From the 1910s to the 1930s, the rare name Greer occasionally popped in the in the U.S. baby name data as a boy name. In the early 1940s, though, it suddenly started being given to baby girls:
1943: 37 baby girls and 10 baby boys named Greer
1942: 15 baby girls and 6 baby boys named Greer
1941: 5 baby girls named Greer
In fact, from 1941 onward, the name Greer has been given more often to baby girls than to baby boys:
What caused the switch?
Red-haired British actress Greer Garson, who was most popular in America during the early-to-mid 1940s. She was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress seven times, though she won only once (for her role in the 1942 movie Mrs. Miniver).
Her birth name was Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson; Greer was her mother’s maiden name. She began going by “Greer Garson” in the early 1930s, while she was still a stage actress in England.
Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM studios, discovered Garson in 1937 while he was abroad hunting for talent. After that particular trip, he sailed back to the U.S. with Garson and several other finds:
Also on board were two Austrian actresses named Hedy Kiesler and Rose Stradner, screenwriter Walter Reisch, and two singers, Hungarian Ilona Hajmassy, and Polish Miliza Korjus. While Mayer renamed Hedy Kiesler “Hedy Lamarr” and changed Ilona Hajmassy to “Ilona Massey,” he was stumped when it came to Greer and Miliza Korjus. Ultimately, he settled with Howard Strickling [head of MGM’s publicity department] to start a publicity campaign for Korjus (“her name rhymes with gorgeous!”), and left Greer’s name alone. But for years he would continue to complain that her name was not feminine enough.
The surname Greer is related to the personal name Gregory, which means “watchful, alert.”
What are your thoughts on the name Greer? Do you like it better as a girl name or as a boy name?
“Greer Garson’s Poodles Go to School for Manners.” Life 23 Jun. 1941: 80.
We can see a similar pattern reflected in the SSDI data:
1901: 48 people with the first name Veva
1900: 51 people with the first name Veva
1899: 91 people with the first name Veva
1898: 41 people with the first name Veva
1897: 30 people with the first name Veva
What caused this sudden interest in the name Veva?
The answer might be a news story.
In the spring of 1899, sisters Evern Case (6) and Veva Case (4), who lived with their mother in Greensboro, North Carolina, went to visit their father in Mississippi for several months.
When their father refused to send them home, their mother’s sister, Elvia Bell (“a brunette of distinguished appearance” in her mid-20s), took it upon herself to travel to Mississippi and retrieve her nieces.
On June 10th, Elvia boarded a train bound for Ocean Springs, MS. Once she got there, she
…took lodging at the hotel to study the situation and mature her plans. She carried a letter of introduction to some lawyers there and soon had the sympathy of the hotel keeper and Mr. Martin Turnbull, a reporter of the Times-Democrat, enlisted in her cause. After fruitless interviews, of not too friendly nature, Mr. Case finally agreed that one child could return Monday, the 26th, but the other must remain with him. This concession did not satisfy Miss Bell. She had gone for both and both she must have.
So, with the help of her new friends, she concocted a plan and was able to gain access to both of her nieces ahead of the 26th. “[A]nd here the excitement begins.”
Here’s the full account of Elvia’s adventure as it appeared in the papers back in 1899:
When the children came Saturday morning it had been planned by the Times-Democrat reporter that Miss Bell and the children should go down the river in a boat toward New Orleans, but this miscarried and, to escape unnoticed, they took a carriage for Fontainbleau, a station several miles distant on the L. & N. Railroad, to take the northbound train from New Orleans. It was a fast drive through Mississippi mud and water, and the little party were much bespattered. A smallpox quarantine was encountered and after considerable difficulty was passed. Fortunately the train was an hour late. As it pulled in Miss Bell discovered a man, whom she recognized as the Times-Democrat reporter, on the rear of the train waving to her frantically. She made for him at once, when the conductor and porter lifted her and the children bodily on the train. She learned that the grandfather of the children had caught on to the racket who, as well as the reporter, had boarded the train lower down the road and was now in quest of her.
The irate old gentleman soon put in an appearance, upbraided Miss Bell, taunted her with “trying to do something smart” and informed her that they would get off at Scranton (the next station) intimating that she would be arrested there. Not having a Pullman car ticket this disturbing factor was soon removed from the scene by the porter, and Miss Bell locked herself and the children inside one of the departments of the Pullman car. At Scranton the grandfather alighted from the train and the officers got on, who failing in their search got off at the next station. In the meanwhile the grandfather at Scranton had a warrant issued for Miss Bell on the charge of kidnapping and telegraphed the Mobile, Ala., authorities to have her arrested. The reporter anticipated this and used all his influence with the railroad men in her behalf. It was decided that she and the children should be locked up and the conductor would immediately leave the train.
When the train arrived at Mobile, 1:30, two of the city’s detectives and a crowd, over which hovered an air of suspicion, were there to greet it. The officers at once began their search and one of the trainsmen treacherously gave the scheme away. They demanded admittance, which being refused, the door was battered open. Miss Bell was clutching both children in her arms and boldly demanded their authority for attempting her arrest. Failing to produce any she resisted them and took refuge behind every seat of the car. Reaching the door she kicked it shut, which locking fast, the same tedious process was necessary to reach the other end of the car. Her arms were bruised and blackened in the struggle.
