From baby names to brand names, one little girl left her mark.
Sorry, Maddox and Harper. When it comes to baby name influence, another famous child leaves you in the dust. The all-time celebrity baby queen is…
“Baby Ruth” was a national sensation from the moment of her birth. Her personal fame was fleeting, but her name was forever.
Meet the Clevelands
Grover Cleveland was the only U.S. president to be married at the White House. He was also the only president to be voted out after a single term, then voted back in four years later. In between terms, in 1891, Grover and his young wife Frances welcomed their first child, Ruth. The nation went wild.
Baby Ruth sightings were big news. A sampling of headlines from the Boston Globe demonstrates the eager coverage:
Baby Ruth merchandise inevitably followed. The World’s Fair minted a souvenir Baby Ruth coin. A silver spoon featured Baby Ruth on the bowl and her parents on the handle. A trading card in the shape of a diaper read “Vote for Papa, signed, Baby Ruth.”
Baby Ruth was such a hit that Grover Cleveland’s political opponents tried to counter by promoting rival Benjamin Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison McKee, as “Baby McKee.” A song was even published about the dueling babies, but Baby Ruth ultimately reigned supreme.
The Name Effect
America’s most famous baby transformed her given name. Ruth was the 46th most popular name for girls before Baby Ruth was born. By 1893, it had leapt to #3, with a level of use that dwarfs any name today.
No baby born to a celebrity has had such an impact since. For comparison, this chart shows the name Ruth’s rise alongside some of the most influential celebrity-baby names of the 21st Century: Everly (child of Channing Tatum), Harper (Neil Patrick Harris; David and Victoria Beckham), Luna (John Legend and Chrissy Teigen), Maddox (Angelina Jolie), and Mason (Kourtney Kardashian). The top blue line represents Ruth.
Not only did Baby Ruth’s impact eclipse the modern celebrity babies’, it also took a different shape. The name surged immediately in Ruth Cleveland’s birth year, even though she wasn’t born until October. That means that thousands of parents in the final months of pregnancy changed their name plans in Ruth Cleveland’s honor.
30 Years Later, a Candy Bar
In 1921, the sports world was agog over a young baseball slugger who hit home runs at an astonishing rate. George “Babe” Ruth was fast becoming America’s biggest star. When the Curtiss Candy company introduced a new candy bar, they named it the Baby Ruth bar—in honor of President Cleveland’s daughter, they claimed.
The name story was sketchy at best. Tragically, Ruth Cleveland had died of diphtheria in 1904. But the candy bar was an enormous success, boosted by its low five-cent price as well as its Babe-Ruth-adjacent name.
The Babe wasn’t amused. After watching the Baby Ruth bar’s runaway sales, he created a new candy company to manufacture “Ruth’s Home Run Bar” with the slogan “Babe Ruth’s Own Candy.” Curtiss boldly sued for copyright infringement, sticking to their Ruth Cleveland story. They prevailed in court and blocked Babe Ruth from selling a candy bar under his own name.
The story of the candy bar’s name has been retold countless times. Some versions take the name origin at face value: “Did you know Baby Ruth bars were actually named after Grover Cleveland’s daughter?” Others marvel that Curtiss got away with cheating the baseball superstar based on such an unlikely claim. What both versions miss is the role of the original Baby Ruth herself.
Curtiss was only able to use the name because Ruth Cleveland had been such a sensation. All the headlines, promotional products and songs made “Baby Ruth” a legally plausible brand origin. The Baby Ruth bar still stands as a tribute to the ultimate celebrity baby name.
p.s. A very happy birthday to my mother, Ruth!