The name “George Barr McCutcheon” probably doesn’t mean anything to you. But the name has become pretty familiar to me over the years, because George Barr McCutcheon — who wrote dozens of novels in the early 1900s — put several brand new baby names on the map in the early 20th century.
The Indiana-born writer lived from 1866 to 1928, and many of his books became bestsellers. Today, his best-remembered story is Brewster’s Millions, which has been adapted into a movie several times. The most memorable adaptation was the 1985 version starring comedians Richard Pryor (as protagonist Montgomery Brewster) and John Candy.
So which baby names did McCutcheon introduce/influence?
McCutcheon’s novel Nedra (1905) was the 5th best-selling book of 1905. Though there’s a lady on the front cover, “Nedra” isn’t a female character, but the name of an island on which several of the characters are shipwrecked.
The next year, the name Nedra debuted on the U.S. baby name charts. In fact, it was the top debut name of 1906.
- 1909: 14 baby girls named Nedra
- 1908: 18 baby girls named Nedra
- 1907: 10 baby girls named Nedra
- 1906: 11 baby girls named Nedra [debut]
- 1905: unlisted
Data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) confirms that the name Nedra saw noticeably higher usage after the book was released.
One of these baby Nedras grew up to become actress Nedra Volz (b. 1908).
Yetive, Truxton, Gerane, Beverly
McCutcheon wrote six novels about the fictional Eastern European country of Graustark:
- Graustark (1901) – the 9th best-selling book of 1901
- Beverly of Graustark (1904) – the 6th best-selling book of 1904
- Truxton King (1909) – the 6th best-selling book of 1909
- The Prince of Graustark (1914) – the 10th best-selling book of 1914
- East of the Setting Sun (1924)
- The Inn of the Hawk and Raven (1927)
Several of these books were later made into movies and plays. The three Graustarkian names I’ve noticed on the charts are:
- Yetive (debuted in 1911), inspired by Princess Yetive, a character in the first two books.
- Truxton (deb. 1912), inspired by Truxton King, a character in the 3rd book.
- Gerane (deb. 1928), inspired by Gerane Davos, a character in the final book. (The variant spelling “Geraine” was a one-hit wonder the same year.)
Plus there’s Beverly, which was used for a female character in Beverly of Graustark. The novel, along with a 1926 film adaptation, helped pull the once-gender-neutral name onto the girls’ side definitively. (Ironically, the actress who played Princess Yetive in a 1915 film adaptation of Graustark used the stage name Beverly Bayne.)
Here are some of Graustarkian names that did not make the charts: Ganlook, Grenfall, Dantan, Dannox, Marlanx, Bevra (the daughter of Beverly), Hedrik, and Pendennis.
McCutcheon’s novel West Wind Drift (1920) is like his earlier book Nedra in that both stories involve a shipwreck and an island. In Nedra, “Nedra” is the name of the island; in West Wind Drift, “Doraine” is the name of the ship.
The year West Wind Drift came out, the name Doraine debuted in the baby name data.
- 1923: 5 baby girls named Doraine
- 1922: unlisted
- 1921: 6 baby girls named Doraine
- 1920: 11 baby girls named Doraine [debut]
- 1919: unlisted
It was tied for 2nd-highest debut name that year. (#1 was Dardanella.)
Coincidentally, the shipwrecked characters in West Wind Drift have a debate at one point about using “Doraine” as baby name. They argue over whether or not they should give the name to an orphaned baby girl who had been born aboard the ship. Here’s the opinion of character Michael Malone: “We can’t do better than to name her after her birthplace. That’s her name. Doraine Cruise. It sounds Irish. Got music in it.”
Have you ever a George Barr McCutcheon book? If so, do you remember any unusual character names? (If not, and you’d like to check him out, here are dozens of George Barr McCutcheon novels archived at Project Gutenberg.)
Sources: The Books of the Century: 1900-1999 – Daniel Immerwahr, George Barr McCutcheon – Wikipedia