In 1941, the bestselling book Storm was published. The protagonist of the story was a fictional Pacific storm named Maria.
The book’s author, George R. Stewart, wanted Maria to be pronounced ma-RYE-a (as opposed to ma-REE-a) according to the book’s introduction:
Another little point–although I don’t really care particularly, still I always thought of Maria and pronounced the name in the old-fashioned English and American way. The soft Spanish pronunciation is fine for some heroines, but our Maria here is too big for any man to embrace and much too boisterous. So put the accent on the second syllable, and pronounce it “rye.”
In 1951, the musical Paint Your Wagon featured a ballad called “They Call the Wind Maria.” The song, which was inspired by the book, retained the ma-RY-a pronunciation.
In 1969, a movie version of Paint Your Wagon was released. In the film, “They Call the Wind Maria” [vid] was sung by Harve Presnell.
In 1970, when pop singer Mariah Carey was born, she was named for the song. Her parents added an “h” to reflect the nonstandard ma-RYE-a pronunciation.
In 1990 and 1991, Mariah Carey’s first two albums came out. Her success on the charts popularized the baby name Mariah during the early 1990s:
- 1988: 423 baby girls named Mariah
- 1989: 398 baby girls named Mariah
- 1990: 1,102 baby girls named Mariah
- 1991: 5,189 baby girls named Mariah
- 1992: 4,710 baby girls named Mariah
- 1993: 4,089 baby girls named Mariah
So, in a sense, the thousands of babies named for Mariah Carey in the early 1990s actually have a famous fictional storm from the 1940s to thank for their name.
And that’s not all.
The storm also “helped to popularize the idea of naming hurricanes,” according to NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.