A soprano named Devy Barnett who performed on the TV talent competition Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour at least once, on May 16, 1960. (She may have appeared on other episodes that year as well, I’m not sure.)
I don’t have much information on Devy. She was a music student at Rutgers in the early ’50s, she put out her first recording (Songs of Charles Ives, released by Stereo Age) in 1958, and in the ’80s she was a member of the studio music faculty at Cal State. She married at least twice, and had several children.
But she never achieved fame. Apparently not many Amateur Hour contestants did, with a few notable exceptions: Gladys Knight, Pat Boone, Ann-Margret, Tanya Tucker, and Irene Cara (see the posts on Fame and Sparkle for more on Irene).
The name Devy reminds me of the name Eydie in that both names were put on the onomastic map by young singers making television appearances. (Coincidentally, Eydie was also given to exactly 27 baby girls in 1960.)
What are your thoughts on the name Devy? Do you like it?
The inspiration? Hoby Gilman, the main character of the TV western Trackdown (1957-1959).
Hoby, played by actor Robert Culp, was a Texas Ranger who spent his days tracking down bad guys in post-Civil War Texas. “[Culp’s] Hoby Gilman was a cooler character than other deadpan Western cowboys. Culp…imbued Hoby with a hipness that was ahead of the time but which presaged the Sixties yet to come.”
Notably, Trackdown “was given official approval from the (modern day) Rangers and the state of Texas.”
The character originated on an episode of Zane Grey Theatre in May of 1957. A mere five months later, a whole series based on Hoby had emerged. (A whopping five episodes of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre were developed into subsequent TV shows. Impressive.)
Robert Culp went on to co-star with Bill Cosby in I Spy from 1965 to 1968. His character, named Kelly, gave a temporary boost to the male usage of Kelly, which peaked for boys in 1967/1968.
Girl-crazy teenager Dobie Gillis was a character created by writer Max Shulman in the 1940s. He was first brought to life in the movie The Affairs of Dobie Gillis in 1953, but the most memorable portrayal of Dobie was by Dwayne Hickman in the four-season TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which premiered in September of 1959.
Dobie Gillis is notable for being “the first prime-time series to consistently privilege teenage characters, activities, and spaces over those associated with family shows.”
It was also known for the unusual character names. Dobie (pronounced doh-bee, rhymes with Toby) had friends with names like:
Maynard (a beatnik played by Bob Denver, who later portrayed Gilligan)
Zelda (a brainiac played by Sheila James Kuehl, sister of Jeri Lou)
Thalia Menninger (a rich girl played by Tuesday Weld)
These “uncommon first names [were] evidently meant to seem vaguely silly in their failure to conform with ’50s norms.”
The show ended up influencing the usage of several baby names. First of all, it was behind the debut of the name Dobie in 1960:
1964: 9 baby boys named Dobie
1962: 6 baby boys named Dobie
1961: 8 baby boys named Dobie
1960: 9 baby boys named Dobie [debut]
The name Thalia also saw a spike in usage in 1960, which makes sense because all but two of the episodes featuring Thalia Menninger were first-season (1959-1960) episodes. Dobie pronounced Thalia’s name thale-ya.
1964: 46 baby girls named Thalia
1963: 42 baby girls named Thalia
1962: 42 baby girls named Thalia
1961: 46 baby girls named Thalia
1960: 90 baby girls named Thalia
1959: 30 baby girls named Thalia
1958: 24 baby girls named Thalia
Finally, the name Zelda saw elevated usage in the early ’60s:
1964: 133 baby girls named Zelda
1963: 171 baby girls named Zelda
1962: 178 baby girls named Zelda
1961: 168 baby girls named Zelda
1960: 136 baby girls named Zelda
1959: 142 baby girls named Zelda
1958: 131 baby girls named Zelda
Fun fact: Zelda — who pursued Dobie as ardently as Dobie pursued all other females — once convinced a girl named Phyllis to break it off with Dobie by warning her that her married name would be “Phyllis Gillis.”
Many of the secondary and single-episode characters had unusual names as well. Here are some examples:
Do you like any of the above Dobie Gillis names? How about the name “Dobie” itself?
Kearney, Mary C. “Teenagers and Television in the United States.” Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television, ed. by Horace Newcomb, 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 2013, pp. 2276-2281.
Sterritt, David. Mad to be Saved: The Beats, the ’50s, and Film. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998.
plus 21 named Periann, 12 named Perriann*, and 5 named Perianne*
1959: 7 baby girls named Perian [debut]
Mississippi-born sportswriter Perian Conerly appeared on the panel show in late 1959, but — unlike most contestants — Perian wasn’t a complete unknown at that point.
