The Debut of Mardeen

mardeen, baby name, comic, 1950
Mary Worth – July 30, 1950

The name Mardeen has appeared in the U.S. baby name data just twice — once in 1950, then again a couple years later:

  • 1953: unlisted
  • 1952: 5 baby girls named Mardeen
  • 1951: unlisted
  • 1950: 14 baby girls named Mardeen [debut]
  • 1949: unlisted

Other variants of the name (Mardene and Mardine) had been in the data before this, but neither has ever been given to as many as fourteen babies per year.

So where did Mardeen come from? My best guess is a secondary character from the nationally syndicated comic strip Mary Worth. Mardeen made appearances regularly in 1950, from June through August.

Mardeen worked as a housekeeper for fellow character K. T. “Katy” Farrell, who was the 35-year-old, “brilliantly successful” head of a publishing house. Katy was involved in a romance — well, a love triangle — with “young novelist” Gregory Ford, one of Mary Worth’s friends. (Despite the title, Mary herself didn’t often make appearances in the strip.)

The comic Mary Worth, which has been around since the late 1930s, was being written by Allen Saunders and drawn by Ken Ernst at that time.

What do you think of the name Mardeen? How would you spell it?

Babies Named After Toilet Paper?

charmin, baby name, 1950s, commercial, product

So here’s one that I’m still not 100% sure about — we’re talking toilet paper, after all — but I think the theory is solid enough to post.

The baby name Charmin jumped into the U.S. baby name data for the first time in the mid-1950s:

  • 1959: 9 baby girls named Charmin
  • 1958: 16 baby girls named Charmin
  • 1957: 8 baby girls named Charmin
  • 1956: 10 baby girls named Charmin
  • 1955: 7 baby girls named Charmin [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: unlisted

Now, the brand “Charmin” had already been around a while at this point. It was first manufactured in the late 1920s, and the name was based on the word “charming.” I don’t know what the pronunciation was originally, but when Charmin TV commercials started airing in the 1950s, the “ch” sounded like an sh, as in Charade.

And the commercials are key here. So is the packaging, and the slogan. Because during the 1950s, the Charmin Paper Company changed a few things:

  • 1953: It added a baby image to the packaging. Before that, the image had only ever been that of a woman’s silhouette. Within a few years, the “Charmin Baby” replaced the “Charmin Lady” entirely.
  • 1956: It started using the slogans “So very soft – it babies your skin” and “Charmin babies your skin” in print and on television. And at least one of the commercials featured an adorable toddler:

charmin, baby name, 1950s, commercial, product

I think these baby-emphasizing changes in the Charmin marketing gave expectant parents the subtle suggestion that “Charmin” might make a nice baby name.

Do you agree?

And did you know: The famous “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” marketing campaign that lasted from the ’60s to the ’80s inspired country singer Charlie Walker to write the song “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon,” which became a top-10 country hit in 1967? Around the same time, the baby name Sharmon saw peak usage.

Sources: History of Charmin Toilet Paper – Charmin, The History of Toilet Paper – Supply Time

“Brighter Day” Baby Names: Grayling, Spring & Babby

brighter day, soap opera, 1950s, television
Babby, Grayling, and Patsy in 1954

The Brighter Day was a moderately popular soap opera that ran on radio from 1948 to 1956 and on television from 1954 to 1962.

The show featured the Dennis family, which was headed by widowed father Rev. Richard Dennis. His five children were adult daughters Elizabeth (Liz) and Althea, adult son Grayling, and teenage daughters Patricia (Patsy) and Barbara (Babby).

At least three Brighter Day characters influenced U.S. baby names:

Grayling

In a 1949 article, Grayling Dennis was described as “restless, charming, spoiled. He writes poetry, plays the violin, has a long string of girl friends who adore his flashing eyes and his wonderful tennis, and drinks too much. But none of these activities has helped Gray, at twenty-three, to “find himself.””

The show was radio-only at that time — listeners would hear Grayling’s name, but never see it — so it’s not surprising that a slew of spelling variants ended up in the baby name data. In fact, the first of the group to debut was Graylin in 1949. Grayling, Grayland, and Graylon appeared in 1950, and Graylan, Graylyn, Graylen, and Greyling followed.

