The compound name Patsyann (Patsy Ann) was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data, making its single appearance during the 1930s:
1933: 7 baby girls named Patsyann [debut]
What put it there? I think the influence was the mystery tale Outrageous Fortune by British author Patricia Wentworth. The story was serialized in many U.S. newspapers in the autumn of 1933.
The mystery involved a shipwrecked man with amnesia. A woman named Nesta* claimed the man was her husband…but really she thought he might know the location of a certain priceless emerald necklace. In the meanwhile, the man’s cousin, a woman named Caroline, tracked him down and tried to help him recover his memory.
The protagonist was clearly Caroline, but Caroline’s roommate Patsy Ann “provide[d] an innocent diversion to the main story with her romantic life.”
In the UK the same year, Outrageous Fortune was published in book form, but under the title Seven Green Stones. Another difference between was Patsy Ann’s name: Pansy Ann in the UK. Perhaps the name had been changed from “Pansy” to “Patsy” for American readers because Patsy sounded trendier than Pansy in the U.S. at the time. The slang meaning of pansy, though relatively new in the ’30s, might have been a factor as well.
(If “Patsy Ann” sounds familiar to longtime readers, I blogged about Patsy Ann, the famous dog from Alaska, a couple of years ago.)
The Brighter Day was a moderately popular soap opera that ran on radio from 1948 to 1956 and on television from 1954 to 1962.
The show featured the Dennis family, which was headed by widowed father Rev. Richard Dennis. His five children were adult daughters Elizabeth (Liz) and Althea, adult son Grayling, and teenage daughters Patricia (Patsy) and Barbara (Babby).
At least four Brighter Day characters influenced U.S. baby names:
In a 1949 article, Grayling Dennis was described as “restless, charming, spoiled. He writes poetry, plays the violin, has a long string of girl friends who adore his flashing eyes and his wonderful tennis, and drinks too much. But none of these activities has helped Gray, at twenty-three, to “find himself.””
The show was radio-only at that time — listeners would hear Grayling’s name, but never see it — so it’s not surprising that a slew of spelling variants ended up as boy names in the baby name data.
The name Grayling reached the top 1000 twice in the late ’50s, but all variants saw decreased usage after the TV show was canceled in the early ’60s.
Dramatic daughter Althea dramatically boosted the usage of the name Althea in the late 1940s:
1951: 334 baby girls named Althea (rank: 454th)
1950: 309 baby girls named Althea (rank: 462nd)
1949: 235 baby girls named Althea (rank: 545th)
1948: 126 baby girls named Althea (rank: 761st)
1947: 118 baby girls named Althea (rank: 803rd)
No doubt she was also behind the debut of the spelling Altheia in 1951.
In early 1951, Althea discovered she was pregnant. Althea was eager to become an movie actress, not a mother, and “regard[ed] the baby as an annoying interruption to her ambitions.” Regardless, she soon gave birth to a baby girl named Spring, and the baby name Spring debuted in the U.S. data the very same year:
1959: 34 baby girls named Spring
1958: 44 baby girls named Spring
1957: 77 baby girls named Spring
1956: 104 baby girls named Spring
1955: 41 baby girls named Spring
1954: 37 baby girls named Spring
1953: 27 baby girls named Spring
1952: 30 baby girls named Spring
1951: 7 baby girls named Spring [debut]
By July of 1952, Althea’s daughter Spring was already 4 years old (a victim of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). I’m not sure how often Spring appeared in the show overall, but she may have been featured prominently in 1956, judging by the usage of the baby name that year.
In a 1954 article, Babby Dennis was described as “eager and impulsive.” She was the baby of the family, and her nickname was consistently spelled with a “y” to reflect this fact.
But TV audiences clearly preferred the spelling Babbie, which debuted in 1956 — years before Babby and Babbi finally showed up:
Girls named Babbie
Girls named Babby
Girls named Babbi
By 1959, Babby was a young adult and involved in a romance with a gangster named Peter Nino. (Despite being a gangster, Nino was popular with TV audiences: “Nino was to be killed off in six months, but fan mail gave him a reprieve.”)
“Does Motherhood Change a Woman’s Life?” Radio Television Mirror Apr. 1951: 34-35.
