Most of us are probably not familiar with the name “Wendell Willkie,” but a number of babies were named Wendell, Willkie, or both in the early 1940s.
They were named in honor of politician Wendell Lewis Willkie, the liberal Republican who ran against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election.
“His rise to political prominence was meteoric. Willkie astonishingly outstripped early favorite Thomas Dewey for the Republican candidacy and pulled more than 22 million votes in his bid to unseat FDR.”
Willkie may have lost the race, but he gained a number of namesakes:
The baby name Willkie was both the top boy-name debut and the top boy-name one-hit wonder of 1940, in fact.
Here are some Wendell Willkie namesakes that made the news:
- Wendell Willkie Wiener, born in late June, 1940, to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard B. Wiener of Washington. “Wiener said he had been a Democrat but had decided to “switch over to Mr. Willkie–not the Republican party, just Mr. Willkie.””
- Wendell Delano Barovich and Franklin Willkie Barovich, twins, born in mid-1940 to Mr. and Mrs. Vas Barovich of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “Mrs. Barovich is a Republican and her husband a loyal Democrat. She insisted that the baby be named Wendell Willkie if it happened to be a boy. Mr. Barovich was equally determined that it be named for the President.” They had twins, so they compromised.
- Wendy Cuttita, Louise Cuttita and Willkie Cuttita, triplets (two girls and a boy) born on November 4, 1940 (election eve) to Mr. and Mrs. Carl Cuttita of New York City.
Willkie ended up becoming one of Roosevelt’s most unlikely allies, and he traveled around the world as FDR’s personal representative. Willkie wrote about these travels in his bestselling book One World (1943). The next year, at the age of 52, he died of a heart attack.
- “Happy Compromise.” Palm Beach Post 13 Aug. 1940: 4.
- Mackie, Sam A. “When Wendell Willkie helped save world.” Orlando Sentinel 31 Jul. 2005.
- “Triplets Are Born Here; All Named for Willkie.” New York Times 5 Nov. 1940.
- Vanden Heuvel, William J. “In Praise of Wendell Willkie, a ‘Womanizer.'” New York Times 19 Dec. 1987.
- “Washington Baby is Named Willkie.” Spartanburg Herald 9 Jul. 1940: 2.
Newspaper image clipped from the Daily Freeman [Kingston, NY].
4 thoughts on “How did Wendell Willkie influence baby names in the early 1940s?”
My dad has a childhood friend named Walter Willke, but my dad has always called him “Wendell.” I never got the joke before… but he was born around 1935, so of course his classmates would have called him Wendell!
Mystery solved! :)
I have a Wendell in the family tree, but he’s older than Mr. Willkie.