In 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?