How popular is the baby name Norma in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Norma and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Norma.
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In late 1953, an 18-year-old Italian-American girl from Pennsylvania named Norma Jean Speranza was the subject of a photographic essay in Life. She was “a small-town singer” about to get her big break. But she wouldn’t get that big break without adopting a stage name:
She even had to give up her name, for the people who are supposed to know best about those things decided she should be Norma Speranza no longer. From now on she would be Jill Corey.
As Jill Corey, she put out singles and appeared regularly on TV throughout the ’50s. Her biggest hit was the 1957 song “Love Me to Pieces.”
(She also had another name: Scarpo. It was a childhood nickname that referred to her big feet. Scarpa means “shoe” in Italian.)
The first book was made into four different films (in 1914, 1922, 1932, and 1960) and the second was made into a single film the same year it was published.
My guess is that the name got a nudge in 1917 thanks to the release of the new story, which was also serialized in the now-defunct magazine Woman’s World. The marketing for the movie — which featured popular actress Norma Talmadge (who went on to star in The Heart of Wetona and Smilin’ Through) — could have been a factor as well.
Do you like the name Tessibel? Do you think it’s a good alternative to names like Isabel and Annabel?
We already know how Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, came up with her stage name — “Marilyn” was from Marilyn Miller, and “Monroe” was her mother’s maiden name.
But why was she named “Norma Jeane” as a baby?
In 1922, her mother Gladys, originally from California, moved to Kentucky to try to get her first two children (Robert and Berniece) back from her former husband’s family.
While there, Gladys worked as a housekeeper in the home of Harry and Lena Cohen of Louisville. She also helped care for the couple’s young daughters, Dorothy and Norma Jean.
She eventually returned to California, alone.
In 1926, Gladys had her third and final baby. “She named the child after the little girl she had looked after whilst in Kentucky and, for the sake of respectability, also gave the surname of her former husband, hence naming her Norma Jeane Mortenson (she added an ‘e’ to Norma Jean and changed Mortensen to Mortenson on the birth certificate).”
Which first name do you like more, Marilyn or Norma? Vote below, then leave a comment with your reason…
Source: Morgan, Michelle. Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed. London: Little, Brown Book Group, 2012.
Time for more unusual female names from old films!
Here’s something I didn’t know until recently: many (most?) of the “Indian maiden” characters in early movies had names starting with W. As a result, about half of the names below refer to Native American characters specifically. I’m not sure how many of these Native American names are legit, though. If you can verify any of them, please leave a comment.
Wah-na-gi was a character played by actress Anita King in the film The Squaw Man’s Son (1917).
Wahnah was a character played by actress Mona Darkfeather in the short film Kidnapped by Indians (1914).
Princess Wah-tah was a character played by actress Yvonne De Carlo in the film The Deerslayer (1943).
Wah-ta-wah was a character played by actress Aline Goodwin in the film serial Leatherstocking (1924).
Wahtonka was a character played by actress Claire Du Brey in the film Dakota (1945).
Wahtunka was a character played by actress Mona Darkfeather in the short film Brought to Justice (1914).
Walmura was a character played by actress Mona Darkfeather in the short film The Fate of a Squaw (1914).
Walpurga was a character played by actress Mrs. A. C. Marston in the short film On the Heights (1914).
Wamba was a character name in multiple films, including Wamba, a Child of the Jungle (short, 1913) and Justice of the Far North (1925).
Wambi was a character played by actress Lule Warrenton in the short film The Queen of Jungle Land (1915).
Wana was a character played by actress Alice Joyce in the short film The Indian Maid’s Sacrifice (1911).
Wanama was a character played by actress Armida in the film Jungle Goddess (1948).
Wanana was a character played by actress Marie Walcamp in the short film A Daughter of the Redskins (1914).
Wanda Hawley was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1930s. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1895. Wanda McKay was an actress who appeared in films mainly in the 1940s. She was born in Oregon in 1915. Wanda was also a character name in multiple films, including The One-Way Trail (1920) and Men Are Such Fools (1938).
Wowkle was a character played by actress Anita King in the film The Girl of the Golden West (1915), by Neola May in The Girl of the Golden West (1930), and by Ynez Seabury in The Girl of the Golden West (1938). The film was based on the play The Girl of the Golden West (1905) by David Belasco, who found the name Wowkle in the writings of ethnographer Stephen Powers, who claimed the name meant “fox” among the Nisenan of California.
Wyllis Hyde was a character played by actress Pauline Starke in the film The Argument (1918).
Wynne Gibson was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1940s. She was born in New York in 1898. Wynne was also a character played by actress Anita Louise in the film Lady Tubbs (1935).
Here’s a curious one: Wetona. The name started appearing in the baby name data during the second half of the 1910s:
1922: 10 baby girls named Wetona
1921: 6 baby girls named Wetona
1920: 12 baby girls named Wetona [peak]
1919: 9 baby girls named Wetona
1916: 5 baby girls named Wetona [debut]
The SSA data from that far back isn’t terribly reliable, though, so here’s SSDI data for the same time period:
1922: 6 Wetonas
1921: 4 Wetonas
1920: 9 Wetonas and 1 Wetonah
1919: 10 Wetonas, 1 Wetonah, and 1 person with the middle name Wetona
1918: 1 Wetona
1917: 1 Wetona
1916: 1 Wetona and 1 Wetonah
What put Wetona (and Wetonah) on the map in 1916? The play The Heart of Wetona, which was written by George Scarborough and performed on Broadway from February to May, 1916. It starred actress Lenore Ulric as the “Indian princess” Wetona.
How did Scarborough come up with the name Wetona? I’m not sure that he did. “The play was originally called Oklahoma and focused on problems of religious leaders in the new state.” It was then rewritten by theatrical producer/playwright David Belasco, who “changed some of the characters to Indians and the locale to a reservation.”
A few years later, in 1919, two things happened. First, the play was turned into a silent film starring Norma Talmadge. Second, the song “Heart of Wetona” — which was “inspired by and dedicated to Norma Talmadge” — was published. These two things together account for the increased usage of the name Wetona that year.
Do you like the name Wetona? Do you think it’s usable nowadays?
Pisani, Michael V. Imagining Native America in Music. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.