The Rise of Risë (ree-sah)

rise stevens, carmen, opera, the met
Risë Stevens as Carmen

This one took me years to figure out.

The curious name Rise debuted in the Social Security Administration data in 1942:

  • 1944: 13 baby girls named Rise
  • 1943: 7 baby girls named Rise
  • 1942: 15 baby girls named Rise [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted

“Rise”? Huh.

Rise was the 4th-most-popular debut name that year, and not far behind (in 7th place) was the somewhat similar Risa:

  • 1944: 12 baby girls named Risa
  • 1943: 5 baby girls named Risa
  • 1942: 12 baby girls named Risa [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted

Later in the ’40s, names like Reesa and Rissa popped up. And in the ’50s, names like Riesa and Reisa appeared. So there was definitely a minor Ris– trend going on in the mid-20th century, with “Rise” being the unlikely top variant.

But because “Rise” is also a vocabulary word, I had no luck pinning down the source. (It’s ridiculously hard to research word-names on the internet. I’m still stumped on Memory and Treasure.) Eventually I gave up.

Years later, as I was grabbing an image for the Finesse post, the answer landed right in front of me in the form of a cigarette ad:

Risë Stevens, Camels cigarettes, advertisement, 1953
Risë Stevens in a Camels ad © LIFE 1953

The full-page advertisement for Camels from a 1953 issue of LIFE magazine featured a “lovely star of the Metropolitan Opera” named Risë Stevens. I knew right away that this glamorous-looking lady — and her umlaut! — was the solution to the “Rise” puzzle.

Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens was born Risë Steenberg in New York City in 1913. Her first name is pronounced “REE-sah” or “REE-suh.” Here’s how she explained it:

“It’s Norwegian; it was my grandmother’s name and my great-grandmother’s name. In school I was called everything but Rise; I was called Rose; I was called Rise {rhyming with “eyes”}; I was called Risé {rhyming with “play”}; even Teresa. In school, it was terrible; I would have arguments with the teachers. I would say, ‘I should know how to pronounce my own name.'”

One source suggested that Risë is related to the Latin word risus, meaning “laughter.”

So what was an opera singer doing in an national advertising campaign? Shouldn’t those be reserved for Hollywood stars? Well, turns out she was a Hollywood star — at least for time. She sang professionally from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, but in the early 1940s she gave acting a shot.

Her first film, released in late 1941, was the musical The Chocolate Soldier. Notice how her umlaut was left off the movie poster:

chocolate soldier, musical, film, 1941, rise stevens

This film accounts for the 1942 debut of both “Rise” and the phonetic respelling Risa.

Risë Stevens ultimately left Hollywood and returned to the opera — and she managed to bring at least a portion of her movie audience with her:

“I probably would never have reached that vast public had I not done films,” she said. “At least, I won a lot of people over to opera.”

This explains why Risë Stevens, often called the greatest Carmen of her generation, was being featured in advertisements and on television talk shows more than a decade later. And why her unique name therefore saw peak usage in the 1950s.

If you want to know more about Risë (and hear her sing!) here’s a Risë Stevens Tribute video created by the National Endowment for the Arts.

P.S. Risë Stevens had a granddaughter named Marisa — a combination of the names of her grandmothers, Maria and Risë. Risë Stevens’ son told her that he went with the -a ending instead of the ending because he was “not going to put her through what you’ve been through.”

Sources:


The Sad Story of Sherianne

On February 22, 1944, Spencer and Easter Hutto of rural Alabama welcomed quadruplets: Dianne, Yvonne, Spencer and Sherianne.

The quads were born about 30 days premature, and though they were said to be in “good condition” at first, none of them lived very long. Dianne, the first-born, was the only one that lived longer than 24 hours.

