It’s Liz’s week at Appellation Mountain!
Her first choice is a sturdy German name mixed with a generous helping of Hollywood glam.
Our Baby Name of the Day is the glamorous nickname Hedy.
Once upon a time, Hedwig was worn by saints and royals. These days, she’s been ceded to Harry Potter’s snowy owl and a cult classic musical about a transgendered rock star.
Along with Hedda, the names relate to a Germanic element – hadu, combat. Hedwig ranked in the US Top 1000 from 1880 through 1926, but it seems unlikely that she’ll make a comeback anytime soon.
But Hedy is in a whole other category, thanks to Hollywood’s Golden Age star Hedy Lamarr. Born in Austria as Hedwig, she started out in Berlin, before heading to Paris, London, and eventually the US. She borrowed her last name from fellow actress Barbara La Marr, a silent film star who lived fast and died young in the 1920s.
Lamarr scored plenty of famous roles from the 1940s into 1950s. She played Delilah in a hit and Joan of Arc in a flop. She starred as the exotic Tondelayo in 1942’s White Cargo. This would be enough to put Hedy in the same category as Ava, Natalie, and Audrey.
But there’s a twist. Lamarr once quipped: “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” Once her star faded in Hollywood, Lamarr had a second career in science. She and George Antheil – who got his start in music – secured a patent for frequency hopping, a technique that allows secure radio communications. Lamarr and Antheil proposed it to the the US military. It didn’t catch on in the World War II era, but by the early 1960s, the technology was in use on US Navy vessels.
Hedy charted in the US Top 1000 a few times during her heyday, between 1939 and 1947. Other famous Hedys include:
- Folksinger Hedy West – you might recognize her song “500 Miles.” West was born Hedwig in Georgia, in 1938;
- Actress Hedy Burress was born Heather in 1973. Name nerd trivia: Burress played a recurring character called Money Raspberry Dupree in short-lived 2001 medical drama Gideon’s Crossing. She most recently appeared on Southland.
Add in politicians, athletes, and other notables, and it is clear that unlike Cher or Madonna, Hedy is not too closely tied to any one figure.
If you’re looking for a nature tie, there’s also hedychium – better known as ginger lily – a plant native to tropical Asia. Maybe that’s a stretch.
Hedy seems fresh, a simple name that stands on her own, and a viable option to honor a Hedwig (or a Jadwiga, or any of the many Slavic variations) on your family tree. She’ll be mistaken for Heidi, but that’s a challenge with any uncommon name. Despite her homespun sound, Hedy sounds like heady – thrilling, as in “it goes to your head.” Putting Hedwig on the birth certificate feels a little extreme, though, so you might ask yourself if you’re content to let Hedy stand alone.
If nickname-proof style appeals, then Hedy offers a surprising mix of Hollywood glam, smarts, and modern style with serious roots.