The name Novalee saw an uptick in usage following the release of the 2000 movie Where the Heart Is, in which Natalie Portman played teenager Novalee Nation. (Novalee’s daughter Americus also influenced U.S. baby names.)
But the very first time Novalee appeared in the data was way back in 1962:
- 1966: unlisted
- 1965: 5 baby girls named Novalee
- 1964: unlisted
- 1963: 6 baby girls named Novalee
- 1962: 7 baby girls named Novalee [debut]
- 1961: unlisted
Where did it come from?
Country music. Specifically, “(Son) Don’t Go Near The Indians,” which was Rex Allen’s most successful song.
It’s about a man who falls for the Indian maiden Nova Lee only to discover that, not only was he adopted, but Nova Lee is actually his biological sister. (Seems like a weirdly incestuous twist for ’60s country music, doesn’t it?)
Here’s Rex singing the song live:
According to Billboard, the song reached #17 on the Hot 100 chart in October of 1962, and #4 on the Hot Country Singles chart the next month.
The name Nova (without the “lee”) also saw higher usage in the early ’60s thanks to “(Son) Don’t Go Near The Indians,” but that temporary increase was eclipsed fifty years later when Nova suddenly became very trendy. (It entered the top 1,000 in 2011, the top 100 in 2017, and the top 50 just last year.)
Do you like the name Novalee?