She and the children were now hastened to the police station but the faithful reporter of the Times-Democrat did not desert her. He at once secured the service of Gregory L. Smith, one of the most prominent attorneys of Mobile, who immediately went to her and hearing her story, told her to leave the station. The chief of police objected promptly, saying he had a warrant for her detention, which charged her with being a fugitive from justice on the evidence of being concealed on the train. Mr. Smith then went before Judge Semmer and secured a writ of habeas corpus returnable instanter, and the case was tried in the city court, Mr. Smith representing Miss Bell and the city attorney the chief of police.
The trial was quick, thanks to the fact that Elvia could produce the contract signed by the girls’ parents regarding the details of the trip to Mississippi. The judge ruled in her favor, and she was released — free to return to Greensboro with her nieces.
But the action doesn’t quite end yet. She planned to leave town via train at midnight, but:
…it was suspected by the reporter, and suspected rightly, that the grandfather and officers would come from Scranton on the very train upon which she was to leave. How to evade them was now the problem. It seemed a difficult one, but nothing is too much for reporters and railroad men. It conjunction they planned that Miss Bell an the children should be on the opposite side of the train from which the passengers get off and that a door be opened on that side for her reception. Accordingly when the train came the grandfather and the officers, who had been wired of the arrest, alighted on the side with the throng, while Miss Bell and the children quietly entered from the other.
And the trio made it safely back to Greensboro.
The papers declared Elvia “a heroine” who, “through the whole trying adventure was as cool, unflinching and incisive as a surgeon’s knife.”
Usage of the baby name Elvia increased in 1899 as well — not as impressively as Veva did, but enough to boost Elvia into the girls’ top 1,000 for the first time.
All this said…I’m not 100% sure about this theory. The rise of Veva didn’t occur primarily in North Carolina, even though that’s where most of the news coverage was. And I think the rise of Elvia should have been more significant, given Elvia Bell’s starring role in the story.
In any case…what are your impressions of the baby names Veva and Elvia? Which one do you like more?
Flashy American tennis player Andre Agassi, who was hard to miss with his color-coordinated outfits and signature mullet. (Agassi is pronounced AG-uh-see; the first syllable rhymes with “flag.”)
His professional career lasted more than two decades, but 1992 was the year he finally won his first Grand Slam title. Specifically, it was a win at Wimbledon — an emotional one at that, following seven failed attempts and then a three-year boycott of the event (because Agassi disliked Wimbledon’s traditionalism and all-white dress code).
Agassi went on to win seven more Grand Slam titles (four of them in 1999, for a Career Grand Slam).
So where does the surname Agassi come from?
Agassi’s father, Emanoul Aghasi, was born and raised in Iran, but his family was Armenian. The family surname was originally Aghassian, but the distinctively Armenian suffix -ian had been dropped several generations earlier to avoid persecution. The root of the surname is the Turkish word agha, meaning “lord, master, gentleman.”
Upon immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1950s, Emanoul Aghasi changed his name to Mike Agassi. (He chose “Mike” because it “sounded American” and was easy to spell.) He spent a decade in Chicago, where he married and started a family, then relocated to Las Vegas in the early 1960s. In 1970, he welcomed his youngest child, a son:
My father named me Andre Kirk Agassi, after his bosses at the casino. I ask my mother why my father named me after his bosses. Were they friends? Did he admire them? Did he owe them money? She doesn’t know. And it’s not the kind of question you can ask my father directly. You can’t ask my father anything directly.
I’m not sure who “Andre” was, but “Kirk” was American businessman Kerkor “Kirk” Kerkorian, who was also of Armenian descent, coincidentally. (“Kerkor” is an Armenian version of Grigor, which is a form of Gregory.)
Getting back to the name Agassi, though…what do you think of “Agassi” as a first name? (Do you like it more or less than the name Andre?)
Agassi, Andre. Open: An Autobiography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
Like the name Tirrell, the curious name Gamble appears regularly these days in the boys’ data, but it first popped up as a girl name — just once — in 1961:
1961: 5 baby girls named Gamble [debut]
Where did it come from?
Another runaway heiress! This one was New York debutante/heiress Gamble Benedict, the granddaughter of Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935), co-owner of the Remington Typewriter Company.
During the last days of 1959, 18-year-old Gamble ran away from home to be with her 35-year-old Romanian-born boyfriend, Andrei Porumbeanu (who already had a wife, Helma, and daughter, Gigi).
Gamble and Andrei first fled to Paris, where they stayed for most of January. (Gamble turned 19 mid-month.) At the end of the month, Gamble was apprehended by Paris police and “flown home to her stern dowager grandmother.”
The pair ran off again in April, after Andrei had obtained a Mexican divorce. This time they went south. They married in North Carolina on the 6th, then took a plane to Florida for a honeymoon.
The story was in the news for months on end during the first half of the year. (Several years later, in 1964, Time magazine summed it up as an “endlessly publicized…runaway marriage.”)
So what became of the couple? They ended up having two sons (George and Gregory) and spent most of their time in Switzerland…before Gamble initiated divorce proceedings in mid-1963.
Though I never found an explanation for Gamble’s unique first name, my guess is that it’s a surname that can be found somewhere in her family tree.
What are your thoughts on the name “Gamble” for a baby (male or female)? Would you use it?