Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche found fame in her late 40s when her third novel, Jalna, won first prize (and $10,000) in the first “Atlantic Novel Contest” in 1927. The book was serialized in Atlantic Monthly, then released as a standalone volume.
The book’s main characters were members of the prosperous Whiteoak family. They lived at an estate in southern Ontario called Jalna. The estate had been built by family patriarch Capt. Philip Whiteoak, a retired officer of the British Army in India. He’d named it “Jalna” after the garrison town in India where he’d met his Irish wife, Adeline.
The book was a top-10 bestseller in the U.S. in both 1927 and 1928. It was such a big commercial success that the author kept writing novels about the Whiteoaks. She ended up with a total of 16 books, now known as the “Whiteoak Chronicles,” which cover four generations (1850s-1950s) of the fictional family.
Many of de la Roche’s character names — which included Finch, Pheasant, and Wakefield/”Wake” — came directly from from gravestones in Ontario’s Newmarket cemetery.
Given the popularity of the book, and the distinctiveness of the character names, it’s not too surprising that Jalna had an influence on U.S. baby name data in the ’20s and ’30s…
Character Alayne Archer was introduced in Jalna when Eden Whiteoak, an aspiring poet, traveled to New York City to meet with a publisher. Alayne was the publisher’s assistant, and she and Eden became romantically involved.
The debut of the baby name Alayne in 1929 was due to the much-anticipated follow-up book, Whiteoaks of Jalna — specifically, to the book reviews that ran in newspapers throughout the U.S. during the second half of 1929. Many of them mentioned Alayne.
1937: 19 baby girls named Alayne
1936: 23 baby girls named Alayne
1935: 16 baby girls named Alayne
1934: 9 baby girls named Alayne
1933: 5 baby girls named Alayne
1932: 5 baby girls named Alayne
1931: 9 baby girls named Alayne
1930: 7 baby girls named Alayne
1929: 11 baby girls named Alayne [debut]
Notice how usage rose during the mid-1930s. This was due to a related reason: the movie Jalna (1935), which was based on the first book and featured actress Kay Johnson as Alayne. (By 1935, five of the 16 books were out.)
Jalna & Renny
The year after the movie came out, two more Jalna-inspired names emerged in the data. One was Jalna itself, which didn’t stick around long:
1937: 9 baby girls named Jalna
1936: 6 baby girls named Jalna [debut]
(You could compare to Jalna to Tara, the plantation in Gone with the Wind.)
The other was Renny, from Eden’s half-brother Renny Whiteoak, who became Alayne’s love interest after Alayne and Eden grew apart.
1941: 8 baby boys named Renny
1939: 5 baby boys named Renny
1937: 8 baby boys named Renny
1936: 9 baby boys named Renny [debut]
Another factor that could have given Renny a boost that year was the fifth book in the series, Young Renny, which focused on that character specifically.
…So how did Mazo de la Roche come by her own unique name?
She was born “Mazo Louise Roche” in Ontario in 1879. She added the “de la” not (necessarily) to sound noble, but to reflect the historical spelling of the family name. And here’s what she said in her autobiography about her first name:
When my father saw me he said to my mother, “Let me name this one and you may name all the others.” And so he named me and there were never any others. Mazo had been the name of a girl to whom he once had been attached.
Oenone (Œnone) is a female name pronounced ee-NOH-nee.
Oeneus (Œneus) is a male name pronounced EE-nee-us.
Both names come from Greek mythology:
Oenone was a mountain nymph who was the first wife of Paris of Troy. (Paris later left her and took up with Helen — a move that eventually led to the Trojan War.)
Oeneus was a mortal king who, after learning how to make wine from the god Dionysus, introduced it to the region of Aetolia.
And both names are based on the same word: the ancient Greek oinos, meaning “wine.” (The modern words oenology and oenophile are also based on oinos.)
Since it’s St. Valentine’s Day, and I bet many of us will end up having a glass of wine at some point, I thought today would be the perfect day to talk about wine-based names.
I first spotted Oenone while reading about English author Daphne du Maurier, who had a research assistant named Oenone Rashleigh around the time she was writing her bestselling book The King’s General (1946). Interestingly, Daphne’s grandfather was George du Maurier, writer of Trilby (1894).
In terms of real-life usage, I’ve found very few people named Oeneus, but dozens named Oenone, mainly in England and America. I would have assumed that the usage of Oenone was kicked off by the poem “The Death of Oenone” (1829) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, but records suggest that usage didn’t pick up until the last decades of the 19th century.
So now for the question of the day. Oenone (ee-noh-nee) and Oeneus (ee-nee-us) are clearly unique, and they have a meaning that would appeal to many…but they’re also very difficult to pronounce and spell. Do you think either one is a usable first name for a modern baby?
