The Height of Coretta

Coretta Scott King © 1969 LIFE

The baby name Coretta was the fastest-rising baby name of 1968:

  • 1970: 146 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1969: 194 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1968: 336 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1967: 13 baby girls named Coretta
  • 1966: 16 baby girls named Coretta

The name also saw it’s highest-ever usage that year, as did the variant spelling Corretta. And another spelling, Koretta, appeared for the very first time in the data in 1968.

What was bringing all this attention to the baby name Coretta in 1968?

Coretta Scott King. She was the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., until his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. This event put Coretta and her children (Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice*) in the national spotlight.

Not long after the death of her husband, Coretta took Martin’s place as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was instrumental in establishing the national holiday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — which happens to be today.

Coretta Scott King was named in honor of her paternal grandmother, Cora. The name Cora is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name Kore (“maiden”), one of the epithets of the goddess Persephone.

*Usage of the names Yolanda and Dexter increased markedly in 1968. The usage of Martin, which had been declining, saw an uptick that year. (Peak usage was in 1963, the year of MLK’s legendary “I have a dream” speech.) The usage of Bernice was seemingly unaffected by the assassination.

Incidentally, in her 1969 book My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King talked about the naming of her daughters Yolanda (nicknamed Yoki) and Bernice:

I chose the name Yolanda Denise, but my husband had reservations about it. He questioned whether people would call her Yolanda or would mispronounce the name. He was right. Her name is so frequently mispronounced that it bothered her when she was growing up.

There is a tendency among middle-class African Americans to give their children unusual names. Perhaps they are seeking elegance or some special identification. I fell victim to this custom, rather than following the sensible practice of naming the baby after a member of the family. Later Martin said, “If we ever have another baby girl, I’m going to give her a simple name like Mary Jane.”

When we did have another daughter, we called her Bernice Albertine, after her two grandmothers. Her name was not quite Mary Jane, but at least she was named for members of the family.

Sources: Coretta Scott King – Wikipedia, Cora – Behind the Name

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