According to the U.S. baby name data, something unusual happened to the name Norita in the 1930s:
- 1939: 34 baby girls named Norita
- 1938: 47 baby girls named Norita
- 1937: 155 baby girls named Norita [rank: 532nd]
- 1936: 19 baby girls named Norita
- 1935: 89 baby girls named Norita [rank: 713th]
- 1934: 7 baby girls named Norita
- 1933: 6 baby girls named Norita
See how the usage spiked twice? Interesting, isn’t it?
A double-spike requires a double-explanation, and one of those explanations I’ve figured out. The other I’m still working on.
Norita’s 1935 spike
Norita’s first spike can be traced back to a contest, believe it or not. Contests were all the rage in the mid-1930s according to Newsweek:
Almost every week, radio stations and newspapers announce new contests. Prizes of money, automobiles, and round-the-world trips incite listeners and readers to send in slogans and 50-word essays written on soap wrappers and cigar bands.
This particular contest, sponsored by Gold Medal Flour, was woven into the storyline of an old time radio show called “Betty and Bob.” After characters Betty and Bob Drake found a orphaned baby girl at their doorstep on Christmas Eve of 1934, they asked their audience to help choose a name for her.
Gold Medal Flour magazine advertisements from early 1935 gave detailed descriptions of the baby — “golden hair,” “blue eyes,” “happy disposition” — and hints on picking a name, which they stressed should be “original” and “unique.”
Thousands of cash prizes were offered, including a $10,000 grand prize. Here’s the full list (and what the prizes would be worth in today’s dollars):
- 1st – $10,000 (equivalent to $170,713.14 in 2013)
- 2nd – $1,500 ($25,606.97)
- 3rd – $1,000 ($17,071.31)
- 4th – $500 ($8,535.66)
- 5th – $250 ($4,267.83)
- 6th – $200 ($3,414.26)
- 7th – $150 ($2,560.70)
- 8th – $100 ($1,707.13)
- 9th – $75 ($1,280.35)
- 10th – $25 ($426.78)
- 11th – $15 ($256.07)
- 12th – $10 ($170.71)
- 13th – $7 ($119.50)
- 14th – $5 ($85.36)
- 1,000+ other entrants – $1 each ($17.07)
That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider that the nation was still trying to pull itself out of the Great Depression in the mid-1930s.*
Hundreds of thousands of people entered the contest, which ran until mid-February. Some people really went out of their way to catch the attention of the judges:
One woman painstakingly embroidered a pillow with a name on it and could not understand why she got no prize. She even claimed the work had damaged her eyesight. A man sent an 8-foot, electrically-wired lighthouse with the entry-name over its door. A third contestant contributed a huge doll in an expensive bassinet; a nameplate hung on the doll’s neck.
More than 50,000 people suggested the name Goldie (a nod to Gold Medal Flour). Another 57,000 suggested Betty-Jane.
But only Mrs. E. M. Nelson of Minnesota suggested the grand prize-winning name Norita, a name she’d created from an Old English word for “foster child,” norie (also spelled nory, nurry, etc.). The word ultimately comes from Old French nourrir, meaning “nourish.”
The only other prize-winner I know of was a woman named Martha Hunt of Washington state who submitted the name “Adolla” and received $250 (5th place).
According to a newspaper article from 1942, the Gold Medal Flour “Radio’s Nameless Mystery Baby” contest was General Mills’ second-most successful contest ever. Seven years later, the company was still receiving entries.
Norita’s 1937 spike
The second spike was higher than the first — 155 babies this time, versus 89 in 1935 — but I haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause.
One thing I can tell you about the 1937 spike is that, in contrast to the 1935 spike, it inspired a lot of variant forms:
(Noreda, Norrita, Noreeta, Noreita, Noritta, Norietta, Norreta, and Norretta were one-hit wonders.)
A sudden increase in variant forms always points me to an audio source — something that has a lot of people hearing a name, but not seeing it written down. This forces people to come up with their own spellings. The Deirdre and Kasara spikes were caused by audio sources, for instance.
So the second Norita spike was likely caused either by radio or by a movie. (Television wasn’t widely adopted until well into the 1950s.)
