Mystery baby name: Elwanda

Ready for another baby name mystery? I present to you Elwanda, which saw a sharp increase in usage in 1921:

  • 1923: 54 baby girls named Elwanda
    • 61% in 4 states: 14 TX, 7 WV, 6 AR, 6 KY
  • 1922: 85 baby girls named Elwanda [rank: 791st]
    • 66% in 5 states: 17 TX, 15 AR, 8 MO, 8 TN, 6 OK
  • 1921: 98 baby girls named Elwanda [rank: 739th]
    • 72% in 6 states: 25 TX, 18 AR, 9 OK, 7 MO, 6 KY, 6 WV
  • 1920: 5 baby girls named Elwanda [debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

So far, I can’t explain that spike (which was the steepest rise overall that year). But I can tell you that most of that 1921 usage took place in an interesting grouping of Southern states:

On the one hand, higher usage of Wanda-based names in the early 1920s makes sense because that’s when name Wanda itself was very trendy. (Wanda entered the top 100 in 1922.)

On the other hand, when you compare the usage of Elwanda to that of the other Wanda-variants (like Wandalee and Lawanda), it’s clear that something else must have happened in Elwanda’s case for the rise to be that steep — not to mention so regionally specific.

Any ideas about what influenced Elwanda?

P.S. Other names that saw increased usage during the 1920s were influenced by things like movies, music (but not radio), literature (particularly serialized stories), and news stories.

4 thoughts on “Mystery baby name: Elwanda

  1. The name apparently came from a book published around that time. Or that’s what my grandmother said when my mom asked how she got that name. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any of the details about title or author, and my grandmother died long ago.

  2. Something interesting I found was that two cows were named Elwanda in 1921 as well- one seemingly born July 23 (https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_American_Shorthorn_Herd_Book/2qxOAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22elwanda%22+herd&pg=PA694&printsec=frontcover) and one on March 19 (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3242804;skin=2021;sz=25;q1=%22elwanda%22;start=1;sort=seq;page=search;seq=879), so maybe they were named after the same source?

    Even before that, there was one Elwanda cow from 1908: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Herd_Register/jFE0EcgKkYEC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22elwanda%22+herd&pg=PT93&printsec=frontcover. Judging by the names of the other cows from that breeder, however, I feel like it has to be a misprint of “Etiwanda” which is responsible for many of the pre-1921 citations.

    It seems odd that a popular book from 1921 isn’t searchable in this day and age, but that can happen it seems.

  3. Thank you, Alex!

    Yes, those “Herd Book” results typically pop up when I’m doing research on mystery names from the early 1900s — Elwanda, Nerine, etc. I think it’s logical to assume that whatever was influencing baby names around that time was also influencing cow names.

    If the source is indeed a story, I bet there’s *some* trace of it online…we probably just need a few more details to finally track it down.

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