So far I haven’t been able to figure out what caused either debut, though. Maybe you guys can help me out?
Here’s what I know so far…
According to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), the number of people named Ardis jumped from at least 10 in 1898 to at least 86 in 1899. (The SSDI is a better source of raw-number data than the SSA for the late 1800s and early 1900s.)
1901: 47 people with the first name Ardis
1900: 59 people with the first name Ardis
1899: 86 people with the first name Ardis
1898: 10 people with the first name Ardis
1897: 15 people with the first name Ardis
The SSDI data also indicates that the usage of Ardis was highest during three successive months: July (12 births), August (17 births), and September (12 births).
Getting back to the SSA data…when Ardis was at peak popularity from the 1910s through the 1940s, it was particularly trendy in the Midwest (especially Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin). This regional preference may have existed in 1899 as well, though it’s hard to tell.
Finally, a novel with the name Ardis in the title — Frank R. Stockton’s Ardis Claverden — existed in 1899. It had been published in 1890, though, so it probably didn’t cause the debut. (Unless it was serialized in the newspapers a decade later…?)
The SSDI shows that the number of people named Irva jumped from at least 7 in 1898 to at least 64 in 1899:
1901: 14 people with the first name Irva
1900: 18 people with the first name Irva
1899: 64 people with the first name Irva
1898: 7 people with the first name Irva
1897: 5 people with the first name Irva
The name Erva also debuted in 1899. Alternative spellings sometimes point to an audio influence like talkies or television, but the debuts of Irva and Erva predate most of these technologies.
So does anyone out there have any theories on either Ardis or Irva?
(And if you like doing baby name detective work, check out these other open cases!)
Corbett was the highest debut on the SSA’s list until 1898 rolled around with the names Manilla, Hobson, and Admiral (all inspired by the Spanish-American War).
According to the U.S. baby name data, at least 23 baby boys were named Corbett in 1892:
1894: 20 baby boys named Corbett
1893: 15 baby boys named Corbett
1892: 23 baby boys named Corbett [debut]
But the actual number was much higher. The Social Security Death Index indicates that at least 59 people named Corbett were born in 1892:
1894: 67 people named Corbett
1893: 49 people named Corbett
1892: 59 people named Corbett
1891: 5 people named Corbett
1890: 3 people named Corbett
What gave Corbett a boost that year?
In September of 1892, boxer James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan to win the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Even if he hadn’t won, the press leading up to the match would have popularized the name enough for it to make a splash. More than half of those baby Corbetts — 31 out of 59 — were born before the match even took place.
(That said, many babies born in those days were not named immediately after birth. So no doubt a portion of the early Corbetts were actually nameless until the day of the event.)
Usage of the name increased again in 1894, which is the year Corbett defended his title against boxer Charley Mitchell.
Jim Corbett ultimately lost the title in 1897, to Bob Fitzsimmons.
So what does the English surname Corbett mean? It can be traced back to a Norman French nickname meaning “little crow” or “raven.” The nickname was likely given to a person with a dark complexion or dark hair.
Here’s the format: “Girl name(s), number of baby girls; Boy name(s), number of baby boys.” Keep in mind that the raw numbers aren’t too trustworthy for about the first six decades, though. (More on that in a minute.)
I’ve already written about some of the names above, and I plan to write about all the others as well…eventually. In the meanwhile, if you want to beat me to it and leave a comment about why Maverick hit in 1957, or why Moesha hit in 1996, feel free!
The brief Spanish-American War (1898), which began in April and ended in August, inspired hundreds of patriotic parents in the U.S. to choose war-inspired baby names.
Maine & Havana
One of the events that led to war was the explosion of the USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana Harbor on February 15. The explosion killed more than 260 men. Many people in the U.S. blamed the explosion on Spain.
The baby names Maine and Havana both debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1898.
1898: 9 baby girls named Maine [debut] (plus 5 more named Mayne)
Maine was a one-hit wonder in the data — a rarity that never returned — but Havana returned to the data dozens of times since.
1898: 8 baby girls named Havana [debut]
The baby name Cuba also saw a spike in usage that year:
1900: 8 baby girls named Cuba
1899: 14 baby girls named Cuba (rank: 884th)
1898: 29 baby girls named Cuba (rank: 597th)
1897: 9 baby girls named Cuba
According to U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI) data — which is more comprehensive than the SSA data for this time period — 25 babies were named Maine, 12 were named Havana, and 79 were named Cuba in 1898.
