Sayonara: The Goodbye Baby Name

sayonara, brando, umeki
Sayonara (1957) movie poster
We’re all familiar with sayonara, the Japanese word for “goodbye.”

But did you know that Sayonara was also a one-hit wonder on the U.S. baby name charts in the 1950s?

  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: 6 baby girls named Sayonara
  • 1957: unlisted

The James Michener novel Sayonara came out in 1953. Set during the Korean War, it told the story of U.S. airman Lloyd Gruver, stationed in Japan, who fell in love with a Japanese entertainer called Hana-ogi. (Her namesake is a historical courtesan; hana means “flower” and ogi means “fan”).

Originally, the book was going to be adapted into a stage production à la Michener’s South Pacific. With a musical in mind, Irving Berlin wrote a song called “Sayonara.”

Instead, the story was turned into a movie (starring Marlon Brando) a few years later, and so Irving Berlin’s song ended up on the soundtrack.

Both Sayonara the movie and “Sayonara” the song came out in late 1957. The film made a bigger splash than the song did, so it may have had more of an influence on baby names.

In March of 1958 the film won four Oscars, including one each for supporting actors Red Buttons (who played Joe Kelly) and Miyoshi Umeki (who played Katsumi).

Miyoshi Umeki, both a singer and an actress, was the first Asian performer to win an Academy Award. Her win drew attention to the Japanese name Miyoshi, which debuted in the data as well in 1958:

  • 1965: 6 baby girls named Miyoshi
  • 1964: 9 baby girls named Miyoshi
  • 1963: 8 baby girls named Miyoshi
  • 1962: 7 baby girls named Miyoshi
  • 1959: 8 baby girls named Miyoshi
  • 1958: 20 baby girls named Miyoshi [debut]
  • 1957: unlisted

A few months later, Umeki appeared on the TV game show “What’s My Line?” Here’s how she signed her name:

miyoshi umeki, signature, japanese
Miyoshi Umeki’s signature

Miyoshi was Umeki’s birth name, but at the start of her singing career in Japan, she used the stage name Nancy Umeki. She reverted to her Japanese name upon relocating to America, ironically.

Sources: Sayonara (1957) – Notes – TCM, Fame may be fleeting, but warm memories of Miyoshi Umeki live on – Japan Times


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