How did the Spanish-American War influence baby names?

The brief Spanish-American War (1898), which began in April and ended in August, inspired hundreds of patriotic parents in the U.S. to choose war-inspired baby names.

Maine & Havana

One of the events that led to war was the explosion of the USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana Harbor on February 15. The explosion killed more than 260 men. Many people in the U.S. blamed the explosion on Spain.

The baby names Maine and Havana both debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1898.

  • 1900: unlisted
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: 9 baby girls named Maine [debut] (plus 5 more named Mayne)
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

Maine was a one-hit wonder in the data — a rarity that never returned — but Havana returned to the data dozens of times since.

  • 1900: unlisted
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: 8 baby girls named Havana [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

The baby name Cuba also saw a spike in usage that year:

  • 1900: 8 baby girls named Cuba
  • 1899: 14 baby girls named Cuba (rank: 884th)
  • 1898: 29 baby girls named Cuba (rank: 597th)
  • 1897: 9 baby girls named Cuba
  • 1896: unlisted
The U.S.S. Maine sinking in Havana harbor, 1898.
The USS Maine sinking in Havana harbor, 1898

According to U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI) data — which is more comprehensive than the SSA data for this time period — 25 babies were named Maine, 12 were named Havana, and 79 were named Cuba in 1898.

Dewey & Manila

War was formally declared on April 25. On May 1, the Battle of Manila Bay took place in the Philippines. The U.S. fleet, under the command of Commodore George Dewey, defeated Spain.

Usage of the name Dewey spiked in 1898, both for boys and for girls:

Boys named DeweyGirls named Dewey
1900345
(rank: 75th)
9
1899499
(rank: 39th)
24
(rank: 632nd)
18981,115
(rank: 19th)
104
(rank: 305th)
1897158
(rank: 111th)
13
(rank: 904th)
189663
(rank: 224th)
.

Impressively, Dewey reached the boys’ top 20 in 1898. The spelling variants Dewie and Dewy also debuted that year.

Going back to the SSDI, we see even higher numbers — 6,708 babies named Dewey, 36 named Dewie, and 1 named Dewy in 1898.

We even see evidence of Dewey’s spike on the U.S. Census of 1920:

  • 1910s: over 4,300 people named Dewey were born
  • 1900s: over 11,000 people named Dewey were born
  • 1890s: over 12,100 people named Dewey were born
  • 1880s: over 200 people named Dewey were born
  • 1870s: over 100 people named Dewey were born

An article in the Reading Eagle in 1899 listed ten local babies named for George Dewey, and another article I spotted from decades later joked about starting a George Dewey namesake club.

We see a similar (though less pronounced) spike of in the usage of Manila for baby girls:

  • 1900: 10 baby girls named Manila
  • 1899: 34 baby girls named Manila (rank: 512th)
  • 1898: 104 baby girls named Manila (rank: 306th) [peak usage]
  • 1897: 7 baby girls named Manila [debut]
  • 1896: unlisted

The spelling variant Manilla was the top girl-name debut of 1898, with 35 baby girls (rank: 536th).

Again, the SSDI’s numbers are even higher — 195 babies were named Manila and 118 were named Manilla in 1898.

Hobson, Admiral, Shafter, Maceo, Schley & Philippina

Here are six more war-related names that debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1898.

The baby name Hobson was inspired by Richmond Pearson Hobson, prisoner of war in Cuba. (Hobson was the top boy-name debut of 1898, in fact.)

  • 1900: 13 baby boys named Hobson (rank: 713th)
  • 1899: 15 baby boys named Hobson (rank: 511th)
  • 1898: 38 baby boys named Hobson (rank: 311th) [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

According to the SSDI, at least 161 babies were named Hobson that year.

(Hobson was a handsome Southerner who became a national celebrity following his month-long imprisonment. He became well known for kissing pretty young women as he toured the country. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch jokingly called him “the champion kisser of the universe.”)

The baby name Admiral was the rank of many of the men (e.g. Admiral Dewey, Admiral Sampson, Admiral Schley) who played a part in the war — Dewey especially.

  • 1900: 18 baby boys named Admiral (rank: 579th)
  • 1899: 13 baby boys named Admiral (rank: 549th)
  • 1898: 25 baby boys named Admiral (rank: 394th) [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

According to the SSDI, at least 154 babies were named Admiral.

The baby name Shafter was inspired by army general William Rufus Shafter, who had command of the U.S. forces in Cuba during the war.

  • 1900: 8 baby boys named Shafter
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: 14 baby boys named Shafter (rank: 604th) [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

This was the first and only time the name Shafter landed in the U.S. top 1,000. According to the SSDI, at least 58 babies were named Shafter.

The baby name Maceo was inspired by Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo, “one of the outstanding guerrilla leaders in nineteenth century Latin America. (He died in late 1896, actually.)

  • 1900: 8 baby boys named Maceo
  • 1899: 9 baby boys named Maceo (rank: 760th)
  • 1898: 13 baby boys named Maceo (rank: 621st) [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

According to the SSDI, at least 34 babies were named Maceo.

The baby name Schley was inspired by Winfield Scott Schley, hero of the Battle of Santiago Bay.

  • 1900: unlisted
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: 10 baby boys named Schley (rank: 737th) [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

Like Maine, it was a one-hit wonder in the SSA data, and, like Shafter, it was in the top 1,000 just once. According to the SSDI, at least 39 babies were named Schley.

(Winfield Scott Schley — just like Winfield Scott Hancock — had been named in honor of General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), who was a family friend. Scott became Commanding General of the U.S. Army two years after Schley was born.)

Finally, the baby name Philippina, possibly inspired by the Philippines, was another one-hit wonder the year of the war:

  • 1900: unlisted
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: 5 baby girls named Philippina [debut]
  • 1897: unlisted
  • 1896: unlisted

Interestingly, only single Philippina is accounted for in the SSDI data.

Sources:

5 thoughts on “How did the Spanish-American War influence baby names?

  1. Recent sighting:

    An 1898 cartoon in the Washington Post exhorted readers to “Remember the Maine,” an American battleship blown up before the Spanish-American War. In viewing census microfilm, I once saw the given name “U.S.S. Maine.” The child’s parents must have been moved by that statement.

    Found it in the September/October 1995 issue of Ancestry Magazine, on page 11, in an article by Linda Herrick Swisher.

  2. Another recent discovery:

    On May 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Admiral George Dewey commanded a U.S. fleet that steamed into Manila harbor in the Philippines and destroyed the Spanish fleet. When word reached this country, he instantly became a national hero.

    Four months after this triumph, a baby was born in Kingsport, Tennessee. The father had his heart set on a boy, and planned to name him Dewey Manila in honor of the admiral and his victory. The child turned out to be a little girl, but the parents named her Dewey Manila anyway.

    This girl with the unusual name grew up to become my great-aunt, and Aunt Dewey became my introduction to the world of interesting personal names.

    From Hello, My Name Is…: A Guide to Naming Your Baby by Jeff Bradley, Truman Bradley and Walker Bradley.

  3. One more:

    Norfolk: Mrs. John O’Keefe presented her husband with three sons last night. The proud father named them Dewey, Sampson and Schley.

    Source: “Triplets–Dewey, Sampson, Schley.” Reading Eagle 18 May 1899: 3.

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