Sakeena: Jazz-Inspired Baby Name

blakey, sakeena, jazz, song, 1960The eye-catching name Sakeena debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1957:

  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 9 baby girls named Sakeena
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 8 baby girls named Sakeena [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

Where does it come from? I’ve traced it to jazz drummer/bandleader Arthur “Art” Blakey. He and his second wife, Diana, welcomed a baby girl named Sakeena in early 1957. The same year, Art Blakey and his band The Jazz Messengers put out at least two songs with the name Sakeena in the title:

  • “Sakeena” on the album Cu-Bop (1957), and
  • “Sweet Sakeena” on the album Hard Drive (1957).

The news of baby Sakeena’s birth didn’t seem to garner any attention, so it was either one or both of these songs that boosted the name Sakeena onto the charts.

It fell back off the charts the next year, but reappeared in 1961, after the release of a third song with Sakeena in the title: “Sakeena’s Vision” on the Art Blakey album The Big Beat (1960). This song was written by saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter. Here’s what a biography of Shorter said about the genesis of “Sakeena’s Vision”:

Sakeena was an unusual two-year-old who had developed the precocious habit of sizing up visitors like a hanging judge the moment they stepped into the Blakey house. “If they were cool, Sakeena was cool,” Wayne said. “If they weren’t, then she wasn’t either. Art said, ‘Sakeena’s hip to them all,’ and let the child have the run of the house.” The toddler made an impression on Wayne, enough to inspire a composition with a difficult, penetrating melody line.

Do you like the name Sakeena?

P.S. Art had quite a few children in total, but the only other child he had with Diana was a son named Gamal, born in 1959.

Sources:

  • Gourse, Leslie. Art Blakey: Jazz Messenger. New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 2002.
  • Mercer, Michelle. Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter. New York: Tarcher/Penguin Books, 2007.

Takeela: Jazz-Inspired Baby Name

kenny burrell, jazz,A couple of years before Tequila popped up on the charts, the like-sounding name Takeela debuted:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: 5 baby girls named Takeela [debut]
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted

Like Tequila, Takeela can be traced back to music.

Introducing Kenny Burrell, the debut album of jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, was released by Blue Note in September of 1956. One of the seven tracks on the album was a song called “Takeela,” which “starts with a fast Latin beat on congas, giving Burrell a nice opportunity for fast, fluid solos.” (The congas were played by Cuban-born percussionist Candido Camero, who included a version of “Takeela” on his own 1957 album The Volcanic.)

According to the text on the back of the Introducing Kenny Burrell record album, the song “allegedly was not named after a bottle or even a glass of tequila, but after a girl.”

Sources: Introducing Kenny Burrell – Blue Note 1525, Introducing Kenny Burrell – AllMusic

The One-Hit Wonder Baby Name Jilla

Jilla Webb, singer, 1950sThe uncommon baby name Jilla appeared for the first and only time in the U.S. baby name data in 1951:

  • 1953: unlisted
  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: 6 baby girls named Jilla
  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted

No doubt it was put there by American jazz/pop vocalist Jilla Webb, who was at the peak of her fame in the early 1950s. She recorded on the MGM label and regularly performed with the Harry James Orchestra.

Below is a 1958 recording of Jilla Webb singing with Harry James. (The video ought to start at 11:50, when Jilla first comes in.)

Though the similar name Jill was very trendy in the early ’50s — it reached the top 100 by the end of the decade (and stayed there for nearly 30 years) — Jilla remained a mere one-hit wonder.

Do you like the name Jilla? Now that Willa is on the rise, do you think Jilla could catch on as a variant?

P.S. Jilla Webb’s daughter is also a professional singer who goes by the name Jilla Webb.

Double Whammy Baby Names: Pier & Angeli

pier angeli, life magazine, 1956
Pier Angeli on the cover of LIFE in 1956

While Cyd Charisse gave both her first and last name a boost on the baby name charts, those debuts didn’t happen in the same year.

