The Height of Coretta

Coretta Scott King © 1969 LIFE

The baby name Coretta was the fastest-rising baby name of 1968:

  • 1970: 146 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1969: 194 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1968: 336 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1967: 13 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1966: 16 baby girls named Coretta

The name also saw it’s highest-ever usage that year, as did the variant spelling Corretta. And another spelling, Koretta, appeared for the very first time in the data in 1968.

What was bringing all this attention to the baby name Coretta in 1968?

Coretta Scott King. She was the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., until his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. This event put Coretta and her children (Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice*) in the national spotlight.

Not long after the death of her husband, Coretta took Martin’s place as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was instrumental in establishing the national holiday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — which happens to be today.

Coretta Scott King was named in honor of her paternal grandmother, Cora. The name Cora is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name Kore (“maiden”), one of the epithets of the goddess Persephone.

*Usage of the names Yolanda and Dexter increased markedly in 1968. The usage of Martin, which had been declining, saw an uptick that year. (Peak usage was in 1963, the year of MLK’s legendary “I have a dream” speech.) The usage of Bernice was seemingly unaffected by the assassination.

Incidentally, in her 1969 book My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King talked about the naming of her daughters Yolanda (nicknamed Yoki) and Bernice:

I chose the name Yolanda Denise, but my husband had reservations about it. He questioned whether people would call her Yolanda or would mispronounce the name. He was right. Her name is so frequently mispronounced that it bothered her when she was growing up.

There is a tendency among middle-class African Americans to give their children unusual names. Perhaps they are seeking elegance or some special identification. I fell victim to this custom, rather than following the sensible practice of naming the baby after a member of the family. Later Martin said, “If we ever have another baby girl, I’m going to give her a simple name like Mary Jane.”

When we did have another daughter, we called her Bernice Albertine, after her two grandmothers. Her name was not quite Mary Jane, but at least she was named for members of the family.

Sources: Coretta Scott King – Wikipedia, Cora – Behind the Name

The Baby Name Charlayne

© 1961 Jet

The baby name Charlayne saw peak usage in 1961 — after a decade of being used so infrequently that it didn’t even register in the U.S. baby name data.

  • 1963: 29 baby girls named Charlayne
  • 1962: 15 baby girls named Charlayne
  • 1961: 66 baby girls named Charlayne
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted

What happened in 1961 to give this name such a boost?

On January 9, 1961, two African American college students — 18-year-old Charlayne Hunter and 19-year-old Hamilton Holmes — arrived at the campus of the all-white University of Georgia to enroll, as per a federal court order to desegregate. In her memoir, Charlayne wrote:

Sure enough, we were greeted by a raucous crowd made up of some of the 20,000 white students at UGA. They limited their violence to words, calling out things like, “There go the niggers.”

Rioting broke out on January 11. “A student mob threw bricks at Charlayne’s dormitory and yelled vulgarities up at her window.” State police arrived to restrain the rioters. Charlayne and Hamilton were driven off campus, and — “for their own safety” — the university suspended them.

Finally, January 16, they returned to campus “in a cold drizzling rain from their homes in Atlanta under another federal order forbidding the university from again suspending or expelling them if disorders erupt.”

Ultimately, they became the first African-Americans “to successfully desegregate an all-white college anywhere in the South.”

Charlayne and Hamilton graduated in June of 1963. (Both had completed the first half of their sophomore year at other schools before enrolling at UGA.)

Charlayne went on to become an award-winning journalist. (Notably, while at the New York Times, she “convinc[ed] the editors to drop their use of the word Negroes when referring to African Americans.”)

What are your thoughts on the name Charlayne?

Sources:

  • “First Negroes win Georgia U. Diplomas.” Life 14 Jun. 1963: 36.
  • Hunter-Gault, Charlayne. To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2012.
  • Mullen, Perry. “Two Negroes Enter School Without Trouble.” Ottawa Herald [Ottawa, Kansas] 16 Jan. 1961: 1.
  • “Prank, Riot and Shock on Georgia Campus.” Life 20 Jan 1961: 24-25.

“Addams Family” Baby Names

addams family, television, 1960s, baby names
The Addams Family (l-r): Gomez, Wednesday, Uncle Fester, Morticia, Lurch, Grandmama, Pugsley

The characters in The Addams Family originated in single-panel newspaper cartoons drawn by Charles Addams in the late ’30s. They were all nameless until the darkly funny TV sitcom The Addams Family (1964-1966) came along and named them.

And so, thanks to the show, three brand-new baby names debuted in the U.S baby name data in the mid-1960s:

Wednesday

The name Wednesday appeared in 1965:

  • 1968: 14 baby girls named Wednesday
  • 1967: 15 baby girls named Wednesday
  • 1966: 22 baby girls named Wednesday
  • 1965: 15 baby girls named Wednesday [debut]
  • 1964: unlisted

This was inspired by somber 6-year-old Wednesday Addams (played by Lisa Loring). Her name was taken from “Wednesday’s child is full of woe” — a line in the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child.”

