lived in hospital incubators for several weeks before being allowed to go home.

Photos of the K-named quads regularly appeared in the papers during the early 1950s.

It’s hard to tell whether they had any influence on the names Keith and Kenneth, which were already on the rise in the early 1950s, but it does look like the name Kristine (which was sometimes misspelled Kristene in the papers) was affected:

  • 1953: 1247 baby girls named Kristine
    • 113 (9.0%) in MI
  • 1952: 1885 baby girls named Kristine
    • 206 (10.9%) in MI
  • 1951: 1755 baby girls named Kristine
    • 186 (10.6%) in MI
  • 1950: 1247 baby girls named Kristine
    • 110 (8.8%) in MI
  • 1949: 1174 baby girls named Kristine
    • 94 (8.0%) in MI

The Rosebush family also included four older children, all girls, named Dorothy (Dottie), Jacquelyn, Barbara, and Joann.


The Coming of Keely

keely smith, 1957, album cover

At a time when Kelly was bounding up the baby name charts, we see the debut (and quick rise) of the very similar Keely:

  • 1960: 118 baby girls named Keely
  • 1959: 119 baby girls named Keely
  • 1958: 84 baby girls named Keely
  • 1957: 7 baby girls named Keely [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

Keely debuted the year Virginia-born jazz vocalist Keely Smith had her first big solo hit, “I Wish You Love.” The next year, she and her duet partner/husband Louis Prima scored another hit with the song “That Old Black Magic.” In fact, the song won ‘Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus’ at the very first Grammy Awards, in May of 1959.

Keely Smith, born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely, had spent much of the ’50s performing in Vegas with Prima. He had originally wanted to call her Dottie Mae Smith (Smith being her stepfather’s name) but, as she later said: “I was no Dottie Mae.” They settled on using her Irish surname as her first name instead. (The surname means “descendant of Caollaidhe,” with “Caollaidhe” being a male personal name derived from caol, meaning “slender.”)

Which name do you prefer, Keely or Kelly?

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The Peak Popularity of Donna

Donna, Ritchie Valens, 1958, Del-Fi

From 1955 to 1965, Donna was a top-ten baby name in the United States. But, in 1959, it saw a steep rise in usage that boosted it all the way up to 5th place:

  • 1961: 28,668 baby girls named Donna [ranked 7th]
  • 1960: 34,132 baby girls named Donna [ranked 5th]
  • 1959: 36,465 baby girls named Donna [ranked 5th] – peak usage
  • 1958: 26,949 baby girls named Donna [ranked 10th]
  • 1957: 28,039 baby girls named Donna [ranked 10th]

Why the rise?

I think the primary reason was the song “Donna” by California teenager Ritchie Valens. It was released in December of 1958 and became Valens’ highest-charting single, reaching #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in February of 1959.

Sadly, Valens died in the same plane crash that killed The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly (“Peggy Sue“) several weeks before “Donna” reached peak popularity.

Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima, California, in 1941. He’d written “Donna” as a tribute to his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. (They’d stopped dating about year before the song was released.)

Donna Reed show

A secondary influence on the name Donna might have been The Donna Reed Show, which began airing in September of 1958 — though the show didn’t achieve peak popularity until the early 1960s. It featured already-famous actress Donna Reed as fictional middle-class housewife Donna Stone.

Do you like the name Donna? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

Source: Ritchie Valens – Billboard, Ritchie Valens – Wikipedia

The Baby Name Colt

wayde preston, colt 45, television, 1950s
Christopher Colt

The baby name Colt has a distinctive popularity graph: usage begins in the 1950s, shoots up in the early 1980s, shoots up again in the early 2000s, and shoots up again in the late 2010s.

The initial usage was triggered by the TV Western Colt .45 (1957-1960), which was loosely based upon a 1950 film of the same name. The main character, Christopher Colt, was an undercover government agent posing as a pistol salesman. (The Colt .45 was a type of pistol that was particularly popular in the Old West.)

The name Colt debuted in the SSA’s data the year the show premiered:

  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 8 baby boys named Colt
  • 1958: 10 baby boys named Colt
  • 1957: 7 baby boys named Colt [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

The show may have given the name Christopher a boost as well, though it’s hard to tell, as the name was already on the rise in the late ’50s.

But the name that got the biggest boost from the show wasn’t Colt or Christopher — it was Wayde, from actor Wayde Preston, who played Christopher Colt. The name saw peak usage in 1959:

  • 1960: 135 baby boys named Wayde [rank: 674th]
  • 1959: 252 baby boys named Wayde [rank: 493rd]
  • 1958: 153 baby boys named Wayde [rank: 622nd]
  • 1957: 33 baby boys named Wayde
  • 1956: 15 baby boys named Wayde

But getting back to Colt…the name remained relatively rare until another show, The Fall Guy (1981-1986), introduced TV audiences to the character Colt Seavers, played by Lee Majors. This character wasn’t a gunslinger but a stuntman (who moonlighted as a bounty hunter).

The name jumped straight into the top 500 in 1982:

  • 1983: 351 baby boys named Colt [rank: 444th]
  • 1982: 344 baby boys named Colt [rank: 459th]
  • 1981: 20 baby boys named Colt
  • 1980: 9 baby boys named Colt

The next rise in usage was kicked off by football quarterback Daniel “Colt” McCoy, who had a successful college career at the University of Texas (2005-2009) before going pro in 2010.

  • 2009: 820 baby boys named Colt [rank: 369th]
    • 162 (19.8%) born in Texas
  • 2008: 500 baby boys named Colt [rank: 532nd]
    • 85 (17.0%) born in Texas
  • 2007: 428 baby boys named Colt [rank: 593rd]
    • 67 (15.7%) born in Texas
  • 2006: 212 baby boys named Colt [rank: 910th]
    • 38 (17.9%) born in Texas
  • 2005: 186 baby boys named Colt [rank: 943rd]
    • 21 (11.3%) born in Texas
  •  2004: 143 baby boys named Colt [outside top 1,000]
    • 13 (9.1%) born in Texas

And the most recent rise in usage seems to be attributable to the Netflix series The Ranch, which premiered in mid-2016 and stars Ashton Kutcher as a character named Colt Reagan Bennett.

So, going back to the beginning now….where did the name of the Colt .45 pistol come from?

The pistol was made by Colt’s Manufacturing Company of Connecticut. The company was named for founder Samuel Colt (1814-1862), whose English surname originated as “a metonymic occupational name for someone who looked after asses and horses, or a nickname for an obstinate or frisky person.”

What do you think of the baby name Colt? (Do you like it as a standalone name, or do you prefer it as a nickname for Colton?)

Source: Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.