Usage of the baby name Winnie was generally on the decline in the U.S. from the 1920s to the 1980s. But there were several upticks here and there, including a series of three in the early 1930s:
- 1937: 254 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 406th]
- 1936: 263 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 393rd]
- 1935: 346 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 344th]
- 1934: 306 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 362nd]
- 1933: 354 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 333rd]
- 1932: 328 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 350th]
- 1931: 348 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 341st]
- 1930: 297 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 393rd]
- 1929: 320 baby girls named Winnie [rank: 376th]
You can see the three upticks — almost like three points of a little crown — on the popularity graph:
What caused them?
I think the answer has to do with aviation. Specifically, with a record-breaking airplane called the Winnie Mae that became famous at the height of the Great Depression.
The Winnie Mae — in full, the Winnie Mae of Oklahoma — was a single-winged, seven-passenger Lockheed Vega. It was purchased in June of 1930 by Oklahoma oilman Florence Charles “F. C.” Hall, who named the plane after his adult daughter, Winnie Mae.
Hall’s personal pilot was a one-eyed man named Wiley Post. (He’d lost his left eye in an oil-rig accident in the mid-1920s, but the injury payout allowed him to purchase an aircraft and learn how to fly.)
In 1931, Wiley Post attempted an around-the-world flight in the Winnie Mae. The trip was sponsored by Hall.
Accompanied by navigator Harold Gatty, Post set off from New York on June 23. The duo landed back in New York on July 1. They’d flown the Winnie Mae around the world in record time: eight days, fifteen hours, and fifty-one minutes. (The previous record of over twenty-one days had been set by a Graf Zeppelin in 1929.)
The two men were honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City the following day.
In 1933, after having purchased the Winnie Mae from Hall, Wiley Post decided to fly around the world again. This time, though, he would do it alone. In place of a human navigator, he installed an autopilot device (which he dubbed “Mechanical Mike“) and a radio compass.
Post set off from New York on July 15. He landed back in New York on July 22. Amazingly, he’d set another record: seven days, eighteen hours, and 49 minutes.
This flight made Post the first aviator to fly solo around the world, and also the first aviator to fly around the world twice.
Post was honored with a second ticker-tape parade in New York City several days later.
The Winnie Mae was in the news for various reasons during 1935.
From February to June, Wiley Post attempted to make a transcontinental flight through the lower stratosphere. (The plane’s cabin wasn’t pressurized, so Post developed the world’s first pressurized flight suit in order to fly at high altitude.) Unfortunately, all four of his attempts were cut short due to mechanical issues. He subsequently retired the Winnie Mae.
Then, on August 15, tragedy struck: Wiley Post and Will Rogers perished in a plane crash while traveling through Alaska together. The very next day, the federal government purchased the Winnie Mae from Post’s widow (whose first name happened to be Mae). In November, the Winnie Mae was dismantled and transported, via railway boxcar, from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C.
The compound name “Winnie Mae” has never appeared in the U.S. baby name data before, but records reveal that a sizeable number of the baby girls named Winnie during the 1930s also got the middle name Mae. Many of those Winnie Maes were likely named with the airplane in mind.
Winnie Mae Kuempel, for instance, was born in Austin, Texas, on August 5, 1931. Here’s how she told the story of her name (at the age of 84):
I was named after a famous plane, the Winnie Mae. The day before I was born Wiley Post had just flown it around the world. The next day headlines told about Wiley Post’s adventure, and my dad said, “Let’s name her Winnie Mae.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Winnie? How about the combo Winnie Mae?
- Winnie Mae – The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
- The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma – This Day in Aviation
- Pisano, Dominick. “Wiley Post.” National Air and Space Museum 22 Jul. 2010.
- Maksel, Rebecca. “Wiley Post’s Historic Around-the-World Flight.” Smithsonian Magazine 16 Jul. 2013.
- Wiley Post – Wikipedia
- “Pfriendly Pfaces: Winnie Mae Murchison.” Austin American-Statesman 13 Aug. 2016.