For the short time they were alive, their story was front-page news. And that was enough for expectant parents to pick up on the baby name Sherianne (and the variant spelling Sheriann) in 1944:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 23 baby girls named Sherianne [debut]; 8 baby girls named Sheriann [debut]
  • 1943: unlisted

The other three names saw decreased usage that year, ironically.

The Huttos, who had already lost a baby named Daphne prior to having the quads, did go on to have three babies that lived to adulthood: Gloria, Felton, and Cornelia.

Sources:

[Etan, Roni Sue and Rainelle are three more baby names linked to sad news stories.]

The Baby Name Caldonia

Caldonia, Louis Jordan, film poster, 1945The baby name Caldonia was on the U.S. charts for most of the first half of the 20th century, but there was a curious uptick in usage in 1945:

  • 1948: 7 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1947: 7 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1946: 10 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1945: 23 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 11 baby girls named Caldonia
  • 1942: 12 baby girls named Caldonia

This uptick corresponds to the release of a song that played a part in rock and roll history in two different ways.

That song was “Caldonia” (1945) by Louis Jordan, one of the most successful African-American bandleaders of his day. It’s an up-tempo blues (or “jump blues”) song about a woman named Caldonia:

Walkin’ with my baby she’s got great big feet
She’s long, lean, and lanky and ain’t had nothing to eat
But she’s my baby and I love her just the same
Crazy ’bout that woman cause Caldonia is her name

The song reached #1 on the Race Records chart (which tracked music by and for an African-American audience) and peaked at #6 on the pop chart.

Here’s video footage of Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five performing “Caldonia” in a short musical film (a “soundie”) made the same year:

The song was covered by many other artists, including Erskine Hawkins. Hawkins’ version is notable because a reviewer in Billboard described it as “rock and roll music”:

rock and roll music, caldonia, review, erskine hawkins
First use of “rock and roll music” in print? (1945)

The phrase “rock and roll” had been around for decades, but this might be the first time it was ever used in print to describe a style of music.

Jordan’s song also made a big impact on rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, who said that “Caldonia” was the first non-gospel song he ever learned. The character of Caldonia even seems to be “the mother of Long Tall Sally, Miss Molly, Miss Ann, Jenny and especially Lucille, the least cooperative and most desired of Little Richard’s musical sweethearts.”

So now let’s get back to the name. Where does Caldonia come from?

It’s hard to know where Jordan discovered it. The name had been featured in African-American music at least once before, in “Caldonia Blues” (1924) by blues singer Sippie Wallace, and it had also been in use (though not very common) in the Southern states since the mid-19th century.

My best guess is that Caldonia is based on Caledonia (kal-eh-DŌN-yah), the Roman word for the region that is now Scotland, because the words are so similar.

Do you have any other theories?

(One of the baby girls born in Scotland in 2015 was named Caledonia, btw.)

Sources:

The Earliest Celebrity Baby Name Debuts

When a major celebrity chooses an uncommon baby name, there’s a good chance that name will become trendy.

Seems like this might be a modern phenomenon, right? Maybe tied to the rise of the Internet?

Nope. In fact, I bet you’ll be surprised at just how far back it goes.

Let’s take a look at celebrity baby names through the decades, focusing on those that inspired debuts on the SSA’s baby name list. (To debut, a rare names needs to be given to at least 5 babies of one gender or the other in a single year.)

1940s

Jerilyn Jessel
Lois Andrews and baby Jerilyn
Which baby name was the very first to debut on the charts thanks to a celebrity baby?

The answer depends on how strict you want to be about spelling.

If exact-spelling debuts are what you want, the first I know of doesn’t appear until the late ’40s.

If variant-spelling debuts are okay, though, there’s a celebrity baby name from the early ’40s that inspired a whopping six of them:

Jerilyn

In October of 1941, actor/comedian George Jessel (43 years old) and showgirl Lois Andrews (17) welcomed a baby girl named Jerilyn.

