Babies named for Frederick Douglass

American abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
Frederick Douglass

Black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became a renowned orator and author.

Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in 1818, he spent the first twenty years of his life enslaved in Maryland. He managed to teach himself to read and write during this time.

“In 1838, he fled north and changed his name to Frederick Douglass” in order to elude slave-hunters. (His new surname was chosen by a friend who’d been reading The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott.)

Douglass began giving speeches about his life as a slave, and in 1845 published his first (and most famous) autobiography: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. According to one source, “Frederick Douglass was the most prominent black man in the United States” by the time of the Civil War.

Going by what I was able to find in the records, dozens of baby boys were named after Frederick Douglass during his lifetime. Some examples…

One of his later namesakes was Douglas Wilder (b. 1931), the first African-American to be elected governor of a U.S. state (Virginia).

Sources: Frederick Douglass – Wikipedia, Frederick Douglass – White House Historical Association, Frederick Douglass – American Battlefield Trust, FamilySearch.org, Find a Grave

Image: Frederick Douglass (c. 1879)

Where did the baby name Klisha come from in 1983?

New Jersey high school student Klisha Buell (in 1983)
Klisha Buell, with ant colony

In 1983, the curious name Klisha was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1985: unlisted
  • 1984: unlisted
  • 1983: 6 baby girls named Klisha [debut]
  • 1982: unlisted
  • 1981: unlisted

Where did it come from?

High school student Klisha Buell, who helped who develop a science experiment that involved sending a colony of ants into space aboard the Challenger in June of 1983.

Hundreds of students at two predominantly African-American high schools in Camden, New Jersey, worked together over several years to design and create all the components of the research project, which had two main objectives: to study the effects of weightlessness on ants, and (more broadly) to get minority students interested in science.

Students in science classes, doing research in entomology and astrophysics, designed the experiment. Students in drafting classes drew blueprints, and those in metal, wood and electrical shop classes put it together. Students developed flow charts and programs for the microprocessor that controlled cameras and the student-designed regulators for light and temperature. Journalism classes wrote newsletters and press releases. Art students painted murals of space scenes in the hallways.

Dozens of students attended the launch of the space shuttle Challenger at Cape Canaveral on June 18th. (It was the Challenger‘s second-ever mission. Not only was the ant colony on board, but so was America’s first female astronaut, Sally Ride.)

After the space shuttle returned, the ant colony and equipment were retrieved by several students. One of those students was Klisha Buell, who was often quoted in articles about the experiment. Her name was mentioned, for instance, in Ebony, in Jet, and on the front page of the New York Times.

Unfortunately, none the ants — including the queen, named Norma — survived the journey.

But the experiment was still considered a success. All of the student-designed equipment functioned perfectly over the course of the mission, and both schools saw evidence that their students had become more interested in science. One teacher mentioned that “enrollment in our science classes has gone up 50 percent.”

What are your thoughts on the name Klisha?

P.S. Sally Ride was the third woman in space; the first was Valentina Tereshkova. The Challenger went on to complete seven more missions before the tragic tenth mission, which involved high school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

Sources:

Image: Clipping from Jet magazine (1 Aug. 1983)

Popular baby names on Nantucket, 2023

Flag of Massachusetts
Flag of Massachusetts

The Massachusetts island of Nantucket, which sits about 30 miles off the coast Cape Cod, is home to over 14,000 year-round residents (though the population “swells to around 80,000 or more” during July and August).

According to the Nantucket Town Clerk’s office, a total of 158 babies were born on the island in 2023. But we only have access to the names of 108 of these babies. Why?

[B]ecause of a Massachusetts law that separates birth certificates based on the parent’s marital status. If the parents were not married at the time of the birth or the father is not named on the record, the birth certificate is considered a restricted record and is not public.

So, out of the 108 known names, which were the most popular? For girls it was a tie between Leah and Sarah (given to two babies each), and for boys it was a tie between Grayson and Lucas (also given to two babies each).

The 100 other babies were given 100 single-use names:

Archibald, Abigail, Abraham, Alejandro, Alister, Alyssa, Alvaro, Amina, Andrew, Asher, Aurora, Bayard, Beckett, Benjaminas, Brenda, Callan, Carter, Catherine, Cameron, Charlotte, Christiaan, Colin, Cole, Cooper, Curren, Damien, Daniel, Debora, Eden, Edwin, Edward, Emilia, Emma, Enzo, Evelyn, Ezra, Fabian, Fae, Fiona, Gaby, Gabriella, Greydon, Griffyn, Harbor, Henry, Israel, Jacob, Jaden, James, Jantyah, Jefferson, Joshua, Julie, Justina, Kairi, Kiara, Lakelyn, La’Klia, Larkin, Latifa, Leon, Liv, Luna, Lydia, Mabel, Madison, Marianne, Marlow, Matheus, Maverick, Max, Mia, Mila, Milo, Miles, Mukhammadyusuf, Nia, Penelope, Quinn, River, Robin, Roman, Samir, Scarlett, Sergio, Shay, Shepard, Silverio, Skye, Stephanie, Sullivan, Theodore, Therdore, Tiller, Timothy, Wilder, William, Yasna, Yvonne, Zaniyah

Tiller caught my eye — it may have come from the English surname (which originally referred to someone who tilled the soil), but, given the location, I’m hoping it was inspired by the tiller of a boat. Maybe Tiller will become the boaters’ version of Taylor/Tyler? :)

Olivia and Liam — the top names in Boston last year — are nowhere to be found on Nantucket’s list, interestingly.

Sources:

Image: Adapted from Flag of Massachusetts (public domain)

Babies named for Fay Wray

Actress Fay Wray in the movie "King Kong" (1933)
Fay Wray in “King Kong

Canadian-American actress Fay Wray appeared in films regularly from the 1920s to the 1950s. Her most memorable role was that of Ann Darrow, the object of King Kong’s affection in the now-classic monster movie King Kong (1933).

Dozens of U.S. baby girls have been named “Fay Wray” over the years, and it’s likely that those born during Wray’s career — particularly the early part of her career — were named with her in mind. Some examples…

Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray in Alberta, Canada, in 1907. She said in her autobiography:

That “Fay” is almost as a punctuation mark to the longer, fancier names my mother favored. She had been disappointed not to have had a boy, so my father took the opportunity to name me after both his wife and a former lady friend.

Because she never used Vina (the name she shared with her mother), she was known by the self-rhyming name Fay Wray throughout her life.

In her 80s, she observed, “People always ask me if Fay Wray is really my name.”

Sources:

Image: Screenshot of King Kong