The rare name Turhan first appeared in the national dataset in 1944:
1947: 7 baby boys named Turhan
1946: 13 baby boys named Turhan
1945: 6 baby boys named Turhan
1944: 8 baby boys named Turhan [debut]
Hollywood actor Turhan Bey, who was a half-Turkish, half-Czech, Austrian-born actor who typically played exotic characters in Hollywood films during the 1940s and early 1950s. Fan magazines called him the “Turkish Delight.”
He was at the peak of his fame in the mid-1940s, so it’s hard to link this to one particular movie. That said, his name may have been boosted onto the charts in 1944 specifically thanks to the movie Dragon Seed, in which he played Lao Er (the husband of Jade, played by Katharine Hepburn).
He was born Turhan Gilbert Selahattin Sahultavy. The name Turhan, primarily (but not always) used for males, is “an old Turkish name meaning chief or nobleman.” And the Turkish word bey has a similar meaning: “ruler” or “chief.”
What are your thoughts on the baby name Turhan?
Fortna, Benjamin C. “The Ottoman Educational Legacy.” Turkey’s Engagement with Modernity: Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, ed. by C. Kerslake, K. Öktem, P. Robins, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. 15-26.
Room, Adrian. Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins. 5th ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010.
Here’s one I didn’t expect: the baby name Jade, very trendy during the last quarter of the 20th century, was put on the onomastic map in the U.S. thanks to one of the strangest roles of Katharine Hepburn’s career.
1947: 18 baby girls named Jade
1946: 32 baby girls named Jade
1945: 37 baby girls named Jade
1944: 6 baby girls named Jade [debut]
The war drama Dragon Seed, released in the summer of 1944, told the tale of Chinese peasants fighting off Japanese invaders during 1937, at the start of the during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was based on the 1942 novel of the same name by Pearl S. Buck.
Hepburn played Jade, a Chinese woman who led the resistance in her village. (These days it would seem pretty out-of-touch — or possibly racist — to cast a non-Asian actor in a role like this one. Back then, though, it was the convention.)
After getting this boost in the mid-1940s, the name Jade stuck around in the data. In fact, it ended up reaching the top 100 for a couple of years in the early 2000s.
The name Raven has been given to babies of both genders for decades, but I find its female usage particularly interesting because girl-name Raven has gotten three distinct boosts from popular culture so far.
The first boost happened in 1941, when Raven debuted as a girl name in the data. (It had already popped up a few times as a boy name.)
6 babies [debut]
In October of that year, in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff, a female character named Raven Sherman died in a dramatic and memorable sequence.
Raven, “a WASP clearly modeled on Katharine Hepburn” according to one source, was an American heiress who was working at a camp for war refugees in China. She was pushed off a moving truck, died of her injuries, and was buried on an isolated Chinese hillside. “Caniff was flooded with flower deliveries, mock memorial services, petitions of condolence signed by disparate groups as factory workers and entire colleges, as well as a lot of irate letters.”
The second pop culture boost happened in the 1970s:
In 1976, the soap opera The Edge of Night introduced a female character named Raven Swift (first played by Juanin Clay, then played by Sharon Gabet). She was described as “the show’s delightful young vixen-heroine” in The Soap Opera Encyclopedia. The character remained on the show until it was canceled in 1984.
And the most recent (and biggest) pop culture boost happened in the early 1990s:
It went on to peak at 139th in 1993.
The reason? Actress Raven-Symoné, who first found fame as a four year old when she started playing Olivia (Denise’s step-daughter) on the The Cosby Show in 1989. The compound name Ravensymone debuted in the data in 1990, and the spelling variant Ravensimone followed in 1991. (Her Disney Channel show That’s So Raven didn’t come along until much later.)
What are your thoughts on the name Raven? Would you use it?
Hamill, Pete. “Milton Caniff.” Masters of American Comics, edited by John Carlin, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005, pp. 229-237.
