Where did the baby name Dwala come from in 1942?

Illustration of piano player Dwala Graves
Dwala Graves

The curious name Dwala first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1942:

  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 11 baby girls named Dwala
  • 1942: 15 baby girls named Dwala [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

Despite the fact that it one of the highest-debuting baby names of the year, Dwala only remained in the data for one more year before dropping out again.

Where did it come from?

A pint-sized piano player named Dwala Jeaniene Graves from Norfolk, Nebraska.

In January of 1942, as a nine-year-old, her unique skills were highlighted in the nationally syndicated Ripley’s Believe It or Not newspaper panel. The panel said that Dwala “plays the piano and tap dances at the same time while blindfolded and wearing mittens.”

Illustration of piano player Dwala Graves
Dwala Graves

In September of 1942, she was a guest on the popular Hobby Lobby radio show hosted by Dave Elman. She did the blindfolded/mitten-wearing/tap-dancing thing again, plus this time she also performed “while sitting on the floor with her head under the keyboard.”

Though the name Dwala didn’t stay in the data long, Dwala Graves herself continued to perform, both on radio and in concert, throughout the ’40s and at least halfway into the ’50s.

After that, she married and had three daughters named Cala, Jeaniene, and Darla.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Dwala?

P.S. Dwala had younger twin siblings named Doy Royce (boy) and Devon Renee (girl).


8 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Dwala come from in 1942?

  1. I think the Graves children were fathered by a man whose given name started with D. Dwala’s name might be a smash-up of her father’s and mother’s names, perhaps DWAyne + LAraine. Do you know how it is pronounced? dway-lah? dwah-lah? Original, in any case.

  2. Well, NO. Just looked at FindaGrave footnote. Parents’ names do not bear out my smashup theory. As you were……

  3. It was a good theory though! :)

    I tried to track down a recording of Dwala performing, so that I could listen to someone saying her name out loud, but I couldn’t find anything. In my head I’ve been pronouncing it DWAH-luh (rhymes with “impala”), but I don’t know if this is correct.

  4. I think DWAH-LAH also. Other history I picked up from your post: I had no idea Hobby Lobby went back to the 40s. First one I ever saw was in the 70s.

  5. Oh I think your observation is correct — the chain of stores does only go back to the ’70s. The radio show (from the ’30s and ’40s) just happens to have the same name.

    Guests on the weekly “Hobby Lobby” radio show would “lobby for their hobby” — that is, share an unusual hobby or skill with the radio audience (and a studio audience as well, I believe).

  6. That’s curious. The obituary states that Dwala married in 1957 and “became the mother of three adorable daughters,” but only mentions Darla by name. (Perhaps Darla was the one who wrote the obit…?)

    In any case, the Minnesota Birth Index lists all three:

    • Cala Rae Oak, born in 1958
    • Jeaniene Renee Oak, born in 1959
    • Darla Rae Oak, born in 1960

    (Minnesota is where her husband Ray was from.)

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