Where did the baby name Vilas come from in 1913?

Jack Vilas
Jack Vilas

Back in 1913, at least two dozen baby boys in the U.S. were suddenly named Vilas, making Vilas the most popular debut name for baby boys that year:

  • 1915: 16 baby boys named Vilas
  • 1914: 13 baby boys (and 6 baby girls) named Vilas
  • 1913: 24 baby boys named Vilas [debut]
  • 1912: unlisted
  • 1911: unlisted

Many of these babies were born in Wisconsin specifically:

  • 1915: 8 babies named Vilas in Wisconsin
  • 1914: 7 babies named Vilas in Wisconsin
  • 1913: 10 babies named Vilas in Wisconsin
  • 1912: unlisted
  • 1911: unlisted

Data from the SSDI (which is more accurate than the SSA data for the late 1800s and early 1900s) shows the same 1913 spike and the same high usage in Wisconsin:

  • 1915: 25 people named Vilas (7 in WI, 2 in MI)
  • 1914: 27 people named Vilas (8 in WI, 2 in IL)
  • 1913: 45 people named Vilas (15 WI, 3 in IL)
  • 1912: 25 people named Vilas (13 WI, 1 in IL, 1 in MI)
  • 1911: 24 people named Vilas (8 in WI)

So what inspired the spike?

The spike was inspired by aviation pioneer Logan Archbold “Jack” Vilas. He purchased a hydro-aeroplane from Glenn Curtiss in the spring of 1913 and, while his plane was being built, went to flight school (for just four weeks!). Soon after that, Vilas became the first person to fly across Lake Michigan, traveling west from St. Joseph, Michigan, to Chicago, Illinois, in about an hour and a half on July 1, 1913.

But this doesn’t explain why Wisconsinites liked the name so much even before Jack Vilas came along.

It seems that people in the Badger State already had an affinity for the name Vilas thanks to a pair of Wisconsin politicians: Levi Vilas (1811-1879) and his son William Vilas (1840-1908).

Jack was actually a distant cousin of Levi and William. Their closest common ancestor was Noah Vilas, born in Massachusetts in 1733. Noah’s father Peter had brought the surname over from England.

Sources:

Image: San Diego Air & Space Museum

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