Tex Vertmann was born in Estonia in the mid-1970s. The very American-sounding first name “Tex” is unusual in Estonia — how did he come to have it?
Vertmann said his parents used to spend the best moments of their life together at the cinema, watching all kinds of foreign movies that had either been left behind by the Germans or bought by the Soviet Union from the U.S.
Estonia was part of the USSR from 1940 to 1991, and for several years during WWII it was occupied by Nazi Germany.
Among these were the Italian film “Return to Sorrento” and “Waterloo Bridge” […] But Vertmann’s parents just adored “Sun Valley Serenade,” in which the famous Glenn Miller conducted his orchestra.
These films were released in 1945, 1940, and 1941, respectively.
The name of one of Miller’s band players, the tenor-sax, was Tex Beneke. Vertmann remembered [his] parents also liked the Miller song “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” which begins with the line “Hello Tex!” That’s how Vertmann got his very original name in the times of “deep socialism.”
The movie Sun Valley Serenade, which starred Sonja Henie, includes a sequence in which Texas-born Gordon Lee “Tex” Beneke both sings and whistles “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” The lyrics begin: Hi there Tex, whatchu say?
Americans of the early 1940s (but not the 1970s!) would have agreed with the Vertmanns about the song: a whopping 1.2 million copies of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” were sold by early 1942.
In recognition of this accomplishment, Miller’s record label presented him with a framed, gold-plated copy of the single — the very first gold record. This paved the way for RIAA-issued gold records in the late 1950s.
A single-episode character on the popular TV show Route 66. The episode, “Mon Petit Chou,” first aired on November 24, 1961. It was set in Pittsburgh and guest-starred French actress Macha Méril as character Perette Dijon, a chanteuse with a Svengali-like manager named Glenn (played by Lee Marvin).
Macha was born Maria-Magdalena Vladimirovna Gagarina, and is technically a princess. (Her parents were Ukrainian nobility who fled to the south of France during the Russian Revolution.) When she decided to become an actress, she continued to use her nickname Macha, a diminutive of Maria, and added the surname Méril in tribute to jazz singer Helen Merrill (born Jelena Ana Milcetic).
Do you like the name Perette? Do you like it more or less than Macha?
In 1895, Kenesaw Landis returned to Chicago and founded a law firm with two other lawyers
A decade later, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him a U.S. District Judge for Northern Illinois.
His “involvement in [various] high profile cases, combined with his flair for theatrics, brought his decisions and behavior to national attention. After Standard Oil [in 1907], Landis was dubbed the “most talked of persona in America.”
So he was already a well-known public figure by the time he became the first commissioner of professional baseball in late 1920 (which was not long after news of the Black Sox scandal broke).
Why am I getting into all this detail about Kenesaw Landis?
Because, once he became relatively famous, he began acquiring namesakes of his own!
The name Landis, for instance, debuted in the baby data in 1907 and nearly doubled in usage in 1920:
1922: 17 baby boys named Landis
1921: 18 baby boys named Landis
1920: 23 baby boys named Landis
1919: 12 baby boys named Landis
1918: 13 baby boys named Landis
1917: 14 baby boys named Landis
1916: 17 baby boys named Landis
1915: 13 baby boys named Landis
1914: 7 baby boys named Landis
1913: 7 baby boys named Landis
1912: 6 baby boys named Landis
1910: 5 baby boys named Landis
1907: 6 baby boys named Landis [debut]
The German surname Landis was derived from the Middle High German word landoese, “landless,” which was originally a “nickname for a highwayman or for someone who lays waste to the land.”
Even more interesting, though, are the dozens of boys who got other permutations of his name, such as…
One of last week’s post featured Glenna Lee McCarthy, whose father was famous Texas oil prospector and entrepreneur Glenn McCarthy (1907-1988).
Writer Edna Ferber fictionalized Glenn’s rags-to-riches life story in her novel Giant (1952) with the character Jett Rink.
The book was later made into a movie, which came out in October of 1956.
Jett was played by James Dean, who died in a car accident a month before the film premiered.
The other two main characters were Jordan “Bick” Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) and his wife Leslie Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor). Secondary characters included the Benedicts’ son Jordan, or “Jordy” (Dennis Hopper) and a neighbor named Vashti (Jane Withers).
The movie did well at the box office and was nominated for various Academy Awards, including a posthumous Best Actor nomination for Dean. It also gave a boost to several baby names.
In 1957, the year after the movie was released, the name Jett saw its then-highest-ever usage (a level that wasn’t surpassed until the 1980s).
1958: 17 baby boys named Jett
1957: 24 baby boys named Jett
1956: 14 baby boys named Jett
1955: 5 baby boys named Jett
The boy name Jordan more than doubled in usage in 1957, and the diminutive form Jordy debuted the same year:
186 [rank: 567th]
207 [rank: 539th]
101 [rank: 733rd]
106 [rank: 712th]
109 [rank: 692nd]
Leslie — which had started being given more often to baby girls than to baby boys about a decade earlier — saw its highest-ever usage as a girl name in 1957:
1958: 6,010 baby girls named Leslie [rank: 79th]
1957: 6,101 baby girls named Leslie [rank: 77th] (peak usage)
1956: 4,386 baby girls named Leslie [rank: 104th]
1955: 4,403 baby girls named Leslie [rank: 99th]
1954: 4,148 baby girls named Leslie [rank: 99th]
And Vashti, like Jordan, more than doubled in usage:
1958: 10 baby girls named Vashti
1957: 16 baby girls named Vashti
1956: 7 baby girls named Vashti
1955: 8 baby girls named Vashti
1954: 8 baby girls named Vashti
Interestingly, Luz — another name that was used for two different characters in the movie — saw a slight decline in usage from 1956 to 1957.
The bride was 17-year-old Glenna Lee McCarthy, daughter of famous Texas oilman Glenn McCarthy. She was a student at Lamar High School in Houston at the time.
(Glenn McCarthy was one of the men who inspired Edna Ferber to write the novel Giant in 1952. It was later made into a film starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson.)
The groom was 19-year-old George Pontikes, son of a Greek cobbler. He had graduated from Lamar and was now attending Rice University, where he played football.
In early December, 1950, the pair ran off to Waco to be married by a justice of the peace. News of their elopement broke toward the end of the month — right around the time that Glenna’s older sister, Mary Margaret, was getting married in a much more traditional manner. (Which…could have been awkward.)
Glenna and George were in the news for several days straight at the very end of 1950. Many papers, including the New York Times, mistakenly called the bride “Glenalee McCarthy.” (Not all did, though, and the baby name Glenna saw peak usage in 1951 as a result.)
Papa Glenn McCarthy was unhappy about the elopement at first, but one paper reported that “trigger-tempered McCarthy” had “calmed down after [the] initial outburst of anger.” Perhaps he was quick to forgive because the situation was eerily familiar: He’d eloped with his own wife, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy oilman, back when he was a 23-year-old gas station attendant in 1930.
Do you like the name Glenalee (…even if it started out as a typo)?
“Cobbler’s Son Weds Glenalee M’Carthy.” New York Times 27 Dec. 1950: 38.