P.S. Three of the sources above refer to a single magazine that went through a bunch of name changes over the course of its existence (1930s to 1970s). The publisher was Macfadden, founded by Bernarr Macfadden, who knew a bit about name changes himself…
We looked at the top baby name rises last month, so this month let’s look at the opposite: the top drops. That is, the baby names that decreased the most in usage, percentage-wise, from one year to the next in the Social Security Administration’s data.
Here’s the format: girl names are on the left, boy names are on the right, and the percentages represent single-year slides in usage. (For example, from 1880 to 1881, usage of the girl name Clementine dropped 68% and usage of the boy name Neil dropped 76%.)
The SSA data isn’t perfect, but it does become more accurate in the late 1930s, because “many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card, so their names are not included in our data” (SSA). Now, back to the list…
I’ve already written about some of the names above (click the links to see the posts) and I plan to write about a few of the others. In the meanwhile, though, feel free to beat me to it — leave a comment and let us know why you think any of these names saw dropped in usage when they did.
“Everly” is hot…”Beverly” is not. It’s a one-letter difference between fashionable and fusty.
If you’re sensitive to style, you’ll prefer Everly. It fits with today’s trends far better than Beverly does.
But if you’re someone who isn’t concerned about style, or prefers to go against style, then you may not automatically go for Everly. In fact, you may be more attracted to Beverly because it’s the choice that most modern parents would avoid.
If you’ve ever thought about intentionally giving your baby a dated name (like Debbie, Grover, Marcia, or Vernon) for the sake of uniqueness within his/her peer group — if you have no problem sacrificing style for distinctiveness — then this list is for you.
Years ago, the concept of “contrarian” baby names came up in the comments of a post about Lois. Ever since then, creating a collection of uncool/contrarian baby names has been on my to-do list.
Finally, last month, I experimented with various formulas for pulling unstylish baby names out of the SSA dataset. Keeping the great-grandparent rule in mind, I aimed for names that would have been fashionable among the grandparents of today’s babies. The names below are the best results I got.
My husband and I recently visited Alaska (which was awesome). Even though we kept busy, I couldn’t help but notice a ton of interesting names — human names, animal names, place names, boat names, etc. Many of these names (like Juneau, Sitka, Klondike, and Denali) were ones that many of us already associate with Alaska, so for this post I chose five Alaska-related names that I encountered unexpectedly during the trip:
Ladd Macaulay (1942-2000) was “a pioneer in establishing private non-profit hatcheries in Alaska,” according to the plaque at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery in Juneau. I’m not sure how Ladd got his name, but it matches up with the English occupational surname Ladd (denoting a “servant”), so it may have been a surname in his family tree.
The baby name Ladd is not common, but sees enough usage to appear in the SSA data regularly.
Margerie glacier is a tidewater glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. “It is about 1-mile wide, with an ice face that is about 250 feet high above the waterline, but with its base about 100 feet below sea level.” It was named after French geographer and geologist Emmanuel de Margerie (1862-1953).
In the data, the baby name Margerie represents a (rare) respelling of the more common name Marjorie.
English bull terrier Patsy Ann (1929-1942) became famous in Juneau in the ’30s for greeting ships. “Although deaf from birth, she somehow sensed when an incoming ship was about a half-mile away. She also had an uncanny ability to determine the dock where it would moor.” In 1934, the mayor of the city dubbed her “Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska.”
The combination Patsy Ann has only ever popped up once in the data.
Peniel missionaries from California came to Alaska in the 1890s. “They ministered to both the religious and practical needs of primarily transient people in these communities.” The Hebrew place name Peniel, meaning “face of God,” is mentioned in the Book of Genesis. The NPS website notes that the pronunciation was “pen-aisle.”
The baby name Peniel started appearing in the data in the late ’90s. So far, it’s been given to baby girls and baby boys in equal measure.
Tuliaan is one of the black bears at Fortress of the Bears, a bear sanctuary in Sitka. She was orphaned in Seward, Alaska, in October of 2013. Her name means “calm” in the Tlingit language.
Neither Tuliaan nor “Tuli” (her nickname) has ever appeared in the SSA data.
Which of the above names do you like best?