Dewey & Manila
War was formally declared on April 25. On May 1, the Battle of Manila Bay took place in the Philippines. The U.S. fleet, under the command of Commodore George Dewey, defeated Spain.
Usage of the name Dewey spiked in 1898, both for boys and for girls:
Boys named Dewey
Girls named Dewey
345 (rank: 75th)
499 (rank: 39th)
24 (rank: 632nd)
1,115 (rank: 19th)
104 (rank: 305th)
158 (rank: 111th)
13 (rank: 904th)
63 (rank: 224th)
Impressively, Dewey reached the boys’ top 20 in 1898. The spelling variants Dewie and Dewy also debuted that year.
Going back to the SSDI, we see even higher numbers — 6,708 babies named Dewey, 36 named Dewie, and 1 named Dewy in 1898.
We even see evidence of Dewey’s spike on the U.S. Census of 1920:
1910s: over 4,300 people named Dewey were born
1900s: over 11,000 people named Dewey were born
1890s: over 12,100 people named Dewey were born
1880s: over 200 people named Dewey were born
1870s: over 100 people named Dewey were born
An article in the Reading Eagle in 1899 listed ten local babies named for George Dewey, and another article I spotted from decades later joked about starting a George Dewey namesake club.
We see a similar (though less pronounced) spike of in the usage of Manila for baby girls:
1900: 10 baby girls named Manila
1899: 34 baby girls named Manila (rank: 512th)
1898: 104 baby girls named Manila (rank: 306th) [peak usage]
Here are six more war-related names that debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1898.
The baby name Hobson was inspired by Richmond Pearson Hobson, prisoner of war in Cuba. (Hobson was the top boy-name debut of 1898, in fact.)
1900: 13 baby boys named Hobson (rank: 713th)
1899: 15 baby boys named Hobson (rank: 511th)
1898: 38 baby boys named Hobson (rank: 311th) [debut]
According to the SSDI, at least 161 babies were named Hobson that year.
(Hobson was a handsome Southerner who became a national celebrity following his month-long imprisonment. He became well known for kissing pretty young women as he toured the country. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch jokingly called him “the champion kisser of the universe.”)
The baby name Admiral was the rank of many of the men (e.g. Admiral Dewey, Admiral Sampson, Admiral Schley) who played a part in the war — Dewey especially.
1900: 18 baby boys named Admiral (rank: 579th)
1899: 13 baby boys named Admiral (rank: 549th)
1898: 25 baby boys named Admiral (rank: 394th) [debut]
According to the SSDI, at least 154 babies were named Admiral.
The baby name Shafter was inspired by army general William Rufus Shafter, who had command of the U.S. forces in Cuba during the war.
1900: 8 baby boys named Shafter
1898: 14 baby boys named Shafter (rank: 604th) [debut]
This was the first and only time the name Shafter landed in the U.S. top 1,000. According to the SSDI, at least 58 babies were named Shafter.
The baby name Maceo was inspired by Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo, “one of the outstanding guerrilla leaders in nineteenth century Latin America. (He died in late 1896, actually.)
1900: 8 baby boys named Maceo
1899: 9 baby boys named Maceo (rank: 760th)
1898: 13 baby boys named Maceo (rank: 621st) [debut]
According to the SSDI, at least 34 babies were named Maceo.
The baby name Schley was inspired by Winfield Scott Schley, hero of the Battle of Santiago Bay.
1898: 10 baby boys named Schley (rank: 737th) [debut]
Like Maine, it was a one-hit wonder in the SSA data, and, like Shafter, it was in the top 1,000 just once. According to the SSDI, at least 39 babies were named Schley.
(Winfield Scott Schley — just like Winfield Scott Hancock — had been named in honor of General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), who was a family friend. Scott became Commanding General of the U.S. Army two years after Schley was born.)
Finally, the baby name Philippina, possibly inspired by the Philippines, was another one-hit wonder the year of the war:
1898: 5 baby girls named Philippina [debut]
Interestingly, only single Philippina is accounted for in the SSDI data.
“Berks Babies Named in Honor of Dewey.” Reading Eagle 30 Apr. 1899: 4.
“Commodore Schley and His Deeds.” Milwaukee Journal 25 Feb. 1898: 3.