Do you remember Gudrun, the artist whose husband commits suicide after attempting to strangle her in “Women in Love”? Or Vickie, the divorced English mother having an affair with a married American in “A Touch of Class”?
British actress Glenda Jackson, who won best actress Oscars as Gudrun in 1969 and Vickie in 1973, turns 84 on Saturday.
Jackson left acting in 1992 for a political career. She was a member of Parliament between 1992 and 2015. She’s now returned to acting, winning a best actress Tony for Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” in 2018.
Glenda is a modern name with obscure origins. Most baby name books claim it’s from the Welsh words glân, “clean, pure,” and da, “good”. Welsh pride created many names from Welsh words in the early 20th century. Delwyn (“pretty and fair”) and Tegan (“lovely”) are two examples.
The problem with the Welsh theory is that the earliest examples of Glenda in census records aren’t related to Wales. The first example in Britain, Glenda Day, was born in 1864 in Somerset, with most other early examples near London. The first Welsh Glenda doesn’t show up until 1910. It’s probable Glenda was originally created another way and reinterpreted with the Welsh meaning.
Perhaps Glenda is a feminine form of Glendon, a surname from English place names meaning “valley hill” or “cleared hill.” More likely, it’s just a blend of Glenna and Brenda.
Glenna, a feminine form of Glenn (Scottish “valley”), was in frequent use before Glenda. Glenna ranked 702nd for girls in 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists start. Glenda didn’t show up in the top thousand until 1911, and stayed less common than Glenna until 1933.
Glenda shot past Glenna because of Glenda Farrell (1904-71). Oklahoma-born Farrell became a Broadway star in 1929. Moving to Hollywood in 1932, she starred in 11 films in 1933, including “Havana Widows,” the first of five in which Farrell and Joan Blondell were a sassy “blonde bombshell” comedy duo. In 1937, she played wisecracking reporter Torchy Blane in “Smart Blonde,” the first of seven hit films. Comic book writer Jerry Siegel based Superman’s girlfriend, Lois Lane, on Torchy Blane.
Glenda skyrocketed 136% between 1932 and 1933, when 680 arrived. Its boom continued until 1944, when the 3,366 born ranked it 79th. Glenda stayed among the top hundred through 1952.
Glinda, the good witch in L. Frank Baum’s famous 1900 children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (played by Billie Burke in the 1939 film), often is misremembered as “Glenda.” Glinda was ignored as a baby name, however, until Linda became popular. Glinda was in the top thousand between 1944 and 1955, peaking at 733rd in 1951. Glinda is nonexistent as a baby name today, despite the popularity of Oz spinoffs like “Wicked.”
Though Farrell and Jackson are the only superstar Glendas, others are known in their fields. Glenda Bailey (born 1958) ended 19 years as editor of “Harper’s Bazaar” in January. Historian Glenda Gates Riley (1938) has written many books about women in the American West.
Glenda left the top thousand baby names in 1990. Only 24 were born in the United States in 2018. In another 30 years, when Glenda Jackson may have the cachet that Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn do today, parents may consider it again.