Looking for a rare girl name with a retro feel? Here are dozens of ideas. All came straight from very old films that were released from the 1910s to the 1940s.
This post is part of a series of posts featuring female names from early cinema. I’m going backwards, so the other lists so far are U, V, W, X, Y, and Z. The names below are the second half of the T-list (Ti- to Ty-). The first half has the Ta- to Th- names. Enjoy!
Tiare was a character name in multiple films, including The Leopardess (1923) and The Moon and Sixpence (1942).
Trixie Trixie Friganza was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1940s. She was born in Kansas in 1871. Her birth name was Delia O’Callahan. Trixie was also a character name in multiple films, including Falling Leaves (short, 1912) and The Good Bad Girl (1931).
Tsakran was a character played by actress May Robson in the film Turkish Delight (1927).
Tsuru Tsuru Aoki was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1960s. She was born in Japan in 1892.
Tui Bow was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1980s. She was born in New Zealand in 1906. Her birth name was Mary Lorraine Tui.
Tuila was a character played by actress Conchita Montenegro in the film La Melodia Prohibida (1933).
Tula Belle was a child actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1920s. She was born in Norway in 1906. Her birth name was Borgny Erna Bull Høegh. Tula was also a character name in multiple films, including The Vengeance of Najerra (short, 1914) and Kongo (1932).
The names Dorcasina, Malaeska, and Trilby were inspired by characters from 19th-century novels. Altruria also comes from a 19th-century novel, but not from a character.
A Traveler from Altruria (1894) by William Dean Howells was first published in installments in Cosmopolitan in 1892-1893. The protagonist is Aristides Homos, a visitor to America from the fictional island of Altruria, “a Utopian world that combined the foundations of Christianity and the U.S. Constitution to produce an “ethical socialism” by which society was guided.”
The fictional place-name Altruria is a play on the word “altruism,” which was coined relatively recently (circa 1830) by French philosopher Auguste Comte.
Though A Traveler from Altruria isn’t well-remembered today, it was influential during the 1890s. Altrurian Clubs started sprouting up across the country. A short-lived commune called Altruria was established in Sonoma County, California, in the mid-1890s. And at least two babies were given the (middle) name Altruria:
Carrie Altruria Evans, born in 1900 in Van Wert, Ohio
Lester Altruria Eby, born in 1895 in Des Moines, Iowa
The official history book of the Van Wert Altrurian Club even mentions Carrie by name:
What do you think of Altruria as a baby name? Do you think it could be an alternative to the fast-rising Aurora (which broke into the top 100 last year)?
Actress Dolores del Rio was the star of not one but two silent films with theme songs that influenced the baby name charts.
In 1926 she played Charmaine in What Price Glory?, and two years later she played the titular character in Ramona, which was based on the book Ramona (1884) by Helen Hunt Jackson.
The book is a tragic romance set in mid-19th century Southern California, and the protagonists are Ramona, a mixed-race Scottish–Native American orphan, and her lover Alessandro.
Like Trilby a decade later, Ramona was a bestseller that inspired many namesakes: schools, streets, freeways, even towns (such as Ramona, California). The number of human namesakes is harder to gauge, though the U.S. Census of 1900 indicates that there was a moderate increase in the number Ramonas in 1884.
Still, the book’s impact on baby names can’t compare to the impact of its most successful film adaptation, Ramona (1928)…thanks in large part to the music.
The song “Ramona” was commissioned for the film in 1927, and released later that year — long before the film came out in May of 1928, interestingly. It was a big hit with more than two million copies sold and two different versions reaching #1 on the Billboard charts in 1928: first the Paul Whiteman version for 3 weeks, then the Gene Austin version for 8 more weeks.
This song, the first to borrow a film’s title, became the most successful movie theme song of the decade, and greatly enhanced the success of the film. Its popularity gave Hollywood producers much food for thought about how to publicize movies.
Usage of the baby name Ramona, already on the rise in the late 1920s, increased so much in 1928 that the name nearly reached the top 100:
1931: 1,130 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 164th]
1930: 1,410 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 149th]
1929: 2,036 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 120th]
1928: 2,237 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 117th]
1927: 567 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 277th]
1926: 467 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 307th]
1925: 450 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 313th]
So where does the name Ramona come from?
Ramona and its masculine form, Ramón, are the Spanish versions of Raymond, which is ultimately based on the Germanic words ragin, meaning “advice, decision, counsel,” and mund, meaning “protection.”
Do you like the name Ramona? Would you use it?
Source: MacDonald, Laurence E. The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History. Lanham, MD: Ardsley House, 1998.