The name Fiona — coined during the 18th century by Scottish poet James Macpherson, who based it on the Irish word fionn (“white, fair”) — is relatively common in the U.S. these days. Rank-wise, it’s been hovering around 200th place for the last few years.
But — like Siobhan, Maeve, Bronwen, and many other Celtic names — it didn’t arrive with the immigrants. Instead, it was introduced to America later on, via pop culture.
Fiona first popped up in the data in 1942, and it stuck around for several years:
1944: 7 baby girls named Fiona
1943: 19 baby girls named Fiona
1942: 9 baby girls named Fiona [debut]
What boosted it onto the charts that initial time?
The movie The Gay Sisters, which came out in August of 1942. The main characters were the three Gaylord sisters/heiresses: Fiona, Evelyn, and Susanna. Fiona, the eldest sister, was played by popular actress Barbara Stanwyck (birth name Ruby Catherine Stevens). The film didn’t do well at the box office, but it clearly had an impact on expectant parents.
The movie was based on the book of the same name by Stephen Longstreet. Longstreet was also the writer behind Stallion Road, which was similarly made into a movie and introduced audiences to a woman named Rory (traditionally a male name) later in the ’40s.
Years ago, I wrote a post with some naming tips for minimalists. But — as Abby of Appellation Mountain astutely pointed this out in her comment to that post — “minimalism” as applied to baby names could be about capturing a namestyle just as much as it could be about reflecting a lifestyle.
So today I’m giving minimalism another go. This time around, though, it’ll be a list of baby names that fall somewhere between short/simple and modern/stylish.
All of these names have made gains recently (Hank and Linus included!). For more details on usage, click through to see the popularity graphs.
The wildly successful Christmas comedy Home Alone, released at the end of 1990, starred child actor Macaulay Culkin as a little boy (Kevin McCallister) mistakenly left at home by himself for the holidays while his family went on vacation.
Thanks to the movie, Macaulay Culkin became a household name virtually overnight. In fact, he was soon being called “the biggest child star since Shirley Temple.”
Unsurprisingly, the year the movie came out, the unique name Macaulay began appearing in the U.S. baby name data:
Macaulay Culkin was born in 1980 and named for 19th-century English* historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. He was the third of seven children; his siblings are named Shane (m), Dakota (f), Kieran (m), Quinn (f), Christian (m), and Rory (m).
What are your thoughts on the baby name Macaulay? Do you like it better for boys or for girls?
Clint was already seeing moderate usage in the early ’50s, but usage increased considerably in mid-1950s:
1959: 482 baby boys named Clint (rank: 357th)
1958: 474 baby boys named Clint (350th)
1957: 398 baby boys named Clint (385th)
1956: 258 baby boys named Clint (469th)
1955: 115 baby boys named Clint (682nd)
1954: 81 baby boys named Clint (803rd)
1953: 106 baby boys named Clint (693rd)
1952: 84 baby boys named Clint (767th)
1951: 79 baby boys named Clint (793rd)
1950: 60 baby boys named Clint (886th)
The reason for the rise? My money’s on Clint Walker, the actor who played the part of Cheyenne Bodie in the successful TV Western Cheyenne (1955-1963), which happened to be TV’s first hour-long Western.
Cheyenne Bodie was “a former frontier scout who drifts through the old West, traveling without any particular motivation from one adventure to another.”
The series was held together not so much by its premise as by its charismatic star, Clint Walker, who rose from obscurity to become one of the icons of the TV western. With his powerful physique and towering height, Walker commanded the small screen through sheer presence; his performance gained gravity simply from the way his body dominated the screen.
According to the Nielsen ratings, Cheyenne was a top-20 series for three seasons straight (1957-1958, 1958-1959, and 1959-1960).
The show also boosted the male usage of Cheyenne during the second half of the 1950s and through most of the 1960s.
But I should mention that Clint Walker and Cheyenne are only part of the story, as several other gun-slinging Clints also emerged around this time:
Clint Tollinger, a character played by Robert Mitchum in the movie Man with the Gun (1955).
Clint Reno, a character played by Elvis Presley in the movie Love Me Tender (1956).
Clint Travis, a character played by and Paul “Kelo” Henderson in the TV series 26 Men (1957-1959).
There was also a non-gun-slinging teenager named Clint in the short Micky Mouse Club serial The Adventures of Clint and Mac (most episodes aired in January of 1958).
The rise of Clint didn’t continue into the ’60s, despite a continued Clint presence in pop culture:
Clint Eastwood, the actor who played Rowdy Yates on the TV series Rawhide (1959-1966).
Clint McCoy, a character played by Rory Calhoun in the movie Young Fury (1965).
But usage picked back up in the ’70s. Clint saw peak popularity in 1980. These days, usage is roughly back down to pre-Cheyenne levels.
Do you like the name Clint? Would you use it for your baby boy?