Morticia

The name Morticia also appeared in 1965:

  • 1968: 5 baby girls named Morticia
  • 1967: unlisted
  • 1966: 7 baby girls named Morticia
  • 1965: 9 baby girls named Morticia [debut]
  • 1964: unlisted

The variant Marticia debuted that year as well.

This one was inspired by Addams family matriarch Morticia Addams (played by Carolyn Jones). Her name was clearly based on the Latin word mort, meaning “death,” and closely resembles the modern word mortician.

Addam

A third baby name that appeared in the data in 1965 was Addam:

  • 1968: unlisted
  • 1967: unlisted
  • 1966: unlisted
  • 1965: 6 baby boys named Addam [debut]
  • 1964: unlisted

It’s not technically “Addams,” but it’s close enough for us to assume it was inspired by the show. (The standard spelling, Adam, saw a spike in usage in 1964. I’m not sure if this was caused by the show, though.)

So here’s today’s question: which goth-girl name do you like more, Morticia or Maleficent?

Source: The Addams Family (TV series) – Wikipedia

The Baby Name Hayley

hayley mills, pollyanna, 1960The baby name Halley* debuted because of a comet, but the similar name Hayley debuted thanks to a Disney film.

Which one? Pollyanna (1960), an adaptation of the book Pollyanna (1913). The movie starred teenage English actress Hayley Mills, who ended up winning an honorary Oscar for the role.

Here’s how the film affected the usage of they baby name Hayley in the U.S.:

  • 1963: 71 baby girls named Hayley
  • 1962: 46 baby girls named Hayley
  • 1961: 18 baby girls named Hayley
  • 1960: 9 baby girls named Hayley
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted

Mills’ full name is Hayley Catherine Rose Vivien Mills. The name “Hayley” had been passed down for several generations in her family. (Her mother, also an actress, was Mary Hayley Bell.)

The film gave the baby name Pollyanna a boost as well during the ’60s.

*Though people tend to pronounce “Hayley” and “Halley” the same way, the surname Halley is traditionally pronounced to rhyme with “valley.” According to a poll I’ve had up for over a decade now, Hayley is the third-most-popular spelling of the name; the most popular spelling is Hailey.

Source: “The Mills Family’s Merry Mime.” Life 13 Jun. 1960: 12.

Pollyanna: The Most Optimistic Baby Name Ever?

pollyanna, book, baby name, 1910sHas some grumpy person ever called you a “Pollyanna”? That person may have meant it pejoratively, but take it as a compliment! (And tell that grump to go take a nap.) Because for over a century now the name has been a vocabulary word with a seriously pleasant meaning: “an excessively cheerful or optimistic person.”

So how did the compound name come to have that meaning? With the help of a popular book from the 1910s.

Pollyanna (1913) by Eleanor H. Porter was the first in a series of books about Pollyanna Whittier, one of the famous optimistic orphans of literature. (Think Anne of Green Gables, or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) But Pollyanna Whittier, “a girl who preaches the gospel of Gladness,” was the most optimistic of them all:

After her father’s death, the orphan moves to Beldingsville, Vt. In the next hundred pages, this juvenile social worker persuades the whole town to play the Glad Game. Cranky Mr. Pendleton, the bedridden Mrs. Snow, the dispirited Reverend Ford, the forlorn Dr. Chilton, a loose woman contemplating divorce and (finally) her sclerotic aunt succumb to the power of positive thinking and begin to hunt for and find things to be glad about.

The original Pollyanna book was the 8th-bestselling book of 1913 and the 2nd-bestselling book of 1914. It was so successful that Porter turned it into a series, starting with the sequel Pollyanna Grows Up (1915), which ranked 4th on the bestseller list in 1915.

As one critic explained in 1947, “The publication of the story in 1913 was only less influential than the World War. White Mountain cabins, Colorado teahouses, Texas babies, Indiana apartment houses, and a brand of milk were immediately named for the new character.”

The critic mentioned Texas specifically because a Texas baby named for the character (Pollyanna Houston, born in Waco) was in the news in 1915. But babies elsewhere got the name as well. Here’s the SSA data for the usage of Pollyanna during the 1910s:

  • 1919: 15 baby girls named Pollyanna
  • 1918: 13 baby girls named Pollyanna
  • 1917: 21 baby girls named Pollyanna
  • 1916: 20 baby girls named Pollyanna
  • 1915: 12 baby girls named Pollyanna
  • 1914: 6 baby girls named Pollyanna [debut]
  • 1913: unlisted
  • 1912: unlisted

And here’s the SSDI data for the same window of time:

  • 1919: 10 Pollyannas
  • 1918: 9 Pollyannas
  • 1917: 15 Pollyannas
  • 1916: 18 Pollyannas
  • 1915: 11 Pollyannas
  • 1914: 3 Pollyannas
  • 1913: 6 Pollyannas
  • 1912: 2 Pollyannas

The greatest usage of the name came in the 1960s, with the Disney movie adaptation of the book…but we’ll talk more about that (and the name Hayley!) tomorrow.

Until then, why not leave me a comment with your thoughts on the baby name Pollyanna? Do you think it’s usable these days?

Sources: