The Baby Name Dondi

dondi, name, 1955, 1950s, comic strip
A panel from the 10/14/1955 Dondi comic strip

The comic strip Dondi was first published in September of 1955.

The strip featured a six-year-old Italian boy who was orphaned during WWII. When he was discovered by American soldiers, he was looking for his parents, crying out donde* (“where” in Spanish), so the soldiers dubbed him Dondi. He was discovered and befriended by a pair of American G.I.s who’d found him “cowering behind a rubble heap.”

When the soldiers were ordered back to the U.S., Dondi inadvertently smuggled himself into the U.S. by boarding the same boat as his “buddies.” Eventually he was adopted by one of the soldiers and “the early focus of the strip was Dondi’s discovery of America.”

In 1956, the name Dondi appeared for the first time — both as a boy name and as a girl name — in the Social Security Administration’s baby name data:

  • 1962: 48 baby boys and 24 baby girls named Dondi
  • 1961: 50 baby boys and 19 baby girls named Dondi
  • 1960: 17 baby boys and 10 baby girls named Dondi
  • 1959: 14 baby boys named Dondi
  • 1958: 23 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Dondi
  • 1957: 31 baby boys named Dondi
  • 1956: 19 baby boys and 7 baby girls named Dondi [debut]
  • 1955: (unlisted)

One of Dondi’s first namesakes was Stephen Dondi Thomas, born in late 1955 to Mr. and Mrs. Leslie F. Thomas of Dayton, Ohio. “The Thomases named him as they did because the illegal entry problems of the comic strip Dondi closely paralleled the experience of their daughter, Janie, 4.” Born in Italy to an Italian mother and an American father, Janie was facing deportation under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Both the strip and the name peaked in popularity in the early ’60s. The strip ran until 1986; the name last appeared on the SSA’s list in 2002.

*Is donde used in Italian? Should the strip’s writers have used dove instead?

Update, Sept. 2017: My sources were wrong! I finally checked out the original strip. Turns out that Dondi’s name was not from donde — an explanation that never made much sense anyway — but from someone calling him a “dondi boy” (dandy boy). Here’s some of the Dondi dialogue that ran in mid-October:

“All right now, sonny, tell us your name.”

“My name Dondi!”

“Dondi what? What is your last name?”

“Dondi last name I ever have.”

“Come now, Dondi, didn’t you ever have some other name?”

“Long time ago pretty lady is holding me and saying ‘you dondiboy.’ So everybody is calling me Dondi.”

According to an interview with strip co-creator Irwin Hasen, the “pretty lady” was a Red Cross worker.

Sources:

  • “Comic Strip Orphan Gets a Namesake.” Chicago Tribune 26 Dec. 1955: C5.
  • Dondi @ Toonpedia
  • Johnson., Steven K. “Goodbye.” Chicago Tribune 9 Jun. 1986.
  • Winslow, Rachel Rains. The Best Possible Immigrants: International Adoption and the American Family. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

8 thoughts on “The Baby Name Dondi

  1. I am Steven Dondi Thomas’s oldest daughter. And this is a very true story…my youngest sister is named Dondi as well .

  2. Hi my name is Dondi and I’m female. Frankly, I’d never looked up the meaning of my name because my father said he made it up as a “feminine version of Don,” his trench buddy in Vietnam Nam before the actual war was pronounced. I was born in 1962. I have heard of 10-15 people named Dondi in my life (male and female), but only actually met one. Her father’s name was Don, so she was named after him. I’m very familiar with “Dondi” the comic strip and the movie, but didn’t know that it was his nickname because he was constantly saying “where.” I’ve lived in the southwest and joked for years “Donde e Dondi,” but now it feels weird and awful that my joke was “Where is Where!”

    Please, do not name your child such an odd name. As a child I felt like a weirdo and no one understands it when I say my full name. During my late teens I started just introducing myself by my first name. I’m now in my fifties and people often just call me D, because it’s awkward and they don’t want to say it wrong. Most people that work with me and for me spell it wrong because phonetically it sounds like Dondee, Dondie, Dundee or Dondy. I’ve seen them all. When I place an order at a restaurant for pick up, I leave the name Donna or Dee and I pay with cash. People often tell me they’ve heard of me before they meet me, which means they already have preconceived notions based on who told them about me. Or even better … Say “Ohhhhh, YOUR Dondi?” Not a good sign. Or “Oh, yoouurrrr DON-DI!” A much better start.

    Honestly, I wish my name was unique but not so unusual!

  3. I just updated the post to correct the source of Dondi’s name, which was the English word dandy, not the Spanish word donde. Whatever source I originally used had it wrong. Sorry about that!

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