In the case of Italian-born television and film actress Pier Angeli, though, both Pier and Angeli popped up in the data in 1953:

Year # Piers # Angelis
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
18 baby girls
25 baby girls
8 baby girls (& 5 baby boys)
11 baby girls [debut]
x
12 baby girls
x
x
14 baby girls [debut]
x

In fact, the name Angeli was the 3rd-highest debut name of the year (after Trenace and Caster).

Pier Angeli was born Anna Maria Pierangeli in Sardinia, Italy, in 1932. Before she launched her U.S. film career, her name was changed:

The movie moguls decided that her name Anna Maria Pierangeli was too long for the lights over a marquee, so it was abridged to Pier Angeli simply by dividing her surname. She didn’t like it, complaining that it was “a boy’s name” which of course it was in Italy, and never used it in private life. Her friends always called her Anna.

Pier Angeli’s first American film Teresa (1951). Her performance impressed critics; she won a Golden Globe Award in 1952 for “Most Promising Newcomer.” And the year after that, her names double-debuted in the U.S. baby name data.

Nowadays, dozens of baby girls are named Angeli every year. Pier is still used as well, but mostly as a boy name. Which name do you prefer?

Which name do you prefer for a baby girl, Pier or Angeli?

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Source: Allen, Jane. Pier Angeli: A Fragile Life. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2002.

P.S. Speaking of dividing a surname to create a stage name…two people who divided a first name to come up with a professional name were actor Kal Penn (born Kalpen Modi) and lyricist Kal Mann (born Kalman Cohen).

Double Whammy Baby Names: Cyd & Charisse

cyd charisse, movie, dancer, 1940s, baby name, cyd, charisse

As far as I can tell, the very first person to boost both a first name and a last name into the baby name data was dancer and movie star Cyd Charisse. Charisse debuted in 1946, and Cyd followed a year later:

Year # Cyds # Charisses
1950
1949
1948
1947
1946
1945
14 baby girls
20 baby girls
6 baby girls
8 baby girls [debut]
x
x
17 baby girls
14 baby girls
19 baby girls
10 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]
x

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) was what propelled Charisse to stardom, but in the late ’40s she had minor dancing parts in various musicals, and these appearances must have given her name enough exposure to influence expectant parents.

But she wasn’t born with the name Cyd Charisse. Her birth name was Tula Ellice (ee-leese) Finklea. Here’s how one name morphed into the other:

My real name was Tula Ellice, it was not Cyd. But my brother was only a year older than myself and he couldn’t pronounce Tula Ellice, so he started calling me Sid as a nickname, for sister. And it stuck with me and all my life I’ve been called Sid. But when I went to MGM, Arthur Freed did not like the spelling of S-i-d, which is a boys’ name. And he changed the spelling to C-y-d — a little more glamorous.

And of course Charisse was my first husband’s name, Nico Charisse. So actually Cyd Charisse you could say is my real name.

But there’s actually more to the story, as she went through several stage names before settling on “Cyd Charisse”:

Before I went to MGM, I had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. And, of course, joining a Russian ballet company in those days, you were supposed to have a Russian name. So Colonel de Basil, who was the regisseur of the ballet at that time, he first named me Felia Siderova. And after a couple of months he decided he would change it to Maria Istomana. Two names.

Then when I wound up back in California, before I went to MGM, I met another Russian director. And he decided that my name should be Lily Norwood.

So finally, when I got to MGM, and Arthur Freed said “We have to change your name,” I said “No please, I’ve had my name changed so many times. Let me just be Sid Charisse.” And that’s when he changed the spelling to C-y-d. And finally I had my own name.

These days, American parents still bestow the name Charisse occasionally, but they rarely go for Cyd. Which name do you prefer?

Which name do you prefer for a baby girl, Cyd or Charisse?

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Sources: SSA, Cyd Charisse Interview [vid]
Image from Singin’ in the Rain (1952).