Something unusual happened to the baby name Norita in the 1930s:
- 1939: 34 baby girls named Norita
- 1938: 47 baby girls named Norita
- 1937: 155 baby girls named Norita [rank: 532nd]
- 1936: 19 baby girls named Norita
- 1935: 89 baby girls named Norita [rank: 713th]
- 1934: 7 baby girls named Norita
- 1933: 6 baby girls named Norita
See how the usage spiked twice? Interesting, isn’t it?
A double-spike requires a double-explanation, and one of those explanations I’ve figured out. The other I’m still working on.
Norita’s 1935 spike in usage
Norita’s first spike can be traced back to a contest, believe it or not. Contests were all the rage in the mid-1930s according to Newsweek:
Almost every week, radio stations and newspapers announce new contests. Prizes of money, automobiles, and round-the-world trips incite listeners and readers to send in slogans and 50-word essays written on soap wrappers and cigar bands.
This particular contest, sponsored by Gold Medal Flour, was woven into the storyline of an old time radio show called “Betty and Bob.” After characters Betty and Bob Drake found a orphaned baby girl at their doorstep on Christmas Eve of 1934, they asked their audience to help choose a name for her.
Gold Medal Flour magazine advertisements from early 1935 gave detailed descriptions of the baby — “golden hair,” “blue eyes,” “happy disposition” — and hints on picking a name, which they stressed should be “original” and “unique.”
Thousands of cash prizes were offered, including a $10,000 grand prize. Here’s the full list (and what the prizes would be worth in today’s dollars):
- 1st – $10,000 (equivalent to $170,713.14 in 2013)
- 2nd – $1,500 ($25,606.97)
- 3rd – $1,000 ($17,071.31)
- 4th – $500 ($8,535.66)
- 5th – $250 ($4,267.83)
- 6th – $200 ($3,414.26)
- 7th – $150 ($2,560.70)
- 8th – $100 ($1,707.13)
- 9th – $75 ($1,280.35)
- 10th – $25 ($426.78)
- 11th – $15 ($256.07)
- 12th – $10 ($170.71)
- 13th – $7 ($119.50)
- 14th – $5 ($85.36)
- 1,000+ other entrants – $1 each ($17.07)
That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider that the nation was still trying to pull itself out of the Great Depression in the mid-1930s.*
Hundreds of thousands of people entered the contest, which ran until mid-February. Some people really went out of their way to catch the attention of the judges:
One woman painstakingly embroidered a pillow with a name on it and could not understand why she got no prize. She even claimed the work had damaged her eyesight. A man sent an 8-foot, electrically-wired lighthouse with the entry-name over its door. A third contestant contributed a huge doll in an expensive bassinet; a nameplate hung on the doll’s neck.
More than 50,000 people suggested the name Goldie (a nod to Gold Medal Flour). Another 57,000 suggested Betty-Jane.
But only Mrs. E. M. Nelson of Minnesota suggested the grand prize-winning name Norita, a name she’d created from an Old English word for “foster child,” norie (also spelled nory, nurry, etc.). The word ultimately comes from Old French nourrir, meaning “nourish.”
The only other prize-winner I know of was a woman named Martha Hunt of Washington state who submitted the name “Adolla” and received $250 (5th place).
According to a newspaper article from 1942, the Gold Medal Flour “Radio’s Nameless Mystery Baby” contest was General Mills’ second-most successful contest ever. Seven years later, the company was still receiving entries.
Norita’s 1937 spike in usage
The second spike was higher than the first — 155 babies this time, versus 89 in 1935 — but I haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause.
One thing I can tell you about the 1937 spike is that, in contrast to the 1935 spike, it inspired a lot of variant forms:
**First appearance in the U.S. baby name data.
A sudden increase in variant forms always points me to an audio source — something that has a lot of people hearing a name, but not seeing it written down. This forces people to come up with their own spellings. The Deirdre and Kasara spikes were caused by audio sources, for instance.
So the second Norita spike was likely caused either by radio or by a movie. (Television wasn’t widely adopted until well into the 1950s.)
One other thing I can tell you is that the 1937 spike was localized, just like the 1935 spike. In 1935, most of the babies named Norita were born in the Midwest:
- 12 Noritas in Minnesota (1935)
- 9 Noritas in Wisconsin (1935)
- 7 Noritas in Indiana (1935)
- 6 Noritas in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio (1935)
- 5 Noritas in Texas (1935)
The story of a Minnesota woman winning $10,000 by inventing the name “Norita” was probably a lot bigger in this region than elsewhere.
Skipping ahead two years, we see something similar:
- 17 Noritas in Ohio (1937)
- 16 Noritas in Pennsylvania (1937)
- 14 Noritas in California (1937)
- 11 Noritas in Illinois (1937)
- 10 Noritas in Texas (1937)
- 9 Noritas in Indiana and Minnesota (1937)
- 5 Noritas in Michigan, Oregon, and West Virginia (1937)
The localization isn’t quite as strong, but over 20% of the 1937 Noritas were born in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which is notable.
My best guess is that the second spike is related to the “Betty and Bob” radio show somehow. Perhaps baby Norita became an on-air character in 1937?
But I have no clue why the name was disproportionately popular in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Do you have any ideas?
Also: Do you like the name Norita? Would you ever consider using it for a baby?
- BLS Inflation Calculator
- “Contest: 57,000 American Listeners Have The Same Idea” Newsweek 11 May 1935: 38.
- Hughes, Lawrence M. “Advertising news.” New York Sun 13 Feb. 1941: 23.
- Whitney, William Dwight Whitney and Benjamin Eli Smith. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. New York: The Century Co., 1914.
- “Wins Cash Award for Baby’s Name.” Spokane Daily Chronicle 18 Apr. 1935: 6.
*Did you know some kids were actually named Depression during the Great Depression?