First of all, yes, Aquanette is a name. At least 22 Aquanettes have been born in the U.S. so far:
- 1958 – 5 baby girls named Aquanette
- 1966 – 6 baby girls named Aquanette
- 1972 – 5 baby girls named Aquanette
- 1974 – 6 baby girls named Aquanette
Second of all, yes, Aqua Net Hair Spray has been around since the 1950s. I don’t know exactly which year it was introduced, but I’ve seen Aqua Net ads in newspapers from as early as 1956.
So…is there a connection between the name and the product? Did people see Aqua Net in their local drugstores and say to themselves, “Now that would make a great name for a baby!”
Probably not. And here’s why.
Back in the 1940s and early 1950s, there was a string of campy B-movies that starred an actress named Burnu Acquanetta, sometimes billed simply as Acquanetta. She played an ape-woman in Captive Wild Woman (1943) and Jungle Woman (1944), a leopard-woman in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), and a native girl in Lost Continent (1951).
The name Acquanetta debuted on the SSA’s baby name list in the 1944:
- 1944 – 6 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1945 – 6 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1946 – 13 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1947 – 5 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1948 – 12 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1949 – 9 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1950 – 11 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1951 – 17 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1952 – 29 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1953 – 20 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1954 – 16 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1955 – 11 baby girls named Acquanetta
- 1956 – 13 baby girls named Acquanetta
It made the list intermittently in the ’60s and ’70s, then one last time in 1986.
At the height of the name’s popularity in the early 1950s, the variants Aquanetta and Acquanette popped up. And later in the decade, Aquanette appeared. So I think it’s far more likely that the first Aquanettes were named with Acquanetta (and perhaps fashionable -ette names like Annette and Jeanette) in mind, and not after the hair spray.
But then that leaves us with another mystery: Where did Burnu Acquanetta’s surname come from?
A LIFE article from 1942 stated that both of Acquanetta’s parents were Native American and that her surname meant “laughing water.” Her 2004 obituary in The Independent says she claimed to be “part-Arapaho Indian and part-English aristocrat” and that her name means “burning fire, deep water.”
I’m not sure about her ethnicity or her birth name, but I doubt Burnu and Acquanetta are genuine Native American names. They look more like fanciful extended forms of burn and aqua that, in the ’40s, could have sounded exotic enough to pass as Native American. If this is the case, Acquanetta is simply a made-up name based on the Latin word for “water.”
- “Acquanetta.” Independent [London]. 19 August 2004.
- “Venezuelan Volcano.” LIFE Magazine 24 Aug. 1942: 57.