The Cool Kids

Popular baby names one hundred years ago

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Many would agree with this phrase Shakespeare’s Romeo said long ago but here down south “If it’s not broken why fix it?” The names we give our children are a reflection of the culture around us. In Louisiana of 1919, many parents named their own children after famous people of their day, many of whom are forgotten in our own time but who were well-known then. Popular names from the century began to replace more traditional choices with the names of movie stars, influencers, war heroes and even a popular soap powder. 

Robert Chambers. Harkins, Edward Francis. Little Pilgrimages among the Men Who Have Written Famous Books : Second Series. page 97. Boston:L.C, 1903.

Some of the celebrities included Robert Chambers a popular author of the time whose short stories such as “The King in Yellow”, “The Yellow Sign”, “The Search for the Unknown” featured supernatural components to them and of which many were later turned into silent films. Some of his work is even mentioned in modern day shows such as HBO’s True Detective. People like Vernon Castle and Irene Castle who were famous for their dancing were also big celebrities at the time. When the two meet and became a couple they practiced many styles of dancing but their main style was ballroom dancing.

Schmalz, Herbert.
Queen Zenobia’s Last Look Upon Palmyra.”
 Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Last modified September 10, 2014.

Another popular name was Zenobia, which was a popular perfume that was developed in England around the 1900s by William Fredrick Charles who was a chemist and perfumer. He developed his perfume and Named it after the queen of Palmyra. Queen Zenobia was queen of what is now modern day Syria. Palmyra was a city that challenged the roman empire around 270 AD. Zenobia was a descendant of cleopatra and came to power after becoming regent after the assassination of her husband, which many assume she played a part in to put her own son on the throne. Zenobia was a very strong queen of her time and rallied many troops to challenge the roman empire and surrounding nations.

While many people wanted their children named after strong and influential figures, others were inspired by popular household names. Pearline was a popular and uncommon name in the baby world but not in the cleaning industry. A soap detergent used for washing clothes, Pearline claimed to “wash so that clothes last longer” while still harmlessly removing dirt. While soap detergent mat not be a movie star it was a very big brand that was common already in most households. New parents might have felt they were being highly innovative by naming their child this or may have simply thought of all the countless loads of clothing they would have to wash with the addition of a newborn baby, especially in the age of cloth diapers!

 With the big influence of these celebrities on the population at the time parents seemed to have hope in their children that they would  bring about an impact on their lives which would equate or even surpass the sentiment that lies behind the namesake. Today we can still see within our society how the influence of popular celebrities, everyday items, and even new unheard of names are used for baby names. These uncommon or even names that can be considered a little “odd” for a child are still booming with popularity just within a different era. It is not uncommon today for parents to name their children unique names they feel will maybe embody the child’s uniqueness in years to come. Even though these names may be a little troublesome for teachers calling roll, these names may hold a certain sentimental value especially to the parents which may inspire their own children one day. 


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