What gave baby name Oveta a nudge in 1953?

Government official Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995)
Oveta Culp Hobby (c. 1953)

According to the U.S. baby name data, the rare name Oveta saw its highest usage during the 1950s:

  • 1955: 11 baby girls named Oveta
  • 1954: 12 baby girls named Oveta
  • 1953: 14 baby girls named Oveta (peak usage)
  • 1952: 7 baby girls named Oveta
  • 1951: unlisted


My guess is Texas-born government official Oveta (pronounced oh-VEE-tuh) Culp Hobby.

In April of 1953, she was appointed by Dwight Eisenhower as the first secretary of the newly formed U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. This made Oveta the second woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet position. (The first was Frances Perkins, under FDR.)

Oveta was featured on the cover of Time magazine in May of 1953. The lengthy cover article included an explanation of Oveta’s unusual first name:

She was […] the second of Isaac and Emma Hoover Culp’s seven children. Her mother named her Oveta (an Indian word for forget) after a character in a romantic novel, and because it rhymed so pleasantly with Juanita, the name of the first Culp daughter.

She served in the Eisenhower administration until mid-1955. After resigning, she returned to her home in Houston to work as president of the Houston Post Company. (Her husband, William P. Hobby — Oveta’s senior by close to 27 years — was chairman of the board of directors at the Post.)

Interestingly, Oveta may have influenced U.S. baby names a decade earlier as well. In 1942, after a short absence, her name re-emerged in the data with a relatively high number of babies:

  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 6 baby girls named Oveta
  • 1942: 10 baby girls named Oveta
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

That was the year she was sworn in as the the first director of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which was created in May — about five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor — “to enable women to serve in noncombat positions” during World War II.

What are your thoughts on the name Oveta?


Image: Oveta (Culp) Hobby (LOC)

3 thoughts on “What gave baby name Oveta a nudge in 1953?

  1. I like it; I’m glad it’s pronounced Oveeta rather than the short “e” sound. Of course, it does make me think of Velveeta.

  2. It is not a name I would use but I do appreciate it on someone else. I wonder what the actual etymology of the name is. It sounds like a fantasy Native American name, but I doubt it is actually Native American.

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