In 1938, the name Sonjia was the top debut name, being given suddenly to 19 baby girls. Where did it come from?
It’s a misspelling of the name Sonja, which nearly doubled in popularity the same year:
1941: 567 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 268th]
1940: 713 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 238th]
1939: 861 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 203rd]
1938: 1,116 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 180th]
1937: 560 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 263rd]
1936: 180 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 479th]
1935: 92 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 704th]
Why the Sonja spike?
It was inspired by Norwegian Olympic figure skater Sonja Henie (SOHN-yah HEN-ee), whose first name is a diminutive of Sophia, meaning “wisdom” in Greek.
In the late 1930s, after dominating the world of figure skating for many years, Sonja decided to give Hollywood a shot. She boldly told a New York Times reporter: “I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing.”
And you know what? That’s exactly what she did.
She starred in a string of box-office hits, including One in a Million (1936), Thin Ice (1937) with Tyrone Power (father of Romina and Taryn), and My Lucky Star (1938).
Her films and touring ice shows made her very wealthy and very famous — “the first international athlete-actress-superstar of modern times.” Today she’s credited with inspiring an entire generation of figure skaters.
Though vast majority of the baby names on the Social Security Administration’s yearly baby name lists are repeats, every list does contain a handful of brand-new names.
Below are the highest-charting debut names for every single year on record, after the first.
Why bother with an analysis like this? Because debut names often have cool stories behind them, and high-hitting debuts are especially likely to have intriguing pop culture explanations. So this is more than a list of names — it’s also a list of stories.
Here’s the format: “Girl name(s), number of baby girls; Boy name(s), number of baby boys.” Keep in mind that the raw numbers aren’t too trustworthy for about the first six decades, though. (More on that in a minute.)
I’ve already written about some of the names above, and I plan to write about all the others as well…eventually. In the meanwhile, if you want to beat me to it and leave a comment about why Maverick hit in 1957, or why Moesha hit in 1996, feel free!