The Silver Screen Baby Name Seena

First there was Francelia. Then there was Ormi. And today we have Seena — the third name (I know of) to debut on the U.S. baby name charts thanks to the influence of a silent film actress.

Signe Auen in Photoplay, Oct. 1915
Signe Auen in Photoplay, Oct. 1915
That actress was Seena Owen, and she’s a special case, as she’s the first actress on my list to become popular under a stage name.

Signe Auen was born in Washington state in 1894. Her parents were immigrants from Denmark, and she had older siblings named Lillie (who became a screenwriter) and Audun.

The Scandinavian name Signe can be traced back to the Old Norse name Signý, which is made up on the elements sigr, meaning “victory,” and , meaning “new.”

Signe Auen began appearing in films in late 1914.

In 1915, there was an uptick in the number of babies named Signe according to both the SSA and the SSDI.

1912 43 Signes 92 Signes
1913 46 Signes 76 Signes
1914 45 Signes 70 Signes
1915 67 Signes 73 Signes
1916 42 Signes 55 Signes
1917 52 Signes 50 Signes
1918 51 Signes 55 Signes
1919 40 Signes 40 Signes
1920 54 Signes 52 Signes
1921 44 Signes 37 Signes
1922 26 Signes 26 Signes

(For the SSDI numbers — which were declining during the 1910s, after peaking in the 1890s and 1900s — I only counted people who had Signe as a first name, not as a middle.)

Seena Owen in Photoplay, Mar. 1916
Seena Owen in Photoplay, Mar. 1916
Sometime during the last half of 1915 Signe Auen changed her name to “Seena Owen” — the phonetic spelling of her Danish name.

And in 1917, the baby name Seena debuted on the SSA’s baby name list:

1914 x 4 Seenas
1915 x 2 Seenas
1916 x 1 Seena
1917 5 Seenas [debut] 4 Seenas
1918 x 4 Seenas
1919 6 Seenas 4 Seenas
1920 x 2 Seenas
1921 9 Seenas 8 Seenas
1922 11 Seenas 6 Seenas
1923 12 Seenas 10 Seenas
1924 22 Seenas 16 Seenas

Numbers from both the SSA and the SSDI show that usage of the name Seena, which has always been relatively low, was at its highest during the 1920s.

This matches up pretty well with Seena Owen’s film career, which lasted from the late 1910s until the early 1930s, when Owen retired from acting due to the advent of talkies.

Which name do you like more, Signe or Seena?

P.S. Did you know that Seena Owen was the first person to wear false eyelashes? Director David Llewelyn “D. W.” Griffith had a wig maker invent the first set of eyelash extensions for Owen to wear in his 1916 epic film Intolerance.

Sources: Seena Owen – Wikipedia, Signý – Behind the Name

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