How popular is the baby name Roland in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Roland and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Roland.
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We’re all familiar with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, thanks to the catchy Christmas song.
But the character was around for a full decade before the song came out. He originated in a 1939 children’s book by Robert L. May.
May, a copywriter at Montgomery Ward, wrote the book as part of the retailer’s annual holiday promotion. More than two million copies of Rudolph were handed out to shoppers nationwide that year.
One of May’s handwritten notes from that era reveals that, before he’d settled on the name “Rudolph” for the red-nosed reindeer, he’d considered the following alliterative R-names:
The two names he’d circled were Rudolph and Reginald — the top two contenders, no doubt. (Sources say he decided Reginald was “too British,” and Rollo “too happy.”)
Robert L. May’s songwriter brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, later turned Rudolph’s story into a song. Gene Autry recorded “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in mid-1949 and it became a massive hit that Christmas. (Autry followed it up with “Frosty the Snowman” in 1950.)
So now imagine you’ve gone back in time, oh, say, 78 years. Your copywriter friend Rob sends you a telegram asking for your assistance in naming a fictional reindeer character he’s writing about, for work. He includes a list of ten possibilities. Which name do you select?
Or, if you’re not keen on any of these, feel free to comment with a write-in candidate. Just be sure it starts with R!
“A giveaway that sold millions.” The Bookseller 24 Dec. 1960: 2376.
Behind today’s name is a fascinating story involving early television, exotic music, racial identity, and clever deception.
The name is Korla, which, along with variant Corla, first appeared in the SSA’s baby name data in 1951:
6 baby girls (5 in Calif.)
6 baby girls [debut]
8 baby girls [debut]
A bit of research reveals that most of these early ’50s Korlas and Corlas — mainly females, but also a few males — were born in California specifically. This location is already pretty telling, but the smoking gun is this middle name:
Karlo Pandit Lindsay, male, born in November, 1950, in Los Angeles
Korla Ponda Williams, female, born in March, 1951, in Los Angeles
Korla Pandit Lord, male, born in September, 1953, in San Francisco
So what’s the influence here?
Korla Pandit, the mystical musician whose Los Angeles-based TV show Adventures in Music made him famous, particularly on the West Coast, in the early ’50s.
Pandit first appeared on TV in the spring of 1949. In each episode of Adventures in Music, Pandit wore a jeweled turban and gazed hypnotically at the camera, never speaking — just playing otherworldly music on a Hammond organ. His show, which aired on KTLA, was soon picked up by other California stations.
Some early recordings of Korla prominently feature his name, but I’m not sure if the live show Adventures in Music did. (If not, this could account for why “Corla” debuted higher than “Korla” in the data.)
Korla Pandit was an immediate hit, particularly among suburban housewives. He received an impressive amount of fan mail.
He also started putting out albums, eventually releasing well over a dozen on various labels.
In 1951, after shooting hundreds of shows for KTLA, he left to film a series of short musical performances for Snader Telescriptions. These Snader clips introduced Pandit to a national audience.
But Pandit didn’t stay with Snader long, instead leaving to do other things (including start a new live TV show).
According to the 1952 ad below, his songs were “bringing dollars to the cash register and wild acclaim from feminine hearts.”
His music helped set the stage for the late ’50s Exotica craze. In fact, some people have since dubbed Korla the “Godfather of Exotica,” though the title has also been given to other musicians (including Les Baxter).
As the decade wore on, Pandit’s fame began to wane. But he did spend the rest of his life recording and performing — and always wearing that bejeweled turban.
He passed away in 1998, leaving behind his American wife Beryl and their two sons, Shari and Koram.
…But the story doesn’t end there.
Because, a few years after that, a Los Angeles journalist discovered that Korla Pandit was not the half-Indian, half-French man from New Delhi he had claimed to be. Instead, he was an African-American man named John Roland Redd from Columbia, Missouri.
Adopting a non-black identity had allowed Redd to have advantages that he couldn’t have had otherwise in 1950s America. He was one of the first African-Americans with a television show, but, ironically, if the public had known he was black, it’s highly unlikely that audiences (especially those entranced housewives) would have responded as enthusiastically as they did.
Redd took his adopted identity to the grave. Not even his sons were aware of their father’s true origin. (His wife must have known the secret, but she never openly admitted it.)
Notably, “Korla Pandit” was Redd’s second adopted persona. In the ’40s he had assumed the name “Juan Rolando,” which helped him get gigs during the Latin music craze of the time and, more importantly, allowed him to join the white L.A. musicians union as opposed to the black one, which afforded him more career opportunities.
It’s not hard to see how he got Juan from John, but I do wonder how he came up with Korla.
What are your thoughts on the name Korla? And on the story of Korla Pandit?
Desai, Manan. “Korla Pandit Plays America: Exotica, Racial Performance, And Fantasies of Containment In Cold War Culture.” The Journal of Popular Culture Aug. 2015, pp. 714–730.
Quick disclaimer: Some of these names were already on the rise. Others were likely influenced by multiple pop culture events/people (not just the one listed). So I leave it up to you to judge the degree/nature of pop culture influence for yourself.
Pop culture influence: the Confederate flag debate.
Update, 5/12/16: The state-by-state data was just released. Of the 83 baby girls named Rebel, 12 were born in Texas, 9 in California, 8 in Arkansas and 6 in Oklahoma. Of the 45 boys, 7 were born in Texas and 5 in Tennessee.
Two momentous things happen every year on December 2. First, Britney Spears celebrates her birthday. (Happy b-day, Brit-Brit!) Second, NBN kicks off another round of the Pop Culture Baby Name Game.
Which baby names will see significant movement on the baby name charts in 2015 thanks to popular culture (television, music, movies, sports, current events, products/advertising, video games, etc.)? Comment below with your guesses. Don’t forget to mention the pop culture influence.
Here are a few to start us off:
Adaline – the movie The Age of Adaline was released in April
Arlo – the movie The Good Dinosaur was released in November
Atticus – the book Go Set a Watchman was released in July
Bernie – Bernie Sanders launched his presidential campaign in May
The article also mentioned that, over the years, some names have been outpaced by their diminutive forms — Alfred by Alfie, Frederick by Freddie, Archibald by Archie, Charles by Charlie, Alexandra by Lexi, Sophia by Sophie, Eleanor by Ellie, and so forth.
*Blodwen is Welsh for “white flowers.” The Breton form is Bleuzen, in case you were wondering.