The influence wasn’t the movie that gave yesterday’s name Ilya a boost, but the Cold War-era spy show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which premiered on TV in 1964 and ran until 1968. (U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”)
The main characters were CIA agent Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and KGB agent Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin (played by David McCallum). Illya, a Slavic form of Elijah, was spelled out in the opening credits.
The name Napoleon may have also gotten a slight boost from the show, though it’s hard to tell.
Bottled water became increasingly trendy in the U.S. during the final decades of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late ’90s, though, that major players in the beverage industry finally hopped on the bandwagon: Pepsi launched Aquafina in 1994, and Coca-Cola followed with Dasani in 1999.
While I’ve never* seen “Aquafina” used as a human name, Dasani popped up in the U.S. baby name data right on cue in 1999. In fact, in was a rare dual-gender** debut that year:
People are having a lot of fun guessing the origin of the name DASANI. One Coca-Cola executive jokingly said it sounded like a “Roman god of water.” Actually, the name DASANI is an original creation. Consumer testing showed that the name is relaxing and suggests pureness and replenishment.
Similarly, an article from early 1999 explained that “the name Dasani isn’t derived from any existing word, English or foreign, but is meant to evoke the idea of freshness and purity.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Dasani?
*I’ve seen Aquafina used as a stage name, though: Awkwafina (born Nora Lum).
Last year I guessed that the 1935 debut of Normandie on the SSA’s list was inspired by the maiden voyage of the SS Normandie.
Just a few weeks ago, though, I stumbled upon a theory that makes a lot more sense.
I was in the middle of researching the name Terrylea (a one-hit wonder from 1948 — any guesses?) when I found myself on the IMDB page for Terry and the Pirates (1940).
IMDB pages are full of names, so whenever I land on one I feel compelled to skim. And on this particular page I happened to spot the character name “Normandie Drake.”
It made me think of the baby name Normandie, of course, but the release year didn’t match up to any of the SSA data, so…dead end, right?
Well, turns out the movie was based on a popular comic strip of the same name by cartoonist Milton Caniff. The strip was first published in late 1934.
And which character was introduced in January of 1935? Normandie Drake.
Very intriguing — especially when you consider that a number of baby name debuts from that era were inspired by comic strip characters (e.g., Clovia, Dondi).
Another interesting point: Normandie Drake wasn’t featured in every storyline, and her comings and goings in the comic seem to correspond with the fluctuating usage of the name.
In 1942, for instance, she reappeared after an absence. That same year, the usage of Normandie increased:
1944: 9 baby girls named Normandie
1943: 9 baby girls named Normandie
1942: 14 baby girls named Normandie
1937: 11 baby girls named Normandie
1935: 7 baby girls named Normandie [debut]
Not only that, but she brought along her young daughter Merrily* and the baby name Merrily** promptly skyrocketed into the top 1,000:
1944: 71 baby girls named Merrily
1943: 120 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 914th]
1942: 201 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 698th]
1941: 13 baby girls named Merrily [ranked 513th]
A magazine interview with Milton Caniff from a few years later (1945) included a photo of two little girls named Merrily after the character. The caption also mentioned young girls named Normandie after Normandie Drake and April after another Terry character, April Kane.
So, in light of all this new information, I have to admit that my first theory was probably not the strongest theory. The debut was much more likely caused by Normandie Drake than by the SS Normandie. Though the ship (and related novelty items, like Normandie perfume) could have been a secondary influence here.
(That said…heiress Normandie Drake herself may have been named with the luxurious ocean liner in mind. So maybe my initial theory wasn’t so far off after all?)
Anyway, sorry I didn’t have the full story on this one before posting. Better late than never!
*Milton Caniff named and modeled Merrily after Mary Lee Engli, the daughter of fellow cartoonist Frank Engli.
**The baby names Merrilee and Merrilie were also affected.
Hayward, Jennifer. Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1997.
The movie-inspired baby name Rawnie from a few weeks ago reminded me of the baby names Roni and Roni Sue, neither of which I’ve posted about yet. So today let’s check out Roni, which saw a spike in usage in the mid-1950s:
1958: 89 baby girls named Roni
1957: 94 baby girls named Roni
1956: 134 baby girls named Roni (ranked 864th)
1955: 295 baby girls named Roni (ranked 536th)
1954: 70 baby girls named Roni
1953: 49 baby girls named Roni
What was the cause?
A feel-good news story about a 17-month-old Greek orphan named Roni Marie. She was being adopted by childless Texas couple Norman and Helen Donahoe in very early 1955. (This is how the story managed to slightly increase the usage of Roni among 1954 babies.)
Norman, a Navy lieutenant, “took his Christmas leave to hitchhike to Athens for the brown eyed foundling.” He spent 3 weeks in Greece finalizing the adoption.
Once Roni was his, the pair set off on the return trip, which lasted from January 8 to January 13.
“Roni Marie’s trip to the U.S. became somewhat of a diaper derby for Lieutenant Donahoe…he was rapidly running out of disposable diapers and he worried about the dwindling supply. But he was able to add to his diaper stock during a stopover in Morocco.”
LIFE Magazine, a little late to the party, printed a short blurb about the Donahoes on January 24.
So how do you feel about the name Roni? Do you like it any more or less than Rawnie?
P.S. A follow-up article published in 1961 revealed that Norman and Helen had gone on to adopt one more Greek orphan, Steven, and then have two biological children, Eloni [sic?] and Donald. (I’m assuming Eloni’s name was really Eleni, which is a Greek form of Helen.)