The name Jerilyn itself had already been on the list for a few years, but usage rose significantly in both 1941 and 1942:

  • 1943: 182 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 558th]
  • 1942: 325 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 397th]
  • 1941: 135 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 608th]
  • 1940: 10 baby girls named Jerilyn

The popularity of similar names like Jerrilyn and Jerelyn also increased, and six other variants appeared on the national list for the very first time in either 1941 or 1942 (asterisks denote debuts):

Name 1940 1941 1942 1943
Jerilynn x 56* 162 58
Jerrilynn x 9* 38 19
Gerilyn x x 15* 5
Jerilynne x x 7* x
Jarilyn x x 6* x
Geralynn x x 5* x

In fact, Jerilynn and Gerilyn were the top baby name debuts of 1941 and 1942, respectively.

I was skeptical about this one for a while, as I’d never heard of George Jessel before. Was he really high-profile enough for his baby to have that sort influence? Turns out he was indeed a popular entertainer from the ’20s until at least the ’50s. He’s the one responsible for the “Garland” part of Judy Garland’s stage name, and some sources even claim he invented the Bloody Mary.

Even more variants of Jerilyn (e.g., Gerilynn) debuted during the ’40s and early ’50s, when young Jerilyn was being mentioned in newspaper articles and appearing on TV and in films with her father. Here’s a fundraising film from 1953, for instance, featuring both George and Jerilyn.

Jerilyn Jessel’s influence on the U.S baby names was impressive, but, technically speaking, she didn’t put “Jerilyn” on the map.

Yasmin

The first exact-spelling celebrity baby name debut was Yasmin, which appeared on the list in 1949.

In December of 1949, actor Rita Hayworth and her husband Prince Aly Khan welcomed a baby girl named Yasmin. The same year, the baby name Yasmin appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time.

(The name Yasmin was late addition to the post. Thank you, Becca!)

1950s

Elizabeth Taylor and daughter Liza on the cover of LIFE in 1957
Liz & Liza in 1957 © LIFE

At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1950s were inspired by celebrity babies:

Romina

In October of 1951, actors Tyrone Power and Linda Christian welcomed their first baby, Romina, who was named after the church in Italy (Santa Francesca Romana) where they had married in 1949. The same year, the baby name Romina appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time.

Taryn

In September of 1953, Power and Christian welcomed their second baby girl, Taryn, whose name was likely inspired by “Tyrone.” The same year, the baby name Taryn debuted on the list.

Seneca

In November of 1956, boxer Floyd Patterson and his wife Sandra welcomed a baby girl named Seneca. The same year, the traditionally male name Seneca debuted on the list as a female name. Patterson said the name was inspired by a street sign.

Monsita

In October of 1958, actor/singer Rosemary Clooney and actor José Ferrer welcomed a baby girl named Monsita — their fifth child. The same year, Monsita debuted. It fell off the list the very next year, though, making it a one-hit wonder.

Honorable mentions from the ’50s include:

  • Liza, which became more popular after Liz Taylor named her daughter Liza in 1957.
  • Tyrone, which became more popular after Tyrone Power named his third child Tyrone in 1959. The increased usage could also have been influenced by the death of the actor himself the same year, though.

1960s

Casey & Timolin Cole in 1963
Casey & Timolin Cole in 1963 © Ebony

At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1960s were inspired by celebrity babies:

Timolin

In September of 1961, singer of Nat King Cole and his wife Maria welcomed identical twin baby girls named Timolin and Casey. The same year, the baby name Timolin debuted on the list.

Xan

In September of 1965, actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands welcomed a baby girl named Alexandra “Xan” Cassavetes. The same year, the baby name Xan debuted on the list.

Maryum

In June of 1968, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed a baby girl named Maryum. The same year, the baby name Maryum debuted on the list.

Chastity

In March of 1969, singers Cher and Sonny Bono, welcomed a baby girl named Chastity. The same year, the baby name Chastity debuted on the list. In May of 2010, Chastity legally changed genders and adopted the