She’d been writing a syndicated sports column since 1956 (at a time when female sports writers were unheard of). Her writing appeared in publications as prestigious as Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, and the New York Times. In fact, a few months before she was on WML?, she was profiled in the “Events & Discoveries” section of Sports Illustrated.
As the wife of Charlie Conerly, quarterback of the New York Giants from 1948 to 1961, Perian had the inside scoop on football. Perian and Charlie lived in New York for four months (September through December) every year, and even though Charlie was always the focus, “Perian was almost as big a star in New York as Charlie.”
Together, they were for years the toast of New York – he the ruggedly handsome quarterback and the original Marlboro man, she the Southern belle with movie star glamour and all that charm and wit.
Perian was the first female member of the Football Writers Association of America, likely thanks to her name. A male sportswriter suggested that she join and, assuming that the group wouldn’t offer membership to women, opined that “they will never know” she’s a woman because of her name. Perian did indeed get in and, from then on, mail from the organization was “addressed to Mr. Perian Conerly.”
Here’s what she said about her name in her 1963 book Backseat Quarterback:
Confusion about the gender of my first name is understandable. The spelling does not indicate that it is pronounced Perry Ann, being a contraction of two family names.
Ironically, 1963 — the year her two books (the second being Football Fundamentals for Feminine Fans) were published — was also the year her name dropped off the baby name charts. By that time, though, Charlie had retired from football, Perian had stopped writing her sports column, and the couple had returned to Mississippi.
What’s My Line? (1950-1967) was one of the longest-running game shows on television — not to mention one of the earliest.
The word “line” in the title didn’t refer to a line of script, but to a line of work. Essentially, the show consisted of four celebrity panelists trying to guess a contestant’s occupation — typically something unexpected, e.g., “lipstick demonstrator,” “makes kilts,” “vaccinates chickens.”
Given the popularity of the show, and the fact that contestants’ names were emphasized (each one signed in on a chalkboard at the start of his/her segment), it’s not surprising that some of the more unusual contestant names ended up influencing U.S. baby names. For example…
Contestant Rondi Stratton, whose job was demonstrating mattresses in store windows, was on the show in October of 1952. The baby name Rondi saw increased usage in 1952-1953.
Contestant Barbi Nierenberg, who was a maternity dress buyer, was on the show in November of 1952. The baby name Barbi debuted in the data in 1953. (Barbie dolls weren’t launched until 1959.)
Contestant Wynelle Davis, who was a fireworks seller, was on the show in June of 1953. The baby name Wynelle saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Contestant Sunee Parker, who was a men’s barber, was on the show in October of 1953. The baby name Sunee debuted in the data the same year.
Contestant Rozana Ruehrmund, who was a bill collector, was on the show in August of 1954. The baby name Rozana debuted in the data the same year.
Contestant Zana Stanley, who handled bad checks at a District Attorney’s office, was on the show in November of 1954. The baby name Zana saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Contestant Lili Lisande Wieland, who was a Christmas shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue, was on the show in December of 1954. The baby name Lili saw increased usage the same year.
Contestant Thor Thors, who was the Icelandic ambassador to the United States, was on the show in November of 1955. The baby name Thor saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Contestant Evonne Gaines, who owned a dog grooming salon, was on the show in March of 1957. The baby name Evonne saw increased usage the same year.
Contestant Bunny Yeager, who was a “cheesecake photographer,” was on the show in July of 1957. The baby name Bunny saw increased usage the same year. (Bunny, born Linnea Eleanor Yeager, was a former pin-up model herself.)
Contestant Darris Miller (f), who made one-piece pajamas for dogs, was on the show in August of 1959. The baby name Darris saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Contestant Perian Conerly, who wrote a football column for newspapers, was on the show in December of 1959. The baby name Perian debuted in the data the next year. (Her growing visibility as a columnist may have been an influence here as well.)
Contestant Sherrylyn Patecell, who was a Rockette — not to mention the recently elected Miss New York City — was on the show in July of 1960. The baby name Sherrylyn debuted in the data the same year. (Her pageant win may be a confounding factor here.)
Contestant LaVelda Rowe and her identical twin sister LaVona Rowe, both news photographers, were on the show in July of 1960. The baby name LaVelda was a one-hit wonder in the data the same year.
Contestant Sita Arora, who was a high school English teacher originally from Bombay, was on the show in September of 1960. The baby name Sita debuted in the data the same year.
Contestant Dorinda Nicholson, who taught hula dancing, was on the show in August of 1962. The baby name Dorinda saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Contestant Candi Brasovan, who was a salami seller, was on the show in January of 1963. The baby name Candi saw increased usage the same year.
Contestant Sheva Rapoport, who was a dentist, was on the show in February of 1966. The baby name Sheva debuted in the data the same year.
…And here are some other interesting What’s My Line? contestant names. These didn’t influence the data, but they caught my eye nonetheless.