YearGraylinGraylingGraylandGraylon
19601436109
19592761 [987th]1115
19582855186
19572858 [997th]1516
195625471912
19551638158
1954824146
1953111167
195288.6
195178.8
19501117 [debut]5 [debut]5 [debut]
19496 [debut]...
1948....

The name Grayling reached the top 1000 twice in the late ’50s, but all variants saw decreased usage after the TV show was canceled in the early ’60s.

Spring

In early 1951, married daughter Althea discovered she was pregnant. Althea was eager to become an movie actress, not a mother, and “regard[ed] the baby as an annoying interruption to her ambitions.” Regardless, she soon gave birth to a baby girl named Spring, and the baby name Spring debuted in the U.S. data the very same year:

  • 1959: 34 baby girls named Spring
  • 1958: 44 baby girls named Spring
  • 1957: 77 baby girls named Spring
  • 1956: 104 baby girls named Spring
  • 1955: 41 baby girls named Spring
  • 1954: 37 baby girls named Spring
  • 1953: 27 baby girls named Spring
  • 1952: 30 baby girls named Spring
  • 1951: 7 baby girls named Spring [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted

By July of 1952, Althea’s daughter Spring was already 4 years old (a victim of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). I’m not sure how often Spring appeared in the show overall, but she may have been featured prominently in 1956, judging by the usage of the baby name that year.

Babby

In a 1954 article, Babby Dennis was described as “eager and impulsive.” She was the baby of the family, and her nickname was consistently spelled with a “y” to reflect this fact, but TV audiences clearly preferred the spelling Babbie, which debuted in 1956 — years before Babby and Babbi finally showed up.

YearBabbieBabbyBabbi
1963...
196285.
1961189.
196020156
1959195 [debut]6 [debut]
19588..
19588..
19575..
195610 [debut]..
1955...

By 1959, Babby was a young adult and involved in a romance with a gangster named Peter Nino. (Despite being a gangster, Nino was popular with TV audiences: “Nino was to be killed off in six months, but fan mail gave him a reprieve.”)

Sources:

P.S. Three of the sources above refer to a single magazine that went through a bunch of name changes over the course of its existence (1930s to 1970s). The publisher was Macfadden, founded by Bernarr Macfadden, who knew a bit about name changes himself…

Chemise: Fashion-Inspired Baby Name

chemise, dress, baby name, 1950s
Chemise dress by Cardin
© 1957 Life

The baby name Chemise first appeared in the U.S. data in 1958:

  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: 7 baby girls named Chemise [debut]
  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: unlisted

At first I didn’t think much of it, as chemise is an old French word (originally for a woman’s undergarment) that happens to have a pleasant sound: sheh-MEEZ or sheh-MEES (similar to Charisse). Seeing it pop up in the ’50s data didn’t really surprise me.

But then I did some research…and discovered a fascinating bit of fashion history.

For most of the ’50s, the dominant silhouette in ladies’ fashion was an hourglass shape that included defined waists and full skirts.

But in 1957 specifically, several high-fashion designers (including Balenciaga, Givenchy, and Laroche) shook things up by presenting dresses that hung loose from the shoulder and were not cinched at the waist.

These shapeless “chemise” dresses — sometimes called “bag” or “sack” dresses — ended up being a hot topic in the American press during the last months of 1957 and throughout 1958. Supporters praised chemises for being modern and simple; detractors called them ungainly and ugly.

Perhaps even more importantly, the controversy inspired the novelty song “No Chemise, Please” [vid] by Gerry Granahan. It was popular over the summer of 1958.

After a while, the debate died down and the silhouette became accepted (and eventually mainstream). But not before it had given the French word chemise lots of extra exposure. And this extra exposure ended up having a (slight) effect on American baby names, resulting in that 1958 debut in the data.

So what do you think of Chemise as a baby name? (How about as a dress style?)

Sources: Balenciaga – FIDM Museum & Galleries, Chemise dress – Objects – RISD Museum, Caftan Liberation: How an Ancient Fashion Set Modern Women Free