Name Story: Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong photo

Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong was born “Wong Liu Tsong” in Los Angeles in 1905.

Here’s what she had to say about her birth name in 1926:

I was named Wong Lew Song, which means Frosted Yellow Willows. A rather unusual name, isn’t it. Most Chinese children have names, which, interpreted into English, sound rather attractive, though they wouldn’t do for everyday use. They are all right in poetry, but I wouldn’t want to be called Frosted Yellow Willows by my acquaintances. It sounds altogether too quaint for a modern Chinese girl.

Here’s what she had to say about her American name and her stage name in 1928:

I was educated in Los Angeles. […] Our family did not live in the Chinese quarter but on Figueroa Street, where our neighbors were Americans and we were called by our English names. The doctor who brought me into the world named me ‘Anna’; my Chinese name is Tsong. When I was old enough to begin to think about a career, I added ‘May’ to ‘Anna,’ partly because we [daughters] all had four-letter names and I wanted to be different, and partly because it made a prettier signature.

(Her siblings’ American names were Lulu, James, Mary, Frank, Roger, and Richard.)

And, finally, here’s something funny I spotted in a newspaper about the 1924 movie Thief of Bagdad, which featured Wong:

The Mongol slave, a part that required emotional subtlety and balance, was played by Anna May Wong, a Chinese girl, educated in America. Her Chinese name is Lew Wong Song [sic], and means two yellow willows. When the picture was being filmed Miss Wong almost walked out on her job because an enthusiastic press agent misunderstood the translation of her name and published it as “two yelling widows.”

I saw several versions of this “two yelling widows” story, but never managed to track down the press agent’s original mis-translation.


Mystery Monday: Darwyn

Time for another mystery name! Today we have Darwyn, which saw a dramatic spike in usage in 1935:

  • 1937: 14 baby boys named Darwyn
  • 1936: 17 baby boys named Darwyn
  • 1935: 67 baby boys named Darwyn [peak usage; ranked 752nd]
  • 1934: 12 baby boys named Darwyn
  • 1932: 8 baby boys named Darwyn

In fact, Darwyn was the fastest-rising boy name of 1935. (The equivalent girl name that year was the contest-inspired Norita.)

The more common spelling, Darwin, only saw a slight rise in usage in 1935. So whatever the influence was, it was spelling-specific.

I’ve done my usual pop culture/current events searches — movies, comics, politics, etc. — but so far have come up empty-handed.

Any ideas on this one?

The Hawaiian Name Lilikoi

We talked about passion flowers yesterday, so today let’s look at passion fruit — specifically, the Hawaiian word for passion fruit, liliko’i. Why? Because Lilikoi started popping up in the SSA’s baby name data in 2006, and it’s been in the data consistently over the last few years:

  • 2018: 5 baby girls named Lilikoi
  • 2017: 9 baby girls named Lilikoi
  • 2016: 8 baby girls named Lilikoi
  • 2015: 5 baby girls named Lilikoi
  • 2014: unlisted

As it happens, the fruit isn’t native to Hawaii. The purple variety of passion fruit, originally from South America, came to Hawaii via Australia in 1880. The seeds were planted on Maui at a place called Liliko’i, and the fruit itself eventually became known by that name. The yellow variety — which is the most common type in Hawaii these days — didn’t arrive until 1923.

I tried to track down the etymology of the place name Liliko’i, but didn’t have any luck.

What do you think of the baby name Lilikoi? Do you like it more or less than the name Lehua?

Source: Liliko’i – Wehewehe Wikiwiki, Hawaii’s favorite flavor – Lilikoi

P.S. Did you know that Lilikoi can be typed entirely with the right hand on a standard Qwerty keyboard? Here are some other one-handed baby names

Rare Flower Name: Passiflora

passiflora, passion flower,

Yesterday’s post about the name Passion, plus the fact that I happen to love passion flowers (because they are so weirdly elaborate), made me wonder: Has anyone ever been given the first-middle combo “Passion Flower”? How about the name of the genus, passiflora?

Turns out the answer is “yes” to both questions, though I could only find a single trustworthy example of each in the records.

  • A female named Passion Flower Johnson was born in California in 1988.
  • A female named Passiflora Dadge was born in Lancashire, England, in 1896. (Her four older siblings were Lilian, Stephen, Rose and Violet.)

So how did the plant come to be called “passion flower” in the first place? It was named in the 17th century by Spanish Christian missionaries who saw the various components of the bloom as being symbolic of the Passion of Jesus (e.g., the corona filaments represented the crown of thorns).

I also happened to find a Mississippi man named Maypop Stewart on the 1880 U.S. Census. “Maypop” is the common name of a type of passion flower native to the southern U.S. He was an African-American man who’d been born in Alabama in 1820s, so it’s possible that he was a former slave who’d been named by a slaveowner.

Sources: Passiflora – Wikipedia, Passion – Online Etymology Dictionary

P.S. Did you know that the word Passionate has appeared in the SSA’s baby name data before?