The name Towana first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1940:
1940: 5 baby girls named Towana [debut]
Where did it come from?
The film Wolf Call (1939), which featured a female character named Towana (played by actress Movita).
The protagonist of the movie was spoiled New York City playboy Michael Vance. His father sent him to the remote Canadian Northwest to evaluate a family-owned radium mine (and also to change his ways). While there, he fell in love with native girl Towana, whose name he didn’t quite get when they first met:
Towana: “I am Towana”
Michael: “Towana? What’s that?”
Towana: “It’s a name.”
A mystery/suspense novel called The Sign of the Ram by Margaret Ferguson. It was published in 1944 became a best-seller.
It was set in pre-World War II Cornwall and the central character was Leah St. Aubyn, a wheelchair-bound poet who was the (young) matriarch of the well-off St. Aubyn family. Leah became increasingly vengeful and manipulative over the course of the story, and one of her targets was her secretary Sherida Binyon, who Leah thought was having an affair with her husband Mallory.
In 1948, the novel was made into a movie — mainly as a vehicle for actress Susan Peters, who had been a rising star in Hollywood before becoming a paraplegic due to a hunting accident. Actress Phyllis Thaxter played the part of Sherida. The movie didn’t do well in theaters, but it pushed the usage of Sherida up to peak levels.
Also interesting: This usage of Sherida seemed to negatively affect the (female) usage of Sheridan, which slipped in both 1945 and 1948. Americans were probably using Sheridan as a girl name in the ’40s thanks to actress Ann Sheridan.
Do you like the name Sherida? Do you like it more or less than Sheridan?
The name Fiona — coined during the 18th century by Scottish poet James Macpherson, who based it on the Irish word fionn (“white, fair”) — is relatively common in the U.S. these days. Rank-wise, it’s been hovering around 200th place for the last few years.
But — like Siobhan, Maeve, Bronwen, and many other Celtic names — it didn’t arrive with the immigrants. Instead, it was introduced to America later on, via pop culture.
Fiona first popped up in the data in 1942, and it stuck around for several years:
1944: 7 baby girls named Fiona
1943: 19 baby girls named Fiona
1942: 9 baby girls named Fiona [debut]
What boosted it onto the charts that initial time?
The movie The Gay Sisters, which came out in August of 1942. The main characters were the three Gaylord sisters/heiresses: Fiona, Evelyn, and Susanna. Fiona, the eldest sister, was played by popular actress Barbara Stanwyck (birth name Ruby Catherine Stevens). The film didn’t do well at the box office, but it clearly had an impact on expectant parents.
The movie was based on the book of the same name by Stephen Longstreet. Longstreet was also the writer behind Stallion Road, which was similarly made into a movie and introduced audiences to a woman named Rory (traditionally a male name) later in the ’40s.
The unusual Irish name Oona first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in the 1940s:
1944: 5 baby girls named Oona
1943: 7 baby girls named Oona
1942: 5 baby girls named Oona [debut]
It was thanks to Oona O’Neill, daughter of Eugene and Agnes O’Neill, both writers. Oona was born in Bermuda in 1925, five years after her father won his first Pulitzer Prize.
In the early 1940s, Oona was a teenage socialite with famous friends. And in April of 1942, when the 16-year-old debutante was selected as the top “glamour girl” of New York society at the Stork Club, she became famous.
Oona got offers from film studios, and if she had gone in that direction, her name might have become more popular during the 1940s. Instead, she became the wife of Charlie Chaplin in June of 1943, when she was 18 and he was 54. Not long after that, her name dropped back off the charts.
(Oona and Charlie went on to have eight children, named: Geraldine, Michael, Josephine, Victoria, Eugene, Jane, Annette, and Christopher. Geraldine’s daughter Oona Chaplin played the part of Talisa Maegyr on Game of Thrones a few years ago.)
These days, the name Oona (which is actually a spelling variant of Úna) is relatively close to the U.S. top 1,000:
2017: 93 baby girls named Oona [rank: 2,085th]
2016: 111 baby girls named Oona [rank: 1,856th]
2015: 131 baby girls named Oona [rank: 1,634th]
2014: 63 baby girls named Oona [rank: 2,761st]
2013: 38 baby girls named Oona [rank: 3,977th]
Do you think it will ever get there?
What are your thoughts on the baby name Oona?
P.S. “Oona” was back in the baby name data in 1954, the year a character named Oona could be seen on the big screen in the movie Taza, Son of Cochise.
The name Valerie was rising fast on the baby name charts in the ’40s and ’50s, but the specific spelling Vallorie debuted and spiked in usage right in the middle of that period:
1952: 8 baby girls named Vallorie
1951: 5 baby girls named Vallorie
1950: 49 baby girls named Vallorie [peak]
1949: 6 baby girls named Vallorie [debut]
Comics! The Brenda Starr, Reporter comic strip featured a storyline called “Queen Vallorie” during the early months of 1950. Queen Vallorie wasn’t an adult, but a little girl who ran off to America with her dog (Veronica) after the death of her grandfather, the king of Gastovia (a fictional European nation). Vallorie was next in line for the throne.
Generations ago, fewer parents named their newborns right away — that’s how how a comic strip character from 1950 would have influenced the names of babies born 1949.
The main character of the strip, glamorous redhead Brenda Starr, had been modeled after actress Rita Hayworth and named after two things: debutante Brenda Frazier, and the fact that she was the star reporter at her newspaper, The Flash.
Strip creator Dale Messick (1906-2005) ended up naming her own daughter Starr (b. 1942) after the character. And when the character had a baby girl in 1977, the baby was in turn named Starr after Dale’s real-life daughter.
Dale herself was originally a Dalia, but was convinced (by a secretary at the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate) to change her first name to Dale “to get around the blatant sexism of the time.”