The name Alson first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1888:
1888: 5 baby boys named Alson [debut]
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) data for the same window of time shows a similar increase in usage in 1888:
1890: 7 people named Alson
1889: 14 people named Alson
1888: 14 people named Alson
1887: 3 people named Alson
1886: 4 people named Alson
What was the influence?
A third-party candidate in the 1888 U.S. presidential election named Alson J. Streeter.
In May of that year, Streeter — a former Illinois state senator — had won the nomination of the fledgling Union Labor Party (made up of both agricultural and industrial workers).
He ran against Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison, Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, and several other third-party candidates, including Belva Lockwood.
Harrison won the electoral vote (and hence the election), but Cleveland won the popular vote. Prohibition candidate Clinton Fisk came in third with 2.2% of the popular vote, while Alson Streeter took fourth with 1.3%.
Support for Streeter was particularly high in the states of Kansas (where he won 11.4% of the vote), Texas (8.2%), Arkansas (6.8%), and Missouri (3.6%). So it doesn’t surprise me that the people I found named “Alson Streeter” specifically were also from these states:
In Streeter’s case, the name Alson may have come from a family surname. If so, it’s likely that Alson is a variant of the surname Allison, which would have originally referred to the son of someone with an Al-name like Alan, or Alexander.
The interesting name Adlai first appeared in the U.S. baby named data in the early 1890s:
1893: 9 baby boys named Adlai (rank: 706th)
1892: 17 baby boys named Adlai (rank: 480th)
1891: 6 baby boys named Adlai (rank: 841st) [debut]
That 1892 spike in usage remained Adlai’s high-point until the 1950s.
But, because many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card, the earliest decades of the SSA data tend to under-count actual usage. The following numbers, from the Social Security Death Index, should be more accurate:
1893: 34 people named Adlai
1892: 91 people named Adlai
1891: 8 people named Adlai
1890: 3 people named Adlai
1889: 1 person named Adlai
So, what inspired this sudden interest in the name Adlai?
Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who served as the 23rd Vice President from 1893 to 1897 under President Grover Cleveland. (They were called “Cleve and Steve” during the campaign, adorably.)
He’d served as assistant postmaster general during Cleveland’s first term, and, before that, he’d served twice as a U.S. Representative from Illinois (1875-77; 1879-81).
The slightly elevated usage of “Adlai” in 1891 — a year before the campaign/election — could be due to the fact that many babies were not named at birth during that era. So, some 1891 babies likely weren’t given names until well into 1892.
Going through the records, I found dozens of people with the first-middle name combo “Adlai Stevenson.” Here are a few examples from 1892 specifically:
The name Adlai comes from the Bible, but no one knows for sure what it means. Guesses include “my witness; my ornament” (Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary, 1869) and “lax, weary” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1939).
What are your thoughts on the name Adlai? Would you use it?
If you know Major League Baseball history, no doubt you’re familiar with Kenesaw Mountain “Ken” Landis, who served as professional baseball’s first commissioner from 1921 to 1944.
But…do you know how he got that unusual name?
In 1862 — in the middle of the Civil War — Ken’s father, Dr. Abraham Landis, left his family behind in Ohio to serve as a surgeon in the Union Army. (His family, at that time, consisted of wife Mary and five young children.)
Abraham was severely wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia on June 27, 1864. He spent many weeks in the hospital recovering before he was finally able to return home.
His sixth child, a son, arrived on November 20, 1866 — long after the war was over.
[I]t took Dr. and Mrs. Landis some time to decide on his name. In fact, the delay in providing a name prompted both family and community members to suggest a deluge of different names. Mary Landis did not like the name Abraham, so when Dr. Landis suggested calling their son “Kenesaw,” the name and alternate spelling stuck. Clearly, the site of the doctor’s personal tragedy remained in his thoughts.
The name of the mountain is an Anglicized form of the Cherokee name Gahneesah, which means “burial ground” or “place of the dead.”
(All of Ken’s eventual six siblings had more ordinary names: Katherine, Frances, Walter, Charles, John, and Frederick.)
