Was Kamala Harris Named After an Actress?

With the presidential inauguration just two days away, now is a good time to take a closer look at the baby name Kamala.

Most Americans already know that Kamala Devi Harris’ first name is pronounced KAH-mah-lah (or “comma-la“). And I bet some also know that the Sanskrit name Kamala means “lotus,” and is sometimes used to refer to the Hindu deity Lakshmi.

But here’s an intriguing fact that isn’t very well known: usage of the baby name Kamala peaked in 1964 — the year that Kamala Harris was born.

  • 1967: 46 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1966: 51 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1965: 91 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1964: 105 baby girls named Kamala [rank: 1,064th]
  • 1963: 44 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1962: 20 baby girls named Kamala
  • 1961: 10 baby girls named Kamala

Here’s the graph:

What caused the spike?

I believe the influence was half-Indian, half-English actress Kamala Devi (birth name: Kamala Devi Amesur). She came to the U.S. from India around 1960, and over the course of the decade appeared in two U.S. films and on about ten TV shows (including My Three Sons).

The thing that put her name in the papers, though, was her 1963 marriage to actor Chuck Connors, her co-star in the 1962 film Geronimo. (You can see several press photos of the pair at one Chuck Connors fan site.) Here’s what Louella Parsons wrote about the couple in mid-1963:

The Brooklyn-born Irishman and the Bombay-born East Indian, married in April, are as unlikely a combination as you could dream up, but they seem ideally mated. Chuck and Kamala met when both played in “Geronimo.” She was the last actress to be interviewed for the lead opposite him. “I took one look at her,” says Chuck, “and that was it.”

So, now, back to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

I have never seen anything that explicitly connects Kamala Devi Harris to Kamala Devi, but the fact that Harris’ middle name is Devi (which means “goddess”), and the fact that she was born in 1964, makes me think Harris’ parents were probably influenced by the actress — whether they were aware of it or not.

(Her parents, Donald Harris of Jamaica and Shyamala Gopalan of Tamil Nadu, met as graduate students in California in the fall of 1962. They married in July of 1963 and welcomed their first daughter, Kamala, the following year in October. Their second daughter, Maya Lakshmi, was born in early 1967.)

What are your thoughts on this?

Sources:

The Start of Scheherazade

Scheherazade, movie, 1940s, baby name

The name Scheherazade (sheh-hehr-uh-zahd) comes to us from classic literature: Scheherazade was the wife of the sultan Shahryar in The Arabian Nights*, the collection of Middle Eastern and Indian folk tales first published in English in the early 18th century.

The name didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data, though, until 1948:

  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted
  • 1948: 5 baby girls named Scheherazade [debut]
  • 1947: unlisted
  • 1946: unlisted

What put it there?

My guess is the movie Song of Scheherazade, which was released in March of 1947. The main female character, Cara de Talavera (played by actress Yvonne De Carlo), moonlighted as a cabaret dancer known as Scheherazade.

(The name might have debuted earlier had the 1942 film Arabian Nights similarly featured Scheherazade’s name in the title.)

So…what does the name Scheherazade mean? Good question. Sources agree that it’s Persian, but don’t agree on the definition. One defintion I’ve found is “city-freer.” Another is “born to a good race” (which reminds of the definition of Eugene: “well-born”).

What are your thoughts on the baby name Scheherazade? Would you considering using it?

Sources:

  • Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001.
  • Nurse, Paul McMichael. Eastern Dreams: How The Arabian Nights Came To The World. Ontario: Penguin, 2010.
  • The Thousand and One Nights – Britannica.com

*Shahryar and Scheherazade are part of the collection’s frame story. Scheherazade — like all of the sultan’s previous wives — had been sentenced to die. (Not because of something she did; the sultan had a habit of killing his wives, because he presumed they would all be unfaithful.) So, every night, clever Scheherazade told Shahryar a story that ended with a cliffhanger. Because the sultan always wanted to hear the ending, he kept putting off Scheherazade’s execution…

The Arrival of Rydell

bobby rydell, music, 1960s

The baby name Rydell first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1960:

  • 1963: 10 baby boys named Rydell
  • 1962: 11 baby boys named Rydell
  • 1961: 11 baby boys named Rydell
  • 1960: 17 baby boys named Rydell [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted

The influence? Teen idol of the early ’60s Bobby Rydell (birth name: Robert Louis Ridarelli), whose first singles started coming out in 1959. His early hits included “Kissin’ Time” (1959), “Wild One” (1960), and “Swingin’ School” (1960).

Here he is lip-syncing to “We Got Love” on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show in November of 1959:

The 1971 musical Grease, set in 1959, paid tribute to Rydell — one of the breakout stars of ’59 — with the name of Rydell High School.

Sources: Bobby Rydell – Wikipedia, Bobby Rydell – Way Back Attack

What the Hec, Another Baby Name

The unusual baby name Hec was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. data during the 1970s:

  • 1975: unlisted
  • 1974: unlisted
  • 1973: 5 baby boys named Hec [debut]
  • 1972: unlisted
  • 1971: unlisted

What put it there?

The two-season western/detective series Hec Ramsey, which was broadcast on NBC from 1972 to 1974.

The show was set in the early 20th century and starred Richard Boone as Hector “Hec” Ramsey, a former gunfighter turned lawman who used then-modern forensic techniques (e.g., fingerprinting equipment) to catch criminals.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Hec?

Source: Hec Ramsey – Wikipedia

P.S. If you like Hec, you might also like Hud.

The Entry of Taysom

The unusual name Taysom debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 2012:

  • 2019: 75 baby boys named Taysom
    • 17 (23%) in Louisiana, 14 (19%) in Utah, 5 (7%) in Nebraska and 5 (7%) in Oregon
  • 2018: 19 baby boys named Taysom
    • 6 (32%) in Utah
  • 2017: 25 baby boys named Taysom
    • 14 (56%) in Utah and 6 (24%) in Idaho
  • 2016: 24 baby boys named Taysom
    • 8 (33%) in Utah
  • 2015: 42 baby boys named Taysom
    • 16 (38%) in Utah and 6 (14%) in Idaho
  • 2014: 32 baby boys named Taysom
    • 15 (47%) in Utah
  • 2013: 24 baby boys named Taysom
    • 14 (58%) in Utah
  • 2012: 10 baby boys named Taysom [debut]
    • 6 (60%) in Utah
  • 2011: unlisted

As you can see by the numbers, usage was particularly high in the state of Utah until last year, when Louisiana suddenly became the state with the most baby Taysoms.

Where did the name come from?

Football player Taysom Hill, who was born and raised in Idaho. Hill played for Brigham Young University from 2012 to 2016, then for the New Orleans Saints from 2017 onward. (He wasn’t on the field full-time until the 2018 season, though, which explains why the usage of “Taysom” in Louisiana didn’t rise until 2019.)

Hill is officially a quarterback, but he has played in various offensive positions professionally, leading the Saints to dub him the “Swiss army knife” of their offense.

So, how did Taysom Hill get his name?

Some sources say he was named after a park in his hometown. Others say his name came from his family tree. In either case, “Taysom” was originally a surname. The surname seems to be a variant of Tyson, which has several potential derivations, including the Old French word tison, meaning “firebrand.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Taysom?

Sources:

Image: Adapted from Taysom Hill playing for the Saints by GrabitMike under CC BY-SA 4.0.