The Introduction of Topanga

baby name, television, topanga, 1990s, boy meets world,
Topanga

People who grew up in the ’90s know exactly why the place-name Topanga started popping up in the baby name data that decade:

  • 1999: 44 baby girls named Topanga
  • 1998: 48 baby girls named Topanga [peak]
  • 1997: 33 baby girls named Topanga
  • 1996: 11 baby girls named Topanga
  • 1995: 10 baby girls named Topanga
  • 1994: 5 baby girls named Topanga [debut]
  • 1993: unlisted

Topanga was the name of a character on the coming-of-age sitcom Boy Meets World, which premiered in September of 1993. The “Boy” at the center of the show was Cory Matthews, his love interest throughout the series was Topanga Lawrence (played by Danielle Fishel).

According to Fishel, show producer Michael Jacobs was the one who came up with her character’s name. He was driving down a highway in California when he got a phone call about naming the character. At that moment, he happened to be driving past the Topanga Canyon exit, so he said “Topanga” and it stuck.

The canyon’s modern name comes from the Gabrielino (or Tongva) word topa’nga. The “-nga” suffix indicates that it’s a place name, but the meaning of topa remains unknown.

Another name that may have gotten a boost from Boy Meets World is Morgan, the name of Cory’s little sister. It was already on the rise at that time, but from 1993 to 1994 the increase was higher than expected.

…And I’ll just randomly throw in one more name that was inspired by a geological feature: Cohutta, a 2014 debut inspired by MTV reality star Cohutta Lee Grindstaff, who was born in Georgia and named after the Cohutta Mountains. The place name Cohutta, originally Gahûtĭ, comes from the Cherokee word gahûtâ’yĭ, meaning “a shed roof supported on poles.”

Which place name works better as a baby name, do you think: Topanga or Cohutta?

Which one makes a better baby name?

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Sources:

  • Danielle Fishel poses for Maxim
  • Gudde, Erwin G. California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. 4th ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
  • Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. New York: Dover, 1995.

The Beginning of Broderick

broderick crawford, willie stark, all the kings men
Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark
The first name Roderick has been in use for centuries, but the similar name Broderick is relatively new. It debuted in the U.S. data in 1950:

  • 1953: 29 baby boys named Broderick
  • 1952: 25 baby boys named Broderick
  • 1951: 25 baby boys named Broderick
  • 1950: 30 baby boys named Broderick [debut]
  • 1949: unlisted

The man who inspired this debut? Veteran actor Broderick Crawford. His portrayal of corrupt politician Willie Stark in the drama All the King’s Men, released nationally in early 1950, turned him into a star overnight. He won the Best Actor award at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes that year.

The movie was based on the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. The story was inspired by the rise and fall of notorious Louisiana politician Huey P. Long.

Crawford’s birth name was William Broderick Crawford; Broderick was his mother’s maiden name. There are two possible etymologies for the surname Broderick:

  • The Gaelic surname Ó Bruadair, meaning “descendant of Bruadar.” The origin of Bruadar is either Norse or Irish — sources disagree.
  • The Welsh surname ap Rhydderch, meaning “son of Rhydderch.” The definition of Rhydderch is “reddish brown.”

Do you like the name Broderick? Do you like it more or less than Roderick?

Sources:

Baby Names from “How Green Was My Valley”

Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley told the story of a Welsh coal-mining family during the late 19th century. The story’s narrator was schoolboy Huw Morgan, eighth of nine* siblings, and the symbolic greenness of the valley referred to the fact that, over the course of the Huw’s life, the valley where he lived changed color from green to black due to the mining.

In 1940, How Green Was My Valley was the best-selling book of the year and won the National Book Award for fiction the same year. In late 1941, a Hollywood film based on the book was released. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and ended up winning in five categories, including Best Picture.

Thanks to the book and the movie, two Welsh names (and one sort-of Welsh name) ended up appearing in the SSA’s baby name data…

The baby name Angharad debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1943.

Let’s go alphabetically, starting with Angharad, pronounced ahn-HAHR-ahd, roughly. In the story, Angharad (played by Maureen O’Hara in the film) was Huw’s older sister.

