Where did the baby names Foch and Marne come from in 1918?

French military leader Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929)
Ferdinand Foch

The names Marne and Foch and were the top debut names in the U.S. baby name data for girls and boys (respectively) in 1918:

Boys named FochGirls named MarneBoys named Marne
1920.65
19199.6
191858*24*17*
1917...
1916...
*Debut

Foch debuted so impressively in 1918 that it reached the top 1,000 for the first and only time (ranking 874th in 1918).

And Marne didn’t just debut as a girl name — it also debuted as a boy name. In fact, it was the third-highest boy-name debut of 1918, after Foch and Victory.

The Social Security Death Index shows a similar spike in usage of both names (being used as first names specifically) that year:

People named Foch (SSDI)People named Marne (SSDI)
1920.10
1919813
19184137
191716
1916.3

So where did these two names come from?

As it turns out, they were inspired by related things.

The Second Battle of the Marne — the last major German offensive of WWI — was fought in the Marne River valley (in northeastern France) over several days in July of 1918. The Allies resisted the attack, then launched a counterattack led by French general Ferdinand Foch — Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies. Soon after, Foch launched the Hundred Days Offensive (August to November), which led to the defeat of Germany and the end of World War I.

The river name Marne is pronounced mahrn (with a guttural R) by French speakers, though I doubt the American babies named for the battle used this pronunciation. (The name saw peak usage in the late 1960s, shadowing the much higher peak of the similar name Marnie.)

The surname Foch is pronounced fosh — like the word “foe” with an sh-sound attached. I spotted several feminized versions of the name (e.g., Focha, Fochette) in the SSDI.

The SSDI also included people with more than one WWI-inspired given name, such as:

  • Foch Pershing Pensis (1918-2011)
  • Marne Pershing Nagle (1918-2010)
  • Victory Foch Havens (1918-1944)
  • Pershing Foch Mills (1918-2008)

What are your thoughts on these names?

Sources: Second Battle of the Marne – Wikipedia, Ferdinand Foch – Wikipedia, SSA, SSDI
Image: LOC

[Latest update: 6/2022]

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