Tonga: Baby Name Inspired by Early TV?

tonga, nina bara, space patrol, 1950s, television, sci-fi
Tonga from Space Patrol

The intriguing name Tonga debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1953:

  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: 7 baby girls named Tonga [debut]
  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: unlisted

I don’t think the Polynesian country had anything to do with it. Instead, I’m thinking that it may have come from the the early science-fiction TV series Space Patrol. It began as a Los Angeles-only show in early 1950, but by early 1951 it was being syndicated nationally both on TV and on radio (thanks to being picked up by the ABC network).

Set a thousand years in the future, the show featured members of the Space Patrol crew endeavoring to fight against the bad guys of the solar system. The two female crew members were named Tonga (played by Nina Bara) and Carol (Virginia Hewitt). Tonga’s character began as a criminal, but by the time the show had a national audience, she had undergone a “Brainograph” treatment and joined up with the good guys.

The name Tonga may have been given a boost in 1953 specifically thanks to LIFE magazine drawing attention to the show in a 1952 feature article (“Space Patrol Conquers Kids,” Sept. 1952)…or maybe it simply showed up because Space Patrol‘s audience was still growing at that time.

But the name dropped out of the data the very next year — possibly because actress Nina Bara was released from the show in late 1953, so the character Tonga didn’t appear in the show very frequently after that.

All this said…I should also mention that the name Tanya and its variants were on the rise during the 1950s, and that “Tonga” ended up being used as a variant of Tanya on occasion (likely by way of Tanja). So that’s another possible reason for the debut.

Do you like Tonga as a baby name? If so, how would you pronounce it?

Sources:

P.S. A supporting character in the 1953 Gary Cooper movie Return to Paradise also happened to be named Tonga, but this character was male.

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