From 1898 to 1899, the baby name Veva saw a pronounced increase in usage:
- 1901: 19 baby girls named Veva [rank: 769th]
- 1900: 30 baby girls named Veva [rank: 654th]
- 1899: 51 baby girls named Veva [rank: 413th]
- 1898: 14 baby girls named Veva [rank: 962nd]
- 1897: 20 baby girls named Veva [rank: 714th]
We can see a similar pattern reflected in the SSDI data:
- 1901: 48 people with the first name Veva
- 1900: 51 people with the first name Veva
- 1899: 91 people with the first name Veva
- 1898: 41 people with the first name Veva
- 1897: 30 people with the first name Veva
What caused this sudden interest in the name Veva?
The answer might be a news story.
In the spring of 1899, sisters Evern Case (6) and Veva Case (4), who lived with their mother in Greensboro, North Carolina, went to visit their father in Mississippi for several months.
When their father refused to send them home, their mother’s sister, Elvia Bell (“a brunette of distinguished appearance” in her mid-20s), took it upon herself to travel to Mississippi and retrieve her nieces.
On June 10th, Elvia boarded a train bound for Ocean Springs, MS. Once she got there, she
…took lodging at the hotel to study the situation and mature her plans. She carried a letter of introduction to some lawyers there and soon had the sympathy of the hotel keeper and Mr. Martin Turnbull, a reporter of the Times-Democrat, enlisted in her cause. After fruitless interviews, of not too friendly nature, Mr. Case finally agreed that one child could return Monday, the 26th, but the other must remain with him. This concession did not satisfy Miss Bell. She had gone for both and both she must have.
So, with the help of her new friends, she concocted a plan and was able to gain access to both of her nieces ahead of the 26th. “[A]nd here the excitement begins.”
Here’s the full account of Elvia’s adventure as it appeared in the papers back in 1899:
When the children came Saturday morning it had been planned by the Times-Democrat reporter that Miss Bell and the children should go down the river in a boat toward New Orleans, but this miscarried and, to escape unnoticed, they took a carriage for Fontainbleau, a station several miles distant on the L. & N. Railroad, to take the northbound train from New Orleans. It was a fast drive through Mississippi mud and water, and the little party were much bespattered. A smallpox quarantine was encountered and after considerable difficulty was passed. Fortunately the train was an hour late. As it pulled in Miss Bell discovered a man, whom she recognized as the Times-Democrat reporter, on the rear of the train waving to her frantically. She made for him at once, when the conductor and porter lifted her and the children bodily on the train. She learned that the grandfather of the children had caught on to the racket who, as well as the reporter, had boarded the train lower down the road and was now in quest of her.
The irate old gentleman soon put in an appearance, upbraided Miss Bell, taunted her with “trying to do something smart” and informed her that they would get off at Scranton (the next station) intimating that she would be arrested there. Not having a Pullman car ticket this disturbing factor was soon removed from the scene by the porter, and Miss Bell locked herself and the children inside one of the departments of the Pullman car. At Scranton the grandfather alighted from the train and the officers got on, who failing in their search got off at the next station. In the meanwhile the grandfather at Scranton had a warrant issued for Miss Bell on the charge of kidnapping and telegraphed the Mobile, Ala., authorities to have her arrested. The reporter anticipated this and used all his influence with the railroad men in her behalf. It was decided that she and the children should be locked up and the conductor would immediately leave the train.
When the train arrived at Mobile, 1:30, two of the city’s detectives and a crowd, over which hovered an air of suspicion, were there to greet it. The officers at once began their search and one of the trainsmen treacherously gave the scheme away. They demanded admittance, which being refused, the door was battered open. Miss Bell was clutching both children in her arms and boldly demanded their authority for attempting her arrest. Failing to produce any she resisted them and took refuge behind every seat of the car. Reaching the door she kicked it shut, which locking fast, the same tedious process was necessary to reach the other end of the car. Her arms were bruised and blackened in the struggle.
She and the children were now hastened to the police station but the faithful reporter of the Times-Democrat did not desert her. He at once secured the service of Gregory L. Smith, one of the most prominent attorneys of Mobile, who immediately went to her and hearing her story, told her to leave the station. The chief of police objected promptly, saying he had a warrant for her detention, which charged her with being a fugitive from justice on the evidence of being concealed on the train. Mr. Smith then went before Judge Semmer and secured a writ of habeas corpus returnable instanter, and the case was tried in the city court, Mr. Smith representing Miss Bell and the city attorney the chief of police.
The trial was quick, thanks to the fact that Elvia could produce the contract signed by the girls’ parents regarding the details of the trip to Mississippi. The judge ruled in her favor, and she was released — free to return to Greensboro with her nieces.
But the action doesn’t quite end yet. She planned to leave town via train at midnight, but:
…it was suspected by the reporter, and suspected rightly, that the grandfather and officers would come from Scranton on the very train upon which she was to leave. How to evade them was now the problem. It seemed a difficult one, but nothing is too much for reporters and railroad men. It conjunction they planned that Miss Bell an the children should be on the opposite side of the train from which the passengers get off and that a door be opened on that side for her reception. Accordingly when the train came the grandfather and the officers, who had been wired of the arrest, alighted on the side with the throng, while Miss Bell and the children quietly entered from the other.
And the trio made it safely back to Greensboro.
The papers declared Elvia “a heroine” who, “through the whole trying adventure was as cool, unflinching and incisive as a surgeon’s knife.”
Usage of the baby name Elvia increased in 1899 as well — not as impressively as Veva did, but enough to boost Elvia into the girls’ top 1,000 for the first time.
All this said…I’m not 100% sure about this theory. The rise of Veva didn’t occur primarily in North Carolina, even though that’s where most of the news coverage was. And I think the rise of Elvia should have been more significant, given Elvia Bell’s starring role in the story.
In any case…what are your impressions of the baby names Veva and Elvia? Which one do you like more?
- “Greensboro Woman Rescues Nieces from Mississippi.” Greensboro News & Record 22 Jun. 1999.
- “Greensboro’s Live Heroine.” News and Observer [Raleigh, NC] 2 Jul. 1899: 4.
- “A Tarheel Heroism.” Gold Leaf [Henderson, NC] 20 Jul, 1899: 1.
- Originally printed as “A Thrilling Adventure: The Kidnapping Expedition of Miss Elvia M. Bell” in the Greensboro Evening Telegram on June 29th.
- Tellers of Weird Tales: Edna Bell Seward (1877-1963)
- U.S. SSA baby name data