Humor magazine Judge published the poem below, entitled “The Substitute,” in the early 1900s:
Smith has a lovely baby girl,
The stork left her with a flutter.
Smith named her Oleomargarine,
For he hadn’t any but her.
Oleomargarine is a name I never would have taken seriously if not for this Genealogue post, which mentions Minnie Oleomargarine Avery, born in Missouri in 1919.
Yes, that’s right. Minnie’s middle name is fake butter.
How many other people have been named for oleomargarine? It’s hard to tell. So far, I’ve found seven more via the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and various records databases:
- Oleomargarine Nugent, born in Maryland in 1891
- Oleomargarine Horney, born in Michigan in 1903
- Oleo Margarine Williams, born in Florida in 1919
- Oleomargarine Fristoe, born in Missouri in 1922
- Oleo Margarine Scurlock born in North Carolina in 1922
- Oleo Margarine Fanner, born in Texas in 1928
- Oleo Margarine German, born in Texas in 1928
I also noticed hundreds of people named either “Margarine” or “Oleo,” but there’s no way to tell which of these folks were named with oleomargarine in mind specifically. (A lot of the Oleos did have the promising middle initial “M,” though.)
Why did people name their kids for fake butter?
“Maybe because oleomargarine was for many years an illicit substance,” Genealogue opines.
It’s true — starting in the 1880s, dairy industry lobbyists (read: the butter people) pressured federal and state governments to discourage people from consuming margarine, which had been introduced in the 1870s.
This resulted in margarine bans, margarine taxes, and more. There were even laws preventing margarine-makers from coloring margarine yellow, like butter. In the vintage Nucoa ad below, the blurb above the toast reads: “For table use, tint NUCOA golden yellow with the pure Color-Wafer included in each package. For cooking, just use it as it comes — a pure, natural white.”
These regulations, in turn, created a sort of oleo black market. Demand for yellow margarine was so great that sales of “bootleg” colored margarine were flourishing by the turn of the century.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that most of the anti-margarine laws were finally repealed.
So, were these laws — and the consequent forbidden nature of fake butter — what turned “oleomargarine” into an enticing baby name?
Or would oleomargarine have been used as a name regardless, simply because it’s an interesting word?
What do you think?