Tonga: Baby Name Inspired by Early TV?

tonga, nina bara, space patrol, 1950s, television, sci-fi
Tonga from Space Patrol

The intriguing name Tonga debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1953:

  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: 7 baby girls named Tonga [debut]
  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: unlisted

I don’t think the Polynesian country had anything to do with it. Instead, I’m thinking that it may have come from the the early science-fiction TV series Space Patrol. It began as a Los Angeles-only show in early 1950, but by early 1951 it was being syndicated nationally both on TV and on radio (thanks to being picked up by the ABC network).

Set a thousand years in the future, the show featured members of the Space Patrol crew endeavoring to fight against the bad guys of the solar system. The two female crew members were named Tonga (played by Nina Bara) and Carol (Virginia Hewitt). Tonga’s character began as a criminal, but by the time the show had a national audience, she had undergone a “Brainograph” treatment and joined up with the good guys.

The name Tonga may have been given a boost in 1953 specifically thanks to LIFE magazine drawing attention to the show in a 1952 feature article (“Space Patrol Conquers Kids,” Sept. 1952)…or maybe it simply showed up because Space Patrol‘s audience was still growing at that time.

But the name dropped out of the data the very next year — possibly because actress Nina Bara was released from the show in late 1953, so the character Tonga didn’t appear in the show very frequently after that.

All this said…I should also mention that the name Tanya and its variants were on the rise during the 1950s, and that “Tonga” ended up being used as a variant of Tanya on occasion (likely by way of Tanja). So that’s another possible reason for the debut.

Do you like Tonga as a baby name? If so, how would you pronounce it?

Sources:

P.S. A supporting character in the 1953 Gary Cooper movie Return to Paradise also happened to be named Tonga, but this character was male.

The Baby Name Keena

keena, brave eagle, 1956

The name Keena has had a dueling dual-gender history.

Keena (and Kina) started surfacing in the girls’ data in the early 1950s, perhaps influenced by the usage of Tina, which was creeping upward at that time. (Tina wouldn’t become massively trendy until the late ’50s and early ’60s.)

Then came the single-season TV series Brave Eagle (1955-1956), which was TV’s first attempt at a western told from a Native American point of view. A main character on the show was Brave Eagle’s adopted son Keena, played by Hopi/Karuk child actor Anthony “Tony” Numkena (stage name Keena Numkena). This character boosted the name Keena into the boys’ data for the first time:

  • 1958: 41 girls and 11 boys named Keena
  • 1957: 34 girls and 5 boys named Keena
  • 1956: 21 girls and 11 boys named Keena
  • 1955: 7 girls named Keena
  • 1954: 6 girls named Keena

A decade and a half later, female Olympic swimmer Keena Rothhammer (born in 1957) won both a gold and a bronze medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. She also twice set a new world record in the women’s 800-meter freestyle (on successive days).

The same year, usage of the name spiked for girls:

  • 1974: 64 baby girls named Keena
  • 1973: 99 baby girls named Keena
  • 1972: 152 baby girls named Keena [peak usage for girls]
  • 1971: 29 baby girls named Keena
  • 1970: 34 baby girls named Keena

Here’s what Keena told Sports Illustrated about her name: “My mother says it’s Hawaiian. She says she heard it on the radio.”

Then, more than a decade after that, male linebacker Keena Turner (born in 1958), who played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1980 to 1990, had some particularly good seasons in the mid-1980s

And in 1985, usage of the name spiked for boys (as well as girls):

  • 1987: 47 girls and 9 boys named Keena
  • 1986: 57 girls and 15 boys named Keena
  • 1985: 105 girls and 46 boys named Keena [peak usage for boys]
  • 1984: 66 girls and 12 boys named Keena
  • 1983: 53 girls named Keena

Now it’s your turn: Do you like the name Keena? Do you prefer it as a boy name or as a girl name? Why?

Source: “Mark of Excellence.” Sports Illustrated. 14 Aug. 1972: 16-21.

A Spike in Eulalias

Infanta Eulalia

In the early 1890s, the baby name Eulalia saw a distinct spike in usage:

  • 1895: 34 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1894: 39 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1893: 55 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1892: 19 baby girls named Eulalia
  • 1891: 20 baby girls named Eulalia

That’s what the SSA data indicates; here’s the spike mirrored in the SSDI data:

  • 1895: 81 people named Eulalia
  • 1894: 92 people named Eulalia
  • 1893: 156 people named Eulalia
  • 1892: 59 people named Eulalia
  • 1891: 46 people named Eulalia

What caused it?

Spain’s 29-year-old Infanta Eulalia — whose full name at birth was María Eulalia Francisca de Asís Margarita Roberta Isabel Francisca de Paula Cristina María de la Piedad. (The name Eulalia is derived from the ancient Greek word eulalos, meaning “well spoken.”)

In 1893, she visited the U.S. to attend the Chicago World’s Fair — officially the “Columbian Exposition,” held in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.

This Columbus connection made the fair’s organizers eager to host a member of the Spanish royal family as a guest of honor. So Queen Isabella II of Spain sent her youngest daughter, Eulalia, to represent the family.

Even before Eulalia appeared at the fair on June 7, she attracted U.S. media attention over the 49 days she spent traveling to various places (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Washington DC, and New York) along the way to Chicago.

Once she finally arrived, she was followed closely by the media. Newspapers like the Chicago Tribune offered daily updates on Eulalia and her various activities (e.g., parades, banquets, concerts).

However, despite the glowing reports on the front pages, the Tribune began carrying references to misunderstandings and insinuations of friction over matters of etiquette, precedence, and, especially, the Princess’ cavalier attitude toward arrangements made for her.

In fact, at the end of her “brief but not altogether satisfactory” visit, the Tribune went so far as to say the efforts put in by those who’d entertained Eulalia and her entourage were akin to “seeds flung away on barren ground.”

…All this press coverage, both positive and negative, gave the name a lot of extra exposure during 1893. And this resulted in more U.S. parents naming their babies “Eulalia” the same year.

What are your thoughts on the name Eulalia? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

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Downtown Baby Name: Petula

petula clark, downtown, 1960s, music, song

Here’s an easy one. The baby name Petula appeared on the U.S. charts in the mid-’60s:

  • 1969: 16 baby girls named Petula
  • 1967: 39 baby girls named Petula [peak usage]
  • 1967: 23 baby girls named Petula
  • 1966: 20 baby girls named Petula
  • 1965: 19 baby girls named Petula [debut]
  • 1964: unlisted

This is the year the catchy song “Downtown” was a hit for English singer Petula Clark.

Petula was born in 1932, singing on radio by 1942, and putting out singles by the mid-’50s. She’d achieved fame in Europe, but when “Downtown” was released in late 1964, it brought her international fame.

“Downtown” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January of 1965. Several months later it won the Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording, beating contenders like “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison and “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles. (A Billboard writer admitted that “Downtown” winning in the Rock & Roll category “puzzled many.”)

Petula’s birth name was Sally. The nickname “Petula” was coined by her father. Here’s what she said about her name(s) during a recent interview:

True or false: your dad named you after two of his former girlfriends, Pet and Ulla?

I have no idea if it’s true or false. This is a story that’s come up, and I don’t think it came from me – it’s just there. It could be. I’ve never heard of anyone called Pet or Ulla.

I’ve never heard of anyone else called Petula either, though.

No, but there are some Petulas. There’s actually a Petula Clark in the States. I don’t much like it actually. It sounds like a sort of stagey type name and I prefer Sally, which is the name on my birth certificate. I’ve always been called Petula.

What are your thoughts on the name Petula?

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