The Baby Name Moonyeen

Smilin' Through, play, 1922

I wasn’t sure what to make of the names Moonyeen and Moonyean when I first spotted them on a few SSA baby name lists from the 1920s and ’30s:

  • 1936: 9 baby girls named Moonyeen
  • 1934: 5 baby girls named Moonyean [debut]
  • 1933: 14 baby girls named Moonyeen
  • 1922: 7 baby girls named Moonyeen [debut]

Where did the names come from, and why were they on the radar during those decades?

Looks like they can be traced back to the Broadway play Smilin’ Through (1919), which featured a character named Moonyeen. The story was popularized by several film adaptations, including Smilin’ Through (1922), starring Norma Talmadge, and Smilin’ Through (1932), starring Norma Shearer. The 1932 version was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In the story, Moonyeen was killed on her wedding day. Her fiancé John, now alone, harbored an all-consuming hatred of Moonyeen’s killer. But this came to a head many years later when Moonyeen’s niece (who John had adopted and raised as his own) happened to fall in love with the killer’s son.

I’m not entirely sure how the writers of the original Smilin’ Through came up with the name. My guess is that they based it on the Irish word muirnín, which means “darling” or “sweetheart.” It’s a term of endearment very similar to mo mhúirnín, “my darling,” which gave rise to the name Mavourneen.

6 thoughts on “The Baby Name Moonyeen

  1. Moonyeen Kyne.
    My Father is Irish and Mother English…I was named in 1935 after my Mother saw Smiling through in 1933. (London England).
    I have never met another myself…it is a rare name. To my know;edge it means “daughter Dearest”…wasnt Moonyeen in the film the ghost of some-ones daughter?

  2. @moonyeen kine: For most of the story Moonyeen is in spirit-form, so yes she’s a ghost, but she isn’t the daughter — that’s Kathleen (Moonyeen’s niece/John’s adopted daughter).

  3. I saw the 1932 film in about 1946 when I was about 8 years old. I pined for the couple in that movie for most of my life. There was a Th song too called “Smilin Through”. It is a lovely song that says “Those two eyes of blue, come smiling through, Still think of it fondly and I am now eighty years old. They dont make them like this one any more. June

  4. My name is Moonyeen. I was named after my Grandma Moonyeen McAfee. She was named after the movie Smilin Through. I love that movie. It’s pretty much the only time I ever see my name on print unless it’s specially made. I’m lucky though, I never felt like I’m the only one with my name because I always had my Grandma until last year. It is a blessing to have the name Moonyeen. People always want to get to know me because my name is so different. And I am half Irish/Italian so I get many surprised glances when people meet me. They don’t expect me to be Irish. I truly love my name, and am so glad I was named after and extraordinary woman, my grandma.

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