Mystery Monday: Quovadis

Here’s an eye-catching baby name: Quovadis. It’s appeared in U.S. baby name data a total of three times so far:

  • 1983: unlisted
  • 1982: 5 baby girls named Quovadis
  • …unlisted…
  • 1975: 6 baby girls named Quovadis (all 6 born in Georgia)
  • 1974: unlisted
  • 1973: 5 baby girls named Quovadis [debut]
  • 1972: unlisted

This one is a semi-mystery. I know the ultimate origin, but not what (if anything) caused the name to surface in the ’70s specifically.

The Polish novel Quo Vadis (1896) by Henryk Sienkiewicz told the story of a romance between a Roman patrician and a Christian woman during ancient times. The title means “where are you going?” in Latin and alludes to the New Testament verse John 13:36.

The English translation of the book became the bestselling novel in the U.S. in 1897. Since then, the book has been adapted for the big screen multiple times (1901, 1912, 1924, 1951*, etc.) and also adapted for television.

But nothing new happened in the ’70s to draw attention to the phrase, beyond the 1973 Broadway play Status Quo Vadis and a 1975 M*A*S*H episode called “Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?”

Do you have any thoughts on this one?

P.S. Though the name only appears in the SSA data in the ’70s and ’80s, records reveal that dozens of people (male and female) have been named Quovadis since the late 1890s. Here’s one on the 1930 U.S. Census:

Quovadis Dukes, female, born in Ohio in 1929

Source: Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1890s – Wikipedia

*The 1951 movie starred Deborah Kerr and was nominated for eight Oscars.

Mystery Monday: Caricia

The baby name Caricia, which is the Spanish word for “caress,” appeared in the U.S. baby name data for two years in the early 2000s:

  • 2004: unlisted
  • 2003: 5 baby girls named Caricia
  • 2002: 20 baby girls named Caricia [debut]
    • 6 born in California specifically
  • 2001: unlisted

Why did it debut? I have two theories so far, but I’m not 100% convinced by either one.

The first has to do with music. In 2000, Spanish singer Rocío Dúrcal released an album called Caricias. The lead track was also called “Caricias.” That August, the album reached #2 on Billboard’s Latin Pop Album chart.

(radio channel logo)

The second theory also has to do with music, but in a different way. The XM Satellite Radio channel Caricia, which played Spanish-language adult contemporary music, was launched in September of 2001. (It was axed in 2004, but relaunched a few years later as a Latin oldies channel.)

The first theory makes sense in terms of source, but not in terms of timing. The second theory is more of a long shot (I’ve never seen a radio station influence baby names, unless it was a contest) but the years line up quite well.

What are your thoughts on this one? What am I missing here?

Sources: Rocío Dúrcal Chart History | Billboard, Caricia – Wikipedia

P.S. The French word for “caress,” Caresse, is also a baby name.

Mystery Monday: Malia, Melia, Melea, Malea…

This month’s mystery isn’t a name, but a name group.

The group saw its highest-ever usage in circa 2009, thanks to presidential daughter Malia Obama, but it also saw a strong rise in usage back in the mid-1950s. Why? I don’t know!

From 1954 to 1956, not only did the rare names Malia and Melia re-emerge in the data and see peak in usage (up to that point), but eight new variants of Malia/Melia surfaced:

Name 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957
Malia . 48 88 68 59
Melia . 11 42 43 35
Melea . 7* 16 24 10
Malea . 5* 25 20 14
Meleah . . 9* 12 12
Maleia . . . 10* 5
Mylea . . . 9* .
Meleia . . . 7* .
Maleah . . . 6* 9
Milia . . . 5* .

*Debuts in the data.

Usage of these names was relatively high in several states. Of the 88 Malias born in 1955, for instance, 33 were born across six states: Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Alabama, Kansas, and North Carolina.

And the SSA data doesn’t account for the many baby girls who got Malia-related middles during that time period. One semi-famous example is JFK niece Sydney Maleia Kennedy, born in California in 1956.

The variety of spellings makes me think the source was audio, e.g., radio, music, cinema, television. (But it wasn’t the lady who played Vampira — that was a Maila, not a Malia.)

What are your thoughts on this one?

Mystery Monday: Shurla

The baby name Shurla was an impressive one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in 1961:

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 17 baby girls named Shurla [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted

Where did it come from? I haven’t been able to figure that out yet.

The name Shirley, which had been extremely popular in the 1930s, was trending downward by the 1960s. The sound-alike names Sherla or Shirla did not see a uptick in usage in 1961. And the somewhat similar name Shirelle, though it debuted the same year (thanks to girl-group The Shirelles), is probably not the cause.

Vital records indicate that the 1961 Shurlas were born in various places in the U.S., so they weren’t clustered in a specific region. (Here are two of them: one from Missouri, the other from Maryland originally but buried in Kansas.)

Do you have any idea where this one might have come from? (News? Television?)

Mystery Monday: LaFondra

Ready for another mystery? This month we’ve got the name Lafondra, which was the top debut name of 1962:

  • 1964: unlisted
  • 1963: 10 baby girls named Lafondra
  • 1962: 30 baby girls named Lafondra (7 born in California specifically)
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted

Though it’s written “Lafondra” in the SSA data, elsewhere on the internet it’s usually written “LaFondra” (with a capital F).

The first thing I should note is that actress Jane Fonda became popular in the early 1960s. As a result, usage of the baby name Fonda was boosted into the top 1,000 from 1960 to 1966:

  • 1967: 97 baby girls named Fonda
  • 1966: 118 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 930th]
  • 1965: 128 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 884th]
  • 1964: 145 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 864th]
  • 1963: 181 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 767th] – peak usage
  • 1962: 161 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 826th]
  • 1961: 143 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 904th]
  • 1960: 152 baby girls named Fonda [rank: 841st]
  • 1959: 108 baby girls named Fonda

The trendiness of “Fonda” in turn gave a boost to Lafonda (typically written “LaFonda”):

  • 1964: 21 baby girls named Lafonda
  • 1963: 24 baby girls named Lafonda
  • 1962: 35 baby girls named Lafonda – peak usage
  • 1961: 24 baby girls named Lafonda
  • 1960: 9 baby girls named Lafonda

But LaFonda saw peak usage the year before Fonda, in 1962 — the same year that LaFondra-with-an-R debuted. So perhaps the event that gave LaFondra-with-an-R a boost had an effect upon LaFonda as well.

The “La” prefix in both of these names suggests African-American usage, so I scanned copies of Jet and Ebony from the time period, but couldn’t come up with any clues.

Do you have any theories about where LaFondra came from? (Even better: If you’re a LaFondra, please leave a comment and tell us how you got your name!)