The Baby Name Caldonia

Caldonia, Louis Jordan, film poster, 1945The baby name Caldonia was on the U.S. charts for most of the first half of the 20th century, but there was a curious uptick in usage in 1945:

  • 1948: 7 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1947: 7 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1946: 10 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1945: 23 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 11 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1942: 12 baby girls named Caldonia

This uptick corresponds to the release of a song that played a part in rock and roll history in two different ways.

That song was “Caldonia” (1945) by Louis Jordan, one of the most successful African-American bandleaders of his day. It’s an up-tempo blues (or “jump blues”) song about a woman named Caldonia:

Walkin’ with my baby she’s got great big feet
She’s long, lean, and lanky and ain’t had nothing to eat
But she’s my baby and I love her just the same
Crazy ’bout that woman cause Caldonia is her name

The song reached #1 on the Race Records chart (which tracked music by and for an African-American audience) and peaked at #6 on the pop chart.

Here’s video footage of Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five performing “Caldonia” in a short musical film (a “soundie”) made the same year:

The song was covered by many other artists, including Erskine Hawkins. Hawkins’ version is notable because a reviewer in Billboard described it as “rock and roll music”:

rock and roll music, caldonia, review, erskine hawkins
First use of “rock and roll music” in print? (1945)

The phrase “rock and roll” had been around for decades, but this might be the first time it was ever used in print to describe a style of music.

Jordan’s song also made a big impact on rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, who said that “Caldonia” was the first non-gospel song he ever learned. The character of Caldonia even seems to be “the mother of Long Tall Sally, Miss Molly, Miss Ann, Jenny and especially Lucille, the least cooperative and most desired of Little Richard’s musical sweethearts.”

So now let’s get back to the name. Where does Caldonia come from?

It’s hard to know where Jordan discovered it. The name had been featured in African-American music at least once before, in “Caldonia Blues” (1924) by blues singer Sippie Wallace, and it had also been in use (though not very common) in the Southern states since the mid-19th century.

My best guess is that Caldonia is based on Caledonia (kal-eh-DŌN-yah), the Roman word for the region that is now Scotland, because the words are so similar.

Do you have any other theories?

(One of the baby girls born in Scotland in 2015 was named Caledonia, btw.)


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