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.)

The Start of Sondi

sondi, baby name, thai, television, beauty queen
Sondi on “Adventures In Paradise” in 1960

The Sandy-like name Sondi debuted in the U.S. data in 1959 and saw the most usage during the early 1960s:

  • 1962: 7 baby girls named Sondi
  • 1961: 26 baby girls named Sondi
  • 1960: 10 baby girls named Sondi
  • 1959: 5 baby girls named Sondi [debut]
  • 1958: unlisted

Where did it come from?

A beauty queen from Thailand who trying her hand at acting in America.

There was no Miss Thailand contest held in 1959, so Sodsai Vanijvadhana was hand-picked to represent her country at the 1959 Miss Universe contest in Long Beach, California. She competed as “Sondi Sodsai,” and though she didn’t place, she was voted Miss Friendship (aka Miss Congeniality) by her fellow contestants.

The same year, she started making appearances (still as Sondi Sodsai) on U.S. TV shows like Mike Hammer, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. She also released an album of exotica music on Liberty Records called Sondi.

Her most notable TV role was on the series Adventures in Paradise (1959-1962) as the recurring character “Sondi,” who appeared primarily in 1960.

She eventually returned to Thailand and became a renowned drama teacher (as Sodsai Pantoomkomol, which is her married name). The drama school at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok is now named the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts. In 2011, Sodsai was named a National Artist of Thailand.

So which Thai beauty queen baby name do you like better: Sondi or Apasra?

Sources: Sodsai Pantoomkomol – Wikipedia, Miss Thailand 1959 Sodsai Vanijvadhana: Bangkok

The Beginning of Buff

mike wallace, buff cobb, 1950s, television

Here’s a curious one: Buff. It appeared in the SSA data in the middle of the 20th century as both a boy name and a girl name — but slightly more often as a girl name. The female usage was entirely in the 1950s:

  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 5 baby girls named Buff
  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: 6 baby girls named Buff
  • 1955: 15 baby girls named Buff
  • 1954: 10 baby girls named Buff
  • 1953: 6 baby girls named Buff
  • 1952: 5 baby girls named Buff [debut]
  • 1951: unlisted

What was the influence here?

An actress with an intriguingly gender-neutral name: Buff Cobb.

She was born Patrizia Chapman in Italy in 1927 to American parents. When she decided in her teens to become a film star, she created the stage name “Buff Cobb” from her mother’s nickname, Buffy, and her maternal grandfather’s surname, Cobb. (He was writer/humorist Irvin Cobb.)

While Buff’s film career didn’t pan out, she did tour with a company putting on Noël Coward’s play Private Lives in the late ’40s. During a stop in Chicago, she was interviewed for a radio show by a young reporter named Mike Wallace — most famous today for his work as a 60 Minutes correspondent from 1968 to 2006.

She and Mike got married in 1949 and began co-hosting a Chicago radio show, which led to two New York City TV shows (both live):

  • Mike and Buff (1951-1953), originally entitled Two Sleepy People, one of television’s first talk shows. “[T]he couple would engage in heated debate over a different topic each day, then try to settle their differences after interviewing experts.” One of Mike’s catchphrases on the show was: “Smarten up, Buff!” The show was sponsored by Pepsi and guests included Harry Belafonte and Mickey Spillane.
  • All Around the Town (1951-1952), an interview show typically broadcast from different parts of New York City.
mike and buff

A year after Mike and Buff was cancelled, the real Mike and Buff were also cancelled — they divorced in 1954. Buff appeared regularly on just one more TV show after that: the ’50s game show Masquerade Party, from 1953 to 1955. Usage of the (female) name Buff was highest during these years.

Do you like the name Buff for a baby girl? Do you like it more or less than Buffy and Buffie (both of which also debuted during the first half of the ’50s)?

Sources:

Image: Clipped from page 12 of the December 1952 Radio-TV Mirror.

The Origin of Gia

gia scala, actress

The Italian name Gia is a pet form of Gianna, which itself is a contracted form of Giovanna (akin to Joanna). But Gia as a standalone name was very rare in the U.S. until the late 1950s, when usage increased enough for the name to debut in the SSA’s (publicly available) data:

  • 1960: 41 baby girls named Gia
  • 1959: 51 baby girls named Gia
  • 1958: 43 baby girls named Gia
  • 1957: 18 baby girls named Gia [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

What gave it a boost? The first famous Gia in America, actress Gia Scala, whose career took off in the late 1950s.

Her “real” name is hard to pin down. She was born in England with the name Josephine Scoglio. But…she spent her childhood in Italy, and when she applied for U.S. citizenship in 1957, she said her legal name was Giovanna Scoglio.

In any case, she started going by Gia not long after she moved to the U.S. (in the early 1950s), and Universal Studios gave her the stage name “Gia Scala” at the start of her film career.

number of babies named Gia, popularity graph

Since then, several other famous Gias have also influenced the charts…

  • Fashion model Gia Marie Carangi was at the peak of her fame in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It doesn’t look like her modeling career had any impact on the baby name Gia, but when the TV movie Gia starring Angelina Jolie came out in 1998, usage of the name more than tripled, and the compound name Giamarie debuted.
  • Usage more than doubled from 2009 to 2011 (when Gia peaked in the national rankings at 300th place) thanks to two people: reality TV contestant Gia Allamand, who appeared on both The Bachelor and Bachelor Pad in 2010, and celebrity baby Gia Francesca, born to Mario Lopez and his wife in September of 2010.

Do you like the name Gia? Would you ever use it?

Sources: Gia Scala – Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen, Gia Scala – Wikipedia

P.S. Gia Allamand was on the same season of The Bachelor as Tenley Molzahn, whose name, Tenley, also happened to be a 1950s debut in the SSA data.

Tonga: Baby Name Inspired by Early TV?

tonga, nina bara, space patrol, 1950s, television, sci-fi
Tonga from Space Patrol

The intriguing name Tonga debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1953:

  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: 7 baby girls named Tonga [debut]
  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: unlisted

I don’t think the Polynesian country had anything to do with it. Instead, I’m thinking that it may have come from the the early science-fiction TV series Space Patrol. It began as a Los Angeles-only show in early 1950, but by early 1951 it was being syndicated nationally both on TV and on radio (thanks to being picked up by the ABC network).

Set a thousand years in the future, the show featured members of the Space Patrol crew endeavoring to fight against the bad guys of the solar system. The two female crew members were named Tonga (played by Nina Bara) and Carol (Virginia Hewitt). Tonga’s character began as a criminal, but by the time the show had a national audience, she had undergone a “Brainograph” treatment and joined up with the good guys.

The name Tonga may have been given a boost in 1953 specifically thanks to LIFE magazine drawing attention to the show in a 1952 feature article (“Space Patrol Conquers Kids,” Sept. 1952)…or maybe it simply showed up because Space Patrol‘s audience was still growing at that time.

But the name dropped out of the data the very next year — possibly because actress Nina Bara was released from the show in late 1953, so the character Tonga didn’t appear in the show very frequently after that.

All this said…I should also mention that the name Tanya and its variants were on the rise during the 1950s, and that “Tonga” ended up being used as a variant of Tanya on occasion (likely by way of Tanja). So that’s another possible reason for the debut.

Do you like Tonga as a baby name? If so, how would you pronounce it?

Sources:

P.S. A supporting character in the 1953 Gary Cooper movie Return to Paradise also happened to be named Tonga, but this character was male.