Long before Splash gave us Madison, before the Beatles boosted Michelle, pop culture could still take a name from sparing use to the very top of the charts – or at least from obscurity to familiarity.
Thanks to Christina for suggesting Nedra as Name of the Day.
Go searching for Nedra’s origins, and many an intriguing theory can be found. It’s tempting to link her to Edward’s diminutive form, Ned. After all, unconventional feminizations of masculine monikers abound.
But I also stumbled across references to Nedra as the reverse of Arden, or even derived from the word nether, as in lower. And she’s quite close to Edna, and the Arabic Nadra, too.
But all of these assumptions are flawed.
Nedra first appeared in the US Top 1000 back in 1908, and she charted most years up into the 1960s. Nedra was no Mary or Elizabeth – her highest ranking was #637, back in 1938. But her steady history of use suggests that something inspired many parents at once.
That something was George Barr McCutcheon. He’s not exactly a household name today, but you’ll probably recognize his best known work – Brewster’s Millions. It’s been adapted several times, most recently as a 1985 movie with Richard Pryor and John Candy. McCutcheon penned novels and plays in the early 20th century. Among them was his 1905 novel Nedra.
Nedra wasn’t McCutcheon’s heroine. Instead, she was a mysterious island where a pair of well-t0-do Chicagoans land when their planned elopement goes awry. Back in September of 1905, the New York Times called it an “amusing extravaganza.” The public must have agreed. It was a bestseller, ranking right up there with enduring works like Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.
Despite the fact that McCutcheon didn’t use the name for a person, he inspired plenty of parents. The name first charts shortly after the book’s debut. It appears that a 1915 movie was based on the novel, and that may’ve given Nedra even more exposure.
Notable Nedras include:
- Actress Nedra Volz, born in 1908. Her extraordinarily long career started with vaudeville when she was just a few years old. You’ll remember her from her later career, as Edith Bunker’s feisty aunt Iola on All in the Family, Diff’rent Strokes housekeeper Adelaide and Miss Tisdale at the post office on The Dukes of Hazzard. She also guest starred on The Fall Guy, The A-Team and WKRP in Cincinatti;
- Nedra Talley was part of girl group The Ronettes, best known for 1960s hits like “Be My Baby” and the later success of Veronica “Ronnie” Spector;
- Nedra Pickler is a journalist with the Associated Press.
There’s also a moth called Nedra.
It isn’t clear what inspired the author. In his novel, he explains that the shipwrecked couple did christen some of the places they found with English names, but they relied on the natives’ words for other things, including their location. He writes:
The island on which they had been cast bore a name which sounded so much like Nedra that they spelled it in that way.
And that’s Nedra’s story – a trifle mysterious, gently antique and intriguing. She might be a way to honor an ancestral Edward – with a twist – or simply a means to choose a 20th century innovation with some history.