The first big wave of immigration from Vietnam to the U.S. began after the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
Four temporary immigration centers were set up in the U.S. to process the refugees. The largest of these was Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.
By the end of 1975, nearly 51,000 immigrants had been processed at Fort Chaffee. In the meanwhile, 325 babies were born to the refugees living there.
And what baby name debuted (as both a girl name and a boy name) on the SSA’s baby name list in 1975?
The baby name Chaffee:
- 1977: unlisted
- 1976: unlisted
- 1975: 5 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Chaffee [dual-gender debut]
- 1974: unlisted
- 1973: unlisted
So far, that’s the only year the name Chaffee has been popular enough to appear on the national list.
Were these 10 babies the children of Ft. Chaffee refugees?
I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you that all 5 of the baby boys were born in Arkansas. (Not sure about the baby girls.) Also, nearly all of the people I’ve found so far who were born in 1975 and named Chaffee had Vietnamese surnames.
(While researching, I found a Chicago-based business coach named Chaffee-Thanh Nguyen. Don’t know when he was born, but I’d venture to guess 1975.)
How did Fort Chaffee get its name?
It was named after Major General Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. (b. 1884) whose surname is of Norman origin. The surname can be traced back to the Old French word chauf, meaning “bald.”
And how did Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr. get his name? He was named for his father, Lieutenant General Adna Romanza Chaffee, Sr. (b. 1842). Adna is a Biblical name said to mean “pleasure, delight” and Romanza is related to the Italian word romanzo, meaning “romance.” Newspaper writers of the early 1900s called Adna Romanza Sr.’s name “peculiar,” “incomprehensible,” “absurd,” and a “baptismal handicap,” among other things.
- “Chatting About Chaffee.” Boston Evening Transcript 9 Nov. 1914: 10.
- Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Indochinese Resettlement Program – Encyclopedia of Arkansas
- “Men and Women.” Baltimore American 25 Aug. 1900: 6.
- Thompson, Larry Clinton. Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.
- “Topics of the Times.” New York Times 1 Aug. 1900.
- Vietnamese-American – Wikipedia