Ever wonder why the baby name Carole — already on the rise in the ’30s and ’40s — saw such a big jump in usage in 1942 specifically?
1944: 6270 baby girls named Carole
1943: 6506 baby girls named Carole
1942: 8409 baby girls named Carole*
1941: 4964 baby girls named Carole
1940: 4788 baby girls named Carole
At that time, there were two famous movie actresses named Carole: Carole Lombard and Carole Landis.
Lombard was the funny one — the “world’s champion attractive screwball,” according to Life magazine — while Landis was more of a traditional Hollywood starlet.
The main cause of that 1942 spike was no doubt the sudden death of Carole Lombard, who was the highest paid actress of her time. She had finished a successful War Bonds promotion tour in the Midwest in mid-January and was flying back to California when her plane crashed into the side of the Mount Potosi in Nevada (near Vegas). All 22 people on board were killed.
Was it just an accident? Or, given that the U.S. had been attacked at Pearl Harbor just a month earlier, was it something even darker? Had Lombard, the war-effort activist, been sabotaged by German spies?
But we can’t discount the influence of Landis entirely. It just so happens that, the same year, we see the surname Landis bubble up for the first time in the girls’ data:
5 baby girls
28 baby boys
13 baby boys
6 baby girls
22 baby boys
5 baby girls [debut]
13 baby boys
20 baby boys
Sadly, Carole Landis died later the same decade of an apparent suicide.
So…how did each actress get her stage name?
Lombard, born Carol Jane Peters in 1908, chose “Carole” at the suggestion of a numerologist and “Lombard” because it was the surname of a friend.
Landis, born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste in 1919, “clearly borrowed from Carole Lombard, the first Hollywood star to spell her name that way.” She said she found Landis in the San Francisco telephone directory.
What are your thoughts on the name Carole? Would you use it?
*One of those 1942 Caroles was Carole Jones, later known as actress Carol Lynley. And a 1943 Carole was Carole Penny Marshall, later known as actress/director Penny Marshall.
Busch, Noel F. “A Loud Cheer for the Screwball Girl.” Life 17 Oct. 1938: 48-50, 62-64.
Gans, Eric Lawrence. Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2008.
If you meet someone in the U.S. named Sheena, chances are she was born in the 1980s. That’s when the usage of baby name Sheena spiked impressively thanks to Scottish singer Sheena Easton, whose first big hit was “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” and whose name was no doubt based on Sìne, the Scottish form of Jeanne.
But the name Sheena has been on the onomastic map (here in the U.S.) a lot longer than that. And I think the initial influence was a comic book character.
“Queen of the Jungle” Sheena, who always wore a skimpy, leopard-print outfit, started appearing in the adventure anthology comic book Jumbo Comics in 1938. She’d been created by artist Will Eisner as a female counterpart to Tarzan, and her name was inspired by H. Rider Haggard’s novel She: A History of Adventure.
By the second half of 1940, Sheena was being featured on the cover of Jumbo Comics regularly. And in the spring of 1942, Sheena became the first female character to star in her own comic book in the spin-off series Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. (The first issue of Wonder Woman didn’t appear until later in 1942.)
Around the same time, the baby name Sheena debuted in the SSA’s baby name data:
1945: 14 baby girls named Sheena
1944: 11 baby girls named Sheena
1943: 9 baby girls named Sheena [debut]
The next decade, Sheena got her own TV series. Sheena, Queen of the Jungle first aired from 1955 to 1956 and the title character was played by Nellie Elizabeth “Irish” McCalla. The show gave the name a boost in the mid-1950s:
1958: 121 baby girls named Sheena
1957: 163 baby girls named Sheena
1956: 136 baby girls named Sheena
1955: 34 baby girls named Sheena
1954: 20 baby girls named Sheena
The name got another (lesser) boost in the late ’70s with the release of the Ramones song “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” (1977), but it was nothing like the rise that was to come a few years later thanks to Sheena Easton.