Babies Named for Attila the Hun?

attila, movieIn Hungary, Attila was a top-20 baby name until just recently. In the U.S., on the other hand, Attila has never been very popular. It only started appearing in the data in the late 1950s:

  • 1961: 11 baby boys named Attila
  • 1960: 14 baby boys named Attila
  • 1959: 14 baby boys named Attila
  • 1958: 10 baby boys named Attila [debut]
  • 1957: unlisted

Why? Because of the 1954 movie Attila the Hun, which starred Anthony Quinn as Attila, the aggressive 5th-century ruler of the Huns.

I know what you’re thinking: How did a movie from 1954 cause a 1958 debut?

Well, the movie was an Italian production, so it was first released in Italy. The next year it came out in Portugal, West Germany, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and France. In 1956, it was released in Spain, Sweden, and Japan. In 1957, it came out in Norway and Finland. Finally, in the middle of 1958, the movie reached the United States.

Attila the Hun may be a world-famous historical figure, but unfortunately no one knows what his name means. One theory is that Attila was derived from the Gothic word atta, meaning “father.” Another is that is has Turkic roots and means “the oceanic, universal [ruler].”

But here are some things we do know: Attila’s name morphed into “Etzel” in the medieval German epic poem Nibelungenlied. A variant of Etzel, Edsel, was the first name of Henry Ford’s childhood best friend Edsel Ruddiman. Later, it also became the name of his only son, Edsel Ford (1893-1943). And Edsel Ford’s first name ended up on the famously unsuccessful line of cars launched by Ford in the late ’50s — around the same time Attila popped up on the baby name charts, ironically.

Which name do you like better, Attila or Edsel?

Sources: Attila – IMDb, Attila – Wikipedia


5 thoughts on “Babies Named for Attila the Hun?

  1. I’ve never met an Attila, but my parents had a good friend named Attilio that I knew as a child. He went by Pete among friends & family. He was likely born in the early 30s. I think his family was Italian.

  2. @Ellyn: Attilio actually has a completely different background and meaning: There was a Roman family, the gens Attilia, probably of Etruscan origin, bearing this name.

  3. @Ghebuz – That’s an interesting theory as well! You could be right. I’m going to look into it. Thanks!

    @Ellyn – My great-grandfather, who was born in Italy, was an Attilio as well.

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