How popular is the baby name Richard in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, check out all the blog posts that mention the name Richard.

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Popularity of the Baby Name Richard


Posts that Mention the Name Richard

The Peak Popularity of Donna

Donna, Ritchie Valens, 1958, Del-Fi

From 1955 to 1965, Donna was a top-ten baby name in the United States. But, in 1959, it saw a steep rise in usage that boosted it all the way up to 5th place:

  • 1961: 28,668 baby girls named Donna [ranked 7th]
  • 1960: 34,132 baby girls named Donna [ranked 5th]
  • 1959: 36,465 baby girls named Donna [ranked 5th] – peak usage
  • 1958: 26,949 baby girls named Donna [ranked 10th]
  • 1957: 28,039 baby girls named Donna [ranked 10th]

Why the rise?

I think the primary reason was the song “Donna” by California teenager Ritchie Valens. It was released in December of 1958 and became Valens’ highest-charting single, reaching #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in February of 1959.

Sadly, Valens died in the same plane crash that killed The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly (“Peggy Sue“) several weeks before “Donna” reached peak popularity.

Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima, California, in 1941. He’d written “Donna” as a tribute to his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. (They’d stopped dating about year before the song was released.)

Donna Reed show

A secondary influence on the name Donna might have been The Donna Reed Show, which began airing in September of 1958 — though the show didn’t achieve peak popularity until the early 1960s. It featured already-famous actress Donna Reed as fictional middle-class housewife Donna Stone.

Do you like the name Donna? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

Source: Ritchie Valens – Billboard, Ritchie Valens – Wikipedia

Name Story: Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong photo

Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong was born “Wong Liu Tsong” in Los Angeles in 1905.

Here’s what she had to say about her birth name in 1926:

I was named Wong Lew Song, which means Frosted Yellow Willows. A rather unusual name, isn’t it. Most Chinese children have names, which, interpreted into English, sound rather attractive, though they wouldn’t do for everyday use. They are all right in poetry, but I wouldn’t want to be called Frosted Yellow Willows by my acquaintances. It sounds altogether too quaint for a modern Chinese girl.

Here’s what she had to say about her American name and her stage name in 1928:

I was educated in Los Angeles. […] Our family did not live in the Chinese quarter but on Figueroa Street, where our neighbors were Americans and we were called by our English names. The doctor who brought me into the world named me ‘Anna’; my Chinese name is Tsong. When I was old enough to begin to think about a career, I added ‘May’ to ‘Anna,’ partly because we [daughters] all had four-letter names and I wanted to be different, and partly because it made a prettier signature.

(Her siblings’ American names were Lulu, James, Mary, Frank, Roger, and Richard.)

And, finally, here’s something funny I spotted in a newspaper about the 1924 movie Thief of Bagdad, which featured Wong:

The Mongol slave, a part that required emotional subtlety and balance, was played by Anna May Wong, a Chinese girl, educated in America. Her Chinese name is Lew Wong Song [sic], and means two yellow willows. When the picture was being filmed Miss Wong almost walked out on her job because an enthusiastic press agent misunderstood the translation of her name and published it as “two yelling widows.”

I saw several versions of this “two yelling widows” story, but never managed to track down the press agent’s original mis-translation.

Sources:

The TV-Inspired Debut of Janssen

The baby name Janssen debuted in the US baby name data in 1964.

The surname-name Janssen first appeared on the baby name charts in 1964:

  • 1968: unlisted
  • 1967: 5 baby boys named Janssen
  • 1966: unlisted
  • 1965: 8 baby boys named Janssen
  • 1964: 16 baby boys named Janssen [debut]
  • 1963: unlisted

It wasn’t a particularly impressive debut, but 16 baby boys was enough to make Janssen one of the the top debut names of the year.

What was the influence here?

Actor David Janssen, who played Dr. Richard Kimble in the memorable TV drama The Fugitive from 1963 to 1967. Dr. Kimble, falsely convicted of murdering his wife Helen, escaped from authorities on the way to death row and spent the rest of the series both evading recapture and searching for the real killer, the mysterious “one-armed man.”

Notably, 72% of the television sets in America tuned in to see the show’s final episode, in which Dr. Kimble finally finds the justice he’s been seeking.

(The name Kimble also saw slightly higher usage while the show was on the air.)

Do you like the name Janssen?

Sources: The Fugitive (TV series) – Wikipedia, Tuesday, August 29, 1967: The Day The Running Stopped for “The Fugitive’s” Richard Kimble

Babies Named for Famous Kings

king solomon image

A few months ago, I got an email from a reader who’d spotted an obituary for a man named “King David.” Even more intriguing, King David’s father’s name was “King Solomon.” The reader wondered what other famous kings had inspired similar first/middle name combinations.