American audiences heard this name loud and clear within the first few minutes of the movie:

The name Angharad was a one-hit wonder in the data in 1943:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 5 baby girls named Angharad [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

While the name didn’t catch on in the U.S., one name-book notes that it “has been strongly revived in Wales since the 1940s.”

The middle element of Angharad has the same root as the Welsh word caru, meaning “love.”

The baby name Bronwyn debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1942.

Next we have the names Bronwen and Bronwyn. The first appeared in 1941:

  • 1945: 10 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1944: 8 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1943: 9 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1942: 8 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1941: 7 baby girls named Bronwen [debut]
  • 1940: unlisted

And the second followed in 1942:

  • 1945: 20 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1944: 9 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1943: 10 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1942: 9 baby girls named Bronwyn [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

In the story, Bronwen/Bronwyn was Huw’s sister-in-law (the wife of his brother Ivor).

For the book, the name was spelled Bronwen, which is the traditional form of the name. It can be traced back to Welsh elements meaning “breast” (bron) and “white, fair; blessed, holy” (gwen).

But for the movie, the name was respelled Bronwyn, inexplicably. The film character Bronwyn (played by Anna Lee**) was typically called “Bron.”

Notably, one of the babies named after the character was Maureen O’Hara’s only child, Bronwyn, born in 1944. Her birth is likely what boosted the -wyn spelling ahead of the -wen spelling in 1945.

Which Welsh name do you like more, Angharad or Bronwen?

Which Welsh name do you prefer?

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*The nine Morgan siblings in order were Ivor, Ianto, Davy, Owen, Gwilym Jr., Angharad, Ceridwen, Huw, and Olwen.
**Anna Lee’s five children were named Joanna Venetia, Caroline, John, Stephen, and Timothy.

Sources:

The Button-Nosed Baby Name Chata

Letter to Loretta

The name Chata made a modest debut in the U.S. baby name data in 1953:

  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: 5 baby girls named Chata [debut]
  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Very early television. “The Faith of Chata” was an episode from the first season of the anthology TV series Letter to Loretta, later renamed The Loretta Young Show. The episode aired in December of 1953.

The episode, set in a Mexican village, tells the story of a little girl called Chata who is gravely ill with pneumonia. (Chata’s mother Paula is played by Young.) After receiving an overnight vision of her patron saint, Santa Inés, Chata makes a miraculous recovery.

“Chata” is not a name, but an affectionate nickname. It comes from a Spanish term for “pug nose” or “button nose.” John Wayne’s second wife, Mexican actress Esperanza Baur, went by Chata for instance.

The child actress who played Chata was Nancy Gilbert, who several years later played another TV character (Calamity Jane) that also had an influence on baby names.

Sources: Nancy Gilbert – IMDb, Letter to Loretta (1953-1954) – Loretta Young Fan Website

What Kicked Off the Name “Caresse”?

dinner at antoines, book, 1940s, caresse, baby nameThe unusual baby name Caresse saw its highest usage in the late ’80s and early ’90s (no doubt thanks to commercials for Caress soap, which was launched by Lever in 1985). But it debuted in the U.S. data way back in the 1940s:

  • 1951: unlisted
  • 1950: 5 baby girls named Caresse
  • 1949: 7 baby girls named Caresse [debut]
  • 1948: unlisted
  • 1947: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The 1949 novel Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes, which became one of the bestselling books in the United States that year. The story was also serialized in several newspapers.

It was murder mystery set in New Orleans; the “Antoine’s” of the title refers to the famous Antoine’s Restaurant. One of the characters, Caresse Lalande, was a radio star (her show was called Fashions of Yesteryear). She was also carrying on an affair with her sister’s husband, Léonce. When the sister (named Odile) ended up murdered, both Caresse and Léonce (and many other people in their circle) became suspects.

The name got even more exposure that year thanks to the Literary Guild Book Club, which ran ads that featured not just Dinner at Antoine’s, but Caresse specifically:

caresse in literary guild advertisement

The French word Caresse (and also the English word Cherish) can be traced back to the Latin word carus, meaning “dear, costly, beloved.”

What do you think of the baby names Caresse and Caress? Would you use them?

Sources: Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1940s – Wikipedia, Caress – Online Etymology Dictionary
Image: from the October 1949 issue of Radio Mirror