Where did the baby name Fola come from in 1911?

Actress and activist Fola La Follette (1882-1970)
Fola La Follette

The simple name Fola has only appeared in the U.S. baby name data twice:

  • 1913: unlisted
  • 1912: 7 baby girls named Fola
  • 1911: 6 baby girls named Fola [debut]
  • 1910: unlisted
  • 1909: unlisted

What put it there?

My guess is Flora “Fola” La Follette (1882-1970), the daughter of well-known Wisconsin politician Robert La Follette and his wife, women’s suffrage leader Isabelle “Belle” Case La Follette.

Fola La Follette, who had embarked upon a career as a stage actress in 1903, was getting extra attention around 1911 for a couple of reasons:

  • First, the news of her engagement and marriage to playwright George Middleton in October of 1911.
  • Second, her efforts as a suffragist. (She started performing the one-woman play How the Vote was Won in 1910, for instance.)
Fola La Follette pictured in a newspaper
Fola in the papers

It looks like baby girls were being named after Fola La Follette earlier than 1911, though. Here’s some data from the Social Security Death Index:

  • 1913: 4 people named Fola (1 died in Wisconsin)
  • 1912: 7 people named Fola
  • 1911: 12 people named Fola (1 died in WI)
  • 1910: 4 people named Fola (1 died in WI)
  • 1909: 3 people named Fola (1 died in WI)
  • 1908: 5 people named Fola (1 died in WI)
  • 1907: 2 people named Fola (1 died in WI)
  • 1906: 3 people named Fola (1 died in WI)
  • 1905: 4 people named Fola
  • 1904: 6 people named Fola (2 died in WI)
  • 1903: 2 people named Fola
  • 1902: 0 people named Fola
  • 1901: 0 people named Fola
  • 1900: 0 people named Fola

Not only does it show a similar spike in usage, but it suggests that interest in “Fola” picked up around the time Fola La Follette began performing, and also reveals that a disproportionate number of these Folas died in Wisconsin — suggesting that many of them were also born in Wisconsin. (Fola Norton, for example, was born in Wisconsin in 1910 and died there in 1999.)

I even found three females with “Fola La Follette” as their first and middle names, including Fola La Follette Kessler (née Sheaffer), born in Iowa in 1905.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Fola? (Do you like it more or less than Flora?)


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