Ken went on to pass the bar exam and attend law school (in that order) and, by the early 1890s, was practicing law in Chicago. Within a couple of years, he was offered (and accepted) a job in the federal government:
In the Union Army, Abraham Landis was under the command of Lt. Col. Walter Quinton Gresham during Sherman’s advance through Tennessee and Georgia. […] In 1893 Gresham was appointed secretary of state by President Grover Cleveland. He needed a personal secretary and he chose a 26-year-old Chicago attorney with no knowledge of foreign affairs, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
When Gresham unexpectedly died in 1895, Grover Cleveland offered Ken the post of minister to Venezuela. Ken declined this offer to return to private practice in Chicago and to get married to his fiancée, Winifred Reed.
A year later, Kenesaw and Winifred welcomed their first child, a son named Reed Gresham Landis — middle name in honor of Ken’s late boss (and his father’s former commander).
I have more to say about Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but I’ll save the rest for tomorrow. In the meanwhile, here’s a post about Malvern Hill — another unusual baby name inspired by a Civil War battle/location.
One of the most interesting usage patterns in the very early baby name data is that of Belva, which spiked twice: in 1884 and again in 1888. In fact, it was the fastest-rising girl name of 1884 by a wide margin.
1891: 23 baby girls named Belva (542nd)
1890: 42 baby girls named Belva (386th)
1889: 31 baby girls named Belva (431st)
1888: 66 baby girls named Belva (289th)
1887: 27 baby girls named Belva (424th)
1886: 23 baby girls named Belva (455th)
1885: 30 baby girls named Belva (373th)
1884: 66 baby girls named Belva (234th)
1883: 5 baby girls named Belva (937th)
1882: 5 baby girls named Belva (922nd)
1881: 6 baby girls named Belva (rank: 747th)
Data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) reveals higher raw numbers, but the same double-spike pattern:
1891: 50 people with the first name Belva
1890: 67 people with the first name Belva
1889: 59 people with the first name Belva
1888: 95 people with the first name Belva
1887: 33 people with the first name Belva
1886: 35 people with the first name Belva
1885: 62 people with the first name Belvas
1884: 105 people with the first name Belva
1883: 9 people with the first name Belva
1882: 9 people with the first name Belva
1881: 3 people with the first name Belva
What was the influence?
An impressive lady named Belva Ann Lockwood, who ran for president of the United States in both 1884 and 1888.
Belva was born into the Bennett family of western New York in 1830. Her four siblings were named Rachel, Warren, Cyrene, and Inverno (which means “winter” in Italian).
At the age of 18 she married a local farmer, Uriah McNall, and soon after she had a child, Lura. But Uriah died of tuberculosis, leaving Belva a widow at age 22.
She then took the highly unusual step of pursuing higher education. She attended Genesee College (later Syracuse University), graduated in 1857, and began working in the school system. She said:
The male teachers in the free schools of the State of New York received more than double the salary paid to the women teachers at that time, simply because they were men, and for precisely the same work. […] I at once began to agitate this question, arguing that pay should be for work, and commensurate to it, and not be based on sex.
Belva had a strong interest in law and in politics, so in 1866 she took another unusual step: she moved with her daughter to Washington, D.C., and began attending one of the few law schools that would admit women. She also married a second time (to Rev. Ezekiel Lockwood) and had a second daughter (Jessie, who lived only 18 months).
She completed the course of study, but, because she was female, she had to fight to receive a diploma. After that, she began practicing law. “Her clients were primarily blue-collar laborers, maids, and tradesmen and her work consisted of all manner of civil and criminal cases.”
In 1879, Belva became the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar, and in 1880, she became the first woman to argue a case, Kaiser v. Stickney, before the Supreme Court.
In 1884, she was nominated for president by the National Equal Rights Party — even though women didn’t yet have the right to vote. When one reporter asked her whether or not she was eligible to become president, Belva replied: “There’s not a thing in the Constitution that prevents a woman from becoming President. I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.”
The same party nominated her again in 1888. (Also this year, the community of Lockwood in Monterey County, California, was named after her.)
Though she didn’t come close to winning the race either time — the winners were Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, respectively — she did succeed in drawing attention to the cause of women’s suffrage.
She continued to practice law into her 80s, and died in 1917 at the age of 86.
I’m not sure how Belva’s parents selected her name, but a user at Behind the Name thinks that “Belva” evolved as a feminine variant of the name Belvedere, which originated as an Italian toponymic surname made up of the elements bello, meaning “beautiful,” and vedere, meaning “to see” or “to look at.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Belva? Will it ever be stylish again, do you think?