One other thing I can tell you is that the 1937 spike was localized, just like the 1935 spike. In 1935, most of the babies named Norita were born in the Midwest:
- 12 Noritas in Minnesota (1935)
- 9 Noritas in Wisconsin (1935)
- 7 Noritas in Indiana (1935)
- 6 Noritas in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio (1935)
- 5 Noritas in Texas (1935)
The story of a Minnesota woman winning $10,000 by inventing the name “Norita” was probably a lot bigger in this region than elsewhere.
Skipping ahead two years, we see something similar:
- 17 Noritas in Ohio (1937)
- 16 Noritas in Pennsylvania (1937)
- 14 Noritas in California (1937)
- 11 Noritas in Illinois (1937)
- 10 Noritas in Texas (1937)
- 9 Noritas in Indiana and Minnesota (1937)
- 5 Noritas in Michigan, Oregon, and West Virginia (1937)
The localization isn’t quite as strong, but over 20% of the 1937 Noritas were born in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which is notable.
My best guess is that the second spike is related to the “Betty and Bob” radio show somehow. Perhaps baby Norita became an on-air character in 1937?
But I have no clue why the name was disproportionately popular in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Do you have any ideas?
Also: Do you like the name Norita? Would you ever consider using it for a baby?
- BLS Inflation Calculator
- “Contest: 57,000 American Listeners Have The Same Idea” Newsweek 11 May 1935: 38.
- Hughes, Lawrence M. “Advertising news.” New York Sun 13 Feb. 1941: 23.
- Whitney, William Dwight Whitney and Benjamin Eli Smith. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. New York: The Century Co., 1914.
- “Wins Cash Award for Baby’s Name.” Spokane Daily Chronicle 18 Apr. 1935: 6.
*Did you know some kids were actually named Depression during the Great Depression?
14 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Norita a boost (twice) in the 1930s?”
I just thought I would tell you about Norita’s significance where I live here in Utah. There is Native American legend of a princess who jumps from a mountain (one of those sad love stories). There has been a book published here: Norita: A legend of Bridal Veil Falls. (the waterfall in the canyon is part of the events of the story). I was curious after reading your article and happened on an obituary for someone in this area named Norita – which explains that she was named for the princess. She was born before the spike you found, of course. But I just wanted to let you know of another source, at least regionally, for people using the name Norita back then. Mormon missionaries go to various parts of the country and it’s also possible that they take some of the stories they know with them.
here is a link to the poem which tells the legend
Thank you! I didn’t come across that poem at all during my research — interesting!
I wonder if this influenced Mrs. E. M. Nelson of Minnesota somehow…?
According to this source, the first version of the story/legend to include the name Norita was printed in 1922:
Source: On Zion’s Mount by Jared Farmer
Just checked the entry for “Betty and Bob” in the book Radio Programs, 1924-1984 by Vincent Terrace. There’s no Norita listed among the main characters. So it doesn’t look like that particular radio soap opera is the answer.
I have loved finding this article. My Name is Norita. I was so excited to find the background of it. I know my mother was listening to a radio program when she was carrying me and loved the name.
Nice to hear from you, Norita! I’m so glad you liked the post. I’m also excited to hear that your mother discovered your name via the radio! She didn’t by any chance mention the name of the program she was listening to, did she? :)
My mother named me Norita and said it was because of a soap opera on the radio where the main charactor name was Nora and She was in love with a Spanisg mab and he called her Norita his love I think it was a soap opera called Nora Haines. I was born in
should read Spanish man
Thanks Norita Shepherd Moss! I haven’t been able to track down that particular series yet, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled!
I just read this and I was born in 1939 in Ohio not 1929 I m old enough lol
I will change the year in the comment. :)
My paternal grandmother was named Norita. She was born in July 1935. The story I had heard, was that my great grandfather, a native of Denmark, was listening to a radio contest, and Norita was the winning name. This sounds like the contest you are referring to, but for some reason we had heard that it was a Japanese naming contest, so we thought the name was of Japanese origin. My grandmother wasn’t of Japanese ancestry though. Regardless, the name was so popular amongst her father’s side of the family, that 2 of her cousins on her dad’s side named their daughters Norita. Those 2 relatives lived in Denmark and Canada though. My grandmother passed away in 2010. I ended up named my firstborn daughter Norita in 2018. Most people these days have never heard of the name Norita, it seems.
@Steven Leighton – How interesting that the name has become so popular within your (extended) family!
I can see how the idea of “Norita” being a Japanese name might have crept in along the way — Norita is similar in construction to many 3-syllable Japanese names (e.g., Noriko, Moriko, Hiroto).