The Brief Rise of Rhoda

patty mccormack, rhoda penmark, bad seed, 1956
Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack)

Here’s a girl name that might be a good fit for a Halloween baby…

The name is Rhoda, which comes from the ancient Greek word rhodon, meaning “rose.” Which is lovely…but, for many, the strongest association isn’t roses but Rhoda Penmark, the “murderous moppet so cold she could practice her piano lessons methodically while her latest victim was burning to death in the basement below.” Not so lovely.

The character of Rhoda was played by 11-year-old Patty McCormack in the movie The Bad Seed (1956), which was successful at the box office and earned McCormack an Oscar nomination. McCormack had originated the role* in the 1954 Broadway play, which was adapted from the 1954 book by Alabama author William March.

Evil children are now a horror trope, but back in the ’50s, Rhoda was breaking new ground. She “was a character with no precedent in film history” who had inherited her homicidal tendencies from her serial killer grandmother.

The movie gave the name Rhoda a lot of exposure, and as the result — despite the character’s sinister nature and obnoxiously perfect braids — the name saw a temporary rise in usage in 1957:

  • 1959: 259 baby girls named Rhoda [rank: 619th]
  • 1958: 265 baby girls named Rhoda [rank: 611th]
  • 1957: 356 baby girls named Rhoda [rank: 504th]
  • 1956: 241 baby girls named Rhoda [rank: 617th]
  • 1955: 238 baby girls named Rhoda [rank: 598th]

What are your thoughts on the name Rhoda?

*Another young actress who played Rhoda early on was Kimetha Laurie, who we talked about yesterday.

Source: The Bad Seed – TCM


3 thoughts on “The Brief Rise of Rhoda

  1. I always associate the name Rhoda with Valerie Harper’s character Rhoda Morgenstern from the Mary Tyler Moore Show and later the spin-off Rhoda. Did the name see another uptick in usage in the 70s?

  2. @Ellyn By clicking on the Link below the word Rhoda you will get to a graph with the frequencies. And yes, there was another small peak around 1974/75 breaking the general falling trend for 2 years.

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