How did “High Hat” influence baby names?

Newspaper advertisement for the serialized story "High Hat" (1930)
High Hat” advertisement (1930)

Like Gone with the Wind and How Green Was My Valley, High Hat was a story that influenced U.S. baby names not once but twice: first in written form, then in movie form.

Originally called High Hat: A Radio Romance, the story was written by Alma Sioux Scarberry. (Her middle name was originally “Sue,” but she changed it when she learned she was part Native American — Cherokee specifically, not actually Sioux.) It was serialized in the newspapers in 1930 — from March to May, in most of them. It was published as a standalone book over the summer.

The main character, Elanda Lee, was a singer with “high hat” ambitions: she worked in radio, but wanted to become an opera star. Her love interest was popular radio star Suwanee Collier, who she initially dismissed because he was “only a ukulele player.” In the end, “[s]he stoops to conquer by becoming the most popular girl on the radio programs singing the praises of complexion soap.” (Here’s a longer synopsis of High Hat, if you’re interested.)

And in 1930, right on cue, the baby name Elanda debuted in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1932: unlisted
  • 1931: 6 baby girls named Elanda
  • 1930: 19 baby girls named Elanda [debut & peak usage]
  • 1929: unlisted
  • 1928: unlisted

A number of these Elandas also got the middle name Lee. (Here are examples from graveyards in Kansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.)

…But it doesn’t end there. Because in early 1937, the movie High Hat was released. (Here’s a complete copy of High Hat up at the Internet Archive, if you’d like to watch.) And it seems that, in the movie, Swanee — now being spelled like the Gershwin song — was the central character. He ultimately helped classically trained singer Elanda adapt to the trend of “swing” music.

The character Swanee Collier from the movie "High Hat" (1937).
Swanee from “High Hat

The same year, the baby name Swanee was a one-hit wonder in the data, showing up as a girl name. (This is one of several baby names that came from male character, yet popped up on the girls’ side of the list. Another example is Kookie.)

  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: unlisted
  • 1937: 5 baby girls named Swanee [debut]
  • 1936: unlisted
  • 1935: unlisted

Curiously, the baby name Elanda did not re-emerge in ’37. That said, the name “Landa” did pop up the next year…perhaps there’s a connection?

What are your thoughts on the names Elanda and Swanee?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.