Was Kamala Harris Named After an Actress?

With the presidential inauguration just two days away, now is a good time to take a closer look at the baby name Kamala.

Most Americans already know that Kamala Devi Harris’ first name is pronounced KAH-mah-lah (or “comma-la“). And I bet some also know that the Sanskrit name Kamala means “lotus,” and is sometimes used to refer to the Hindu deity Lakshmi.

But here’s an intriguing fact that isn’t very well known: usage of the baby name Kamala peaked in 1964 — the year that Kamala Harris was born.

  • 1967: 46 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1966: 51 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1965: 91 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1964: 105 baby girls named Kamala [rank: 1,064th]
  • 1963: 44 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1962: 20 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1961: 10 baby girls named Kamala

Here’s the graph:

What caused the spike?

I believe the influence was half-Indian, half-English actress Kamala Devi (birth name: Kamala Devi Amesur). She came to the U.S. from India around 1960, and over the course of the decade appeared in two U.S. films and on about ten TV shows (including My Three Sons).

The thing that put her name in the papers, though, was her 1963 marriage to actor Chuck Connors, her co-star in the 1962 film Geronimo. (You can see several press photos of the pair at one Chuck Connors fan site.) Here’s what Louella Parsons wrote about the couple in mid-1963:

The Brooklyn-born Irishman and the Bombay-born East Indian, married in April, are as unlikely a combination as you could dream up, but they seem ideally mated. Chuck and Kamala met when both played in “Geronimo.” She was the last actress to be interviewed for the lead opposite him. “I took one look at her,” says Chuck, “and that was it.”

So, now, back to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

I have never seen anything that explicitly connects Kamala Devi Harris to Kamala Devi, but the fact that Harris’ middle name is Devi (which means “goddess”), and the fact that she was born in 1964, makes me think Harris’ parents were probably influenced by the actress — whether they were aware of it or not.

(Her parents, Donald Harris of Jamaica and Shyamala Gopalan of Tamil Nadu, met as graduate students in California in the fall of 1962. They married in July of 1963 and welcomed their first daughter, Kamala, the following year in October. Their second daughter, Maya Lakshmi, was born in early 1967.)

What are your thoughts on this?

Sources:

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