Here’s an intriguing tale of an unlikely appellation.
Thanks to Dotmyiis for suggesting Enola as our Baby Name of the Day.
Enola is alone spelled backwards. That’s no coincidence. Back in 1886 author Mary Young Ridenbaugh invented the name for her novel Enola; or, Her fatal mistake. Ridenbaugh’s character, Enola Dale, spoke of her loneliness, musing that her parents “must have known of her future isolation” when they chose her name. Ridenbaugh must’ve been a big ol’ name nerd – in the novel, Alcia and Baring are Enola’s fictional kids.
Ridenbaugh’s novel doesn’t feel like the kind with staying power – it is long out of print and the snippets that I read were a chore and a trudge.
But she resonated in her day, and inspired at least a few parents, including the parents of Enola Gay Haggard. Miss Haggard grew up and married Paul Tibbets. Their son, Paul, Jr., grew up to be a pilot.
If you know your World War II history, this should all be falling into place by now.
Dad wanted junior to be a doctor, but his son had different ideas. He ended up finding his place as a pilot in the US Air Force, and would be the man tapped to fly the B-29 bomber to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Tibbets named his plane the Enola Gay after mom.
This is where things really get dicey. Even if you feel, as retired Brigadier General Tibbets has always maintained, that the bombing was morally justified, it is hard to think of the name Enola without picturing destruction and human suffering.
If Enola has a saving grace, it is this: despite the negative associations, ends-in-ola names had a real moment in the late nineteenth century. In fact, Ridenbaugh wasn’t the first to dream up Enola. As with many new coinages, the sound was very much in keeping with current name trends.
From the 1880 Top 1000, we find:
- Viola in the Top 100;
- Lola and Ola in the Top 200;
- Leola, Nola, Iola rounding out the Top 500;
- Farther down the list, Zola, Creola and Eola were all in use.
Enola isn’t such a leap, and by 1881, she’d start to appear in the Top 1000, leaving after 1926, returning just once in 1953, some years after the war ended.
While most women bearing the name clearly post-date the novel, and handful in the 1930 US Census appear to have been born some years before Ridenbaugh’s work was released.
Many of those same ends-in-ola names are gaining favor today. If you have a grandma Enola, the name easily lends itself to nicknames like Nola or Lola that fit right in on today’s playgrounds.
In 1995’s big screen bust Waterworld, the young girl who holds the key to the future of the human race is called Enola. It’s a strangely appropriate choice, but with all the chatter about the movie, I can’t find anything by the actual scriptwriters commenting on the character’s name.
Overall, I think I’d find it a little jarring to hear the name on a child. If not for the WWII bomber, I would be embracing Enola, a sister for other quirky revivals like Luella and Opal. But Hiroshima is a strong and tragic association, and you might want to give it some serious thought before bestowing this name on a daughter.