Historical records reveal that, long before the name King became trendy in the 2000s, hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of people in America were given the first name “King.”

While most that I saw had middle names that didn’t create a special pairing (e.g., King Clyde, King Terry), a good number did have middle names that — whether intentionally or not — turned the pairing into the name of some historical, biblical, or legendary king.

Here are some of the pairings I spotted, plus links to a few examples:

King Alfred
King Arthur
King Asa
King Charles
King Edward
King Frederick
King George
King Henry
King Hezekiah
King James
King Josiah
King Louis
King Olaf
King Oscar
King Richard
King Saul

Several of these (Kingarthur, Kingcharles, Kingdavid, Kingjames, Kingjosiah, and Kingsolomon) also appear as compound names in the SSA data.

Do like the recent King-as-a-first-name trend? Why or why not?

“Brighter Day” Baby Names

brighter day, soap opera, 1950s, television
Babby, Grayling, and Patsy in 1954

The Brighter Day was a moderately popular soap opera that ran on radio from 1948 to 1956 and on television from 1954 to 1962.

The show featured the Dennis family, which was headed by widowed father Rev. Richard Dennis. His five children were adult daughters Elizabeth (Liz) and Althea, adult son Grayling, and teenage daughters Patricia (Patsy) and Barbara (Babby).

At least four Brighter Day characters influenced U.S. baby names:

Grayling

In a 1949 article, Grayling Dennis was described as “restless, charming, spoiled. He writes poetry, plays the violin, has a long string of girl friends who adore his flashing eyes and his wonderful tennis, and drinks too much. But none of these activities has helped Gray, at twenty-three, to “find himself.””

The show was radio-only at that time — listeners would hear Grayling’s name, but never see it — so it’s not surprising that a slew of spelling variants ended up in the baby name data. In fact, the first of the group to debut was Graylin in 1949. Grayling, Grayland, and Graylon appeared in 1950, and Graylan, Graylyn, Graylen, and Greyling followed.

YearGraylinGraylingGraylandGraylon
19601436109
19592761 [987th]1115
19582855186
19572858 [997th]1516
195625471912
19551638158
1954824146
1953111167
195288.6
195178.8
19501117 [debut]5 [debut]5 [debut]
19496 [debut]...
1948....

The name Grayling reached the top 1000 twice in the late ’50s, but all variants saw decreased usage after the TV show was canceled in the early ’60s.

Althea

Dramatic daughter Althea dramatically boosted the usage of the name Althea in the late 1940s:

  • 1951: 334 baby girls named Althea (rank: 454th)
  • 1950: 309 baby girls named Althea (rank: 462nd)
  • 1949: 235 baby girls named Althea (rank: 545th)
  • 1948: 126 baby girls named Althea (rank: 761st)
  • 1947: 118 baby girls named Althea (rank: 803rd)

No doubt she was also behind the debut of the spelling Altheia in 1951.

Spring

In early 1951, Althea discovered she was pregnant. Althea was eager to become an movie actress, not a mother, and “regard[ed] the baby as an annoying interruption to her ambitions.” Regardless, she soon gave birth to a baby girl named Spring, and the baby name Spring debuted in the U.S. data the very same year:

  • 1959: 34 baby girls named Spring
  • 1958: 44 baby girls named Spring
  • 1957: 77 baby girls named Spring
  • 1956: 104 baby girls named Spring
  • 1955: 41 baby girls named Spring
  • 1954: 37 baby girls named Spring
  • 1953: 27 baby girls named Spring
  • 1952: 30 baby girls named Spring
  • 1951: 7 baby girls named Spring [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted

By July of 1952, Althea’s daughter Spring was already 4 years old (a victim of Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome). I’m not sure how often Spring appeared in the show overall, but she may have been featured prominently in 1956, judging by the usage of the baby name that year.

Babby

In a 1954 article, Babby Dennis was described as “eager and impulsive.” She was the baby of the family, and her nickname was consistently spelled with a “y” to reflect this fact, but TV audiences clearly preferred the spelling Babbie, which debuted in 1956 — years before Babby and Babbi finally showed up.

YearBabbieBabbyBabbi
1963...
196285.
1961189.
196020156
1959195 [debut]6 [debut]
19588..
19588..
19575..
195610 [debut]..
1955...

By 1959, Babby was a young adult and involved in a romance with a gangster named Peter Nino. (Despite being a gangster, Nino was popular with TV audiences: “Nino was to be killed off in six months, but fan mail gave him a reprieve.”)

Sources:

P.S. Three of the sources above refer to a single magazine that went through a bunch of name changes over the course of its existence (1930s to 1970s). The publisher was Macfadden, founded by Bernarr Macfadden, who knew a bit about name changes himself…