Baby Name Inspiration: Early 20th Century Small Town Oklahoma

Do you want to hear about my former life? No, this isn’t some tale about me being Joan of Arc. This is about my formative years.

My entire life I have lived in that northeast corner of the U.S. with its four seasons, fast pace, and large cities. I can’t exactly claim to be a Midwesterner.

I may not have grown up in that proud center of the U.S. but I grew up pretty darn close, in the farthest western part of the Northeast possible, only a few miles from the border of Ohio. Someone from Oklahoma might laugh at me clinging to my tenuous midwestern roots, but when I moved to New England in my teens, Pittsburgh seemed midwestern by comparison.

As a teenage transplant in the 90s I had burning questions, such as:

“Why aren’t there more people at the high school football games?”

Answer: Everyone was watching high school field hockey, a mostly female sport  played in skirts, that didn’t even exist in my Pittsburgh high school (other than in gym class).

“What’s a grinder?”

Answer: A hoagie… um… a sub… um… a sandwich in a long roll.

There’s debate about which parts of the U.S. define the Midwestern experience.  Call me a wannabe resident of flyover country.

Booklet from the Asher Oklahoma Chapter of the Eastern Star

Not surprisingly then, I’m intrigued by some of these names I stumbled upon in a 1955 booklet from an Asher Oklahoma chapter of the Eastern Star. (The Eastern Star is a large fraternal organization.)

While some of these names weren’t terribly unusual for the time, they seem unusual in modern context. And many of these fall under the “different but not too different” camp for the early 20th century.

This very small town, with only 393 residents in 2010, had an adventurous naming style. Among past patrons of the Asher Oklahoma chapter of the Eastern Star in 1955, there were some early 20th century staples (such as Pearl and Ethel), and these under the radar finds:

Amye Lea – This is one of those, “I’m not sure it would appeal today, but I can’t leave it out” picks. This looks like nothing more than an altered spelling of Amy, and perhaps a double name with Lea. Whether this person was known as “Amye Lea” or simply included her middle name in the booklet, we will probably never know. What is known is not many, but a few people in the U.S. are named Amye,  which I suspect is a variant of Amy.

Cecil – The feminine variation, Cecily, has potential, being oft-heard among name bloggers.  While the masculine Cecil may seem too genteel for a modern boy, at one point it reached the top 100. Cecil peaked in 1903 at #66 and then began a slow, steady decline, leaving the top 1000 in 1998. During its heyday, a few girls were also named Cecil, which peaked on girls at #255 in 1901. Which raises the question was the Cecil Barry listen in this Eastern Star booklet a man or a woman?

Cordelia – This is another name that peaked over a century ago, and then saw a slow steady decline into obscurity. Shakespeare’s adaptation of Cordeilla, a name with uncertain origins and meaning, could hold some allure for modern parents. A Cordelia could easily go by Delia.

Guy – On the one hand this name is slick, on the other some may associate it too much with the slang term for “man”. This may explain why this name has declined through the years or perhaps the style is just not of the moment. The Italian version, Guido, which appeared and then left the top 1000 for three decades in the early 20th century, one might think could see new life as another o-ender, if it wasn’t a derogatory term for a guy from New York or New Jersey.

Ina – There are several familiar names in Ina’s family tree, such as Carrie, Chris, Christabel, Gina, and Tina, a short form of Bettina, a name that was in our Failure to Launch series. This name may be familiar through Food Network personality Ina Garten.

Lavinia – This Roman Mythological name and former U.S. First Lady* is a name “in the wind”, on the cusp of breaking out. There’s Lavinia from Hunger Games, Fancy Nancy’s doll, Mirabelle Lavinia Chandelier, and the 2008 novel of the same name by Ursula K. Le Guin. Dampening the name’s reputation a little might be Lavinia Fisher, recognized as the first female mass murderer in the U.S. Nevertheless, this is a lovely choice I wholeheartedly endorse.
*Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison was the first wife to 23rd President Benjamin Harrison.

Mozelle – This is a place-name; the name of towns in West Virginia and Kentucky. While the name is unique, there are a few records (3,120 to be exact) of people in the U.S. named Mozelle. The origins are unclear, but it could be a variant of Moselle, a river in Europe, and the name of a German wine made in the Moselle valley. Other sources claim this is the feminine form of Moses.

Mura – There are several possible origins for this name. It is a surname, a river in Russia, the name of a Saint born in Ireland around 550, and a Japanese term, meaning “unevenness or inconsistency”. Or maybe Mura is simply an alternative spelling for Maura. We may never know. As a given name Mura is unique, but not completely obscure. According to the Whitepages, there are 760 people in the U.S. named Mura.

Ola – This name’s origins are masculine, the Norwegian and Swedish form of Olaf. Yet when this name peaked in the U.S. at #140 in 1886 it was on girls. Around the same time, this name barely scraped the bottom of the top 1000 on boys. Today Ola is rare on both genders.

Olidean – Very few people have this name. In fact, the Whitepages found only 1 record in the U.S. today for someone named Olidean. There are a few records on of long-deceased people named Olidean. The name has always been uncommon (it has never been in the top 1000), but based on records there were more people named Olidean a century ago than today. You never know, maybe you have an Olidean on your family tree.

Oma – There’s the Lithuanian Ona, which peaked at the turn of the 20th century but never hit the top 300. There’s also the Indian Uma, which has never been in the U.S. top 1000. Maybe this name is a hybrid of Ona and Uma. Or it could be a place-name. Oma is also a town in Japan. Somehow the idea of an early 20th century Midwesterner being intentionally named after a town in Japan seems unlikely. Oma is also an acronym for any number of things. Most likely this name is simply a parent’s creation.

Viola – Here’s another name I’m surprised we don’t hear more often, with Violet almost hitting the top 100. Of the two botanical names, Viola may be the one with a slightly more impressive resume, also being the name of an instrument and a Shakespeare character. And in the early 20th century, Viola was the more popular of the two, peaking at #42 in 1908. By comparison, Violet ranked at #81 that same year. It would climb to #74 a decade later and then decline and leave the top 1000 only to come back in the 21st century. Viola is still waiting to return to the top 1000.

Many of these names hold great promise for an early 20th century child. Some of them are going on the Upswing Baby Names Watch List Report, a report which tracks names with potential.

Which names will end up on our Watch List? That information will become available once the U.S. Social Security Administration releases its baby name data for 2012. If you wish to see the current Watch List report with data from 2011, and receive the next Watch List Report, submit your email address below.

Readers: Which “Early 20th Century Oklahoma” names are your favorites? (Multiple votes are allowed.) UPDATE: This poll wasn’t allowing multiple votes before, but that has been fixed now. I apologize for any inconvenience. That’s what happens when I try to get a post up seconds before waking a night-owl 5-year-old for Kindergarten! I swear waking her takes 20-30 minutes out of my day…

Photo credit: State Puzzle / Asher Oklahoma Eastern Star Booklet


  1. I know a Cecil. He’s a sweet older gentleman.

    Olidean is very interesting, but I wonder at the pronunciation. My first instinct was O-lid-EE-un, my second Awl-EE-deen, and as an afterthought O-lid-EEN, which actually seems like the likeliest candidate.

    And Oma makes me think of Paloma; could it be simply a shortened version of that name?

    • I’ll also note that the poll is only allowing for one choice. 😀

    • I tried to find information on how to pronounce Olidean, and couldn’t find anything. I too suspected O-lid-EE-un, but wasn’t sure of that.

      I also suspected Oma might have been short for something, and Paloma seems like a good possibility sound-wise. Statistically it’s not likely because Paloma was even more uncommon then than now, but you never know. There are some rather unusual names on that list. But even Mozelle, which sounds modern to me, and was never popular, was more popular then than now. There were 75 babies named Mozelle in 1911, which ranked it at #478. In 2011, Mozelle isn’t even in the data (given to fewer than 5 babies). I checked the stats on Mozelle just now, suspecting the name was more popular in 2011, and I was wrong.

    • I’ve never met an Olidean, but having grown up in Oklahoma, I would guess it’s pronounced something like olly-DEEN.

      • That’s funny that you mention that, because when I googled Olidean, a lot of the results were for two names, Oli Dean or Oli Deen which I would pronounce olly-DEEN.

  2. I love Cordelia, Lavinia and Viola – nice name-digging!

    Oma means grandmother in Dutch (I think); it seems slightly odd for that reason. Is there any chance it’s connected to Omaha?

    • That’s an interesting theory on Oma being connected to Omaha. Anything is possible. I agree Cordelia, Lavinia and Viola all seem to hold the most potential today. They even sound like a nice set of sisters!

  3. S that Oma, Ina, Ola and Nina are all part of a trend of mini names–short names that ended in a. There were tona of them used in the early 20th century. My 6th grade science teacher was named Ora, for example, and Ida, Ada, Eva (also on this list) fit right into that group.

  4. Also wanted to to say that Mozelle is fierce! I’m very intrigued by Inez and Elmora too.

  5. Lol. My mom’s family was from a small town in OK and my family tree includes:

    Abby Inez
    Opal Mozelle
    Fern Marie
    Ethel Mae
    Ralph Ray
    Elsie Ann

    If you go further back, into the 19th century, you find such gems as Parthenia Icephene (“Icey”). 😂

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