One of the most interesting usage patterns in the very early baby name data is that of Belva, which spiked twice: in 1884 and again in 1888. In fact, it was the fastest-rising girl name of 1884 by a wide margin.
- 1891: 23 baby girls named Belva (542nd)
- 1890: 42 baby girls named Belva (386th)
- 1889: 31 baby girls named Belva (431st)
- 1888: 66 baby girls named Belva (289th)
- 1887: 27 baby girls named Belva (424th)
- 1886: 23 baby girls named Belva (455th)
- 1885: 30 baby girls named Belva (373th)
- 1884: 66 baby girls named Belva (234th)
- 1883: 5 baby girls named Belva (937th)
- 1882: 5 baby girls named Belva (922nd)
- 1881: 6 baby girls named Belva (rank: 747th)
Data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) reveals higher raw numbers, but the same double-spike pattern:
- 1891: 50 people with the first name Belva
- 1890: 67 people with the first name Belva
- 1889: 59 people with the first name Belva
- 1888: 95 people with the first name Belva
- 1887: 33 people with the first name Belva
- 1886: 35 people with the first name Belva
- 1885: 62 people with the first name Belvas
- 1884: 105 people with the first name Belva
- 1883: 9 people with the first name Belva
- 1882: 9 people with the first name Belva
- 1881: 3 people with the first name Belva
What was the influence?
An impressive lady named Belva Ann Lockwood, who ran for president of the United States in both 1884 and 1888.
Belva was born into the Bennett family of western New York in 1830. Her four siblings were named Rachel, Warren, Cyrene, and Inverno (which means “winter” in Italian).
She then took the highly unusual step of pursuing higher education. She attended Genesee College (later Syracuse University), graduated in 1857, and began working in the school system. She said:
The male teachers in the free schools of the State of New York received more than double the salary paid to the women teachers at that time, simply because they were men, and for precisely the same work. […] I at once began to agitate this question, arguing that pay should be for work, and commensurate to it, and not be based on sex.
Belva had a strong interest in law and in politics, so in 1866 she took another unusual step: she moved with her daughter to Washington, D.C., and began attending one of the few law schools that would admit women. She also married a second time (to Rev. Ezekiel Lockwood) and had a second daughter (Jessie, who lived only 18 months).
She completed the course of study, but, because she was female, she had to fight to receive a diploma. After that, she began practicing law. “Her clients were primarily blue-collar laborers, maids, and tradesmen and her work consisted of all manner of civil and criminal cases.”
In 1879, Belva became the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar, and in 1880, she became the first woman to argue a case, Kaiser v. Stickney, before the Supreme Court.
In 1884, she was nominated for president by the National Equal Rights Party — even though women didn’t yet have the right to vote. When one reporter asked her whether or not she was eligible to become president, Belva replied: “There’s not a thing in the Constitution that prevents a woman from becoming President. I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.”
The same party nominated her again in 1888. (Also this year, the community of Lockwood in Monterey County, California, was named after her.)
Though she didn’t come close to winning the race either time — the winners were Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, respectively — she did succeed in drawing attention to the cause of women’s suffrage.
She continued to practice law into her 80s, and died in 1917 at the age of 86.
I’m not sure how Belva’s parents selected her name, but a user at Behind the Name thinks that “Belva” evolved as a feminine variant of the name Belvedere, which originated as an Italian toponymic surname made up of the elements bello, meaning “beautiful,” and vedere, meaning “to see” or “to look at.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Belva? Will it ever be stylish again, do you think?
- Belva Ann Lockwood Biography | Northwestern California University School of Law
- “For Belva and Reform.” Evening Star [Washington, D.C.] 17 Sept. 1884: 1.
- Lockwood, Belva A. “My Efforts to Become a Lawyer.” Feb. 1888: 215-229.
- Norgren, Jill. Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President. New York: New York University Press, 2007.
- Behind the Name: User-submitted name Belvedere