Every so often I come across a name and wonder about it. As I was going through the SSA name data from the year 1930, I came across the name Willodean (also spelled Willadean, Willodene, Wylodean, Willidean, Willadene, Willodeen, Wilodean, and Willowdean). This seems like an awful lot of spellings for a name I'd never heard of before. Upon looking at more years, I found that the name first popped up in 1914, peaked in popularity in 1924 though it stayed popular until 1934, then fizzled out and completely disappeared in the 1960s. It was only used in seven states, with the majority of the names being used in Alabama--the others were in Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and a couple in Texas and Oklahoma, though there were 5 Willavenes in 1926 Pennsylvania.
Where did this name come from? I thought maybe it would be from a book or a movie (ok, maybe a little early for a movie) as most names popping up out of the blue these days are from those sources. When I searched Google Books for "Willodean" published between 1800 and 1914, all I got was a listing in the Percheron Stud Book of America, 1912 edition. Apparently someone named a horse Willodean (foaled April 21, 1909-- sire was named Pigalin and the dam was Magie G. Aren't you glad you know that?). 199 babies in 1924 were probably not named after a horse. Oh yeah, it said "Willadean" was mentioned in the book Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, but when I did a search through the text, it didn't come up with anything. I actually started reading the book (which I remember reading as a kid, but don't recall any Willadeans in it), but thought it was kind of psycho to read an entire book just to see if there was one name reference that the computer had missed. Ditto for the reference to "willowdene" that led nowhere in Sir Walter Scott's The Betrothed. There is a book, published in 1909, called The Secret of Willow Dene, by Willow Dene. There's another book with the same title by Adeline Sergeant (1851-1904). Unfortunately, I can't find out anything else about either one!
I found a reference to a Willowdean Chatterson Handy who published anthropology books in the 1920s. She must have been born in the 1800s, though I'm not sure in what country (she wrote about natives of the Marquesas Islands).
The Willadean nurseries are in Kentucky, which were founded around 1909 (now are the Willadean-Donaldson Nurseries I think). Not sure if this would inspire parents to name their baby girls after it.
There's a Willowdean Ave. in West Roxbury, MA. All the houses on it seem to have been built in the 1930s. Not much info there. There appears to be a Willowdean or Willow Dean district in Armagh, Northern Ireland and a Willowdene neighborhood or district (?) in Norfolk, England. It also seems to be a popular name for Pubs, B&Bs, shops and other businesses in England and Australia. I found a story in Pearson's magazine from 1900 called "How Willowdene Will Escaped The Parson's" by Halliwell Sutcliffe. There was also a British steamship in the 1890s called Willowdene. We may be onto something?
There were lots of popular names starting with Wil- in use during this era (Wilma, Willene, Wilhelmina, Willetta, Willamae, Williemae, Willie) as well as names ending with -dean, -dine, and -deen (Aldean, Bernardine, Earldine, Donaldine etc.), but it seems a stretch to think a name made up of two elements seemingly picked at random (neither element was *that* popular) would suddenly become so popular. Besides, at least Bernardine and Donaldine are technically -ine names added to names ending with D, not -dine names! Also, most -dean names started out as -dine names and then got the -dean spelling later. With Willodean, this trend is reversed.
I did find this blurb from a site that's not generally known for its accurate name meanings:
Willodean is a name of uncertain origin. It may have originated as a combination of the names Willow and Dean, but it is perhaps more likely to be a corruption of Willardine, a feminized form of the name Willard. Willodean was mostly used in the American South in the early twentieth century. It is a rare name today.
This doesn't really hold much water, though, as I can't find a single instance of the name Willardine in the SSA name database. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just that if it was given to any babies at all since 1880, it was given to fewer than five a year.
So, what's up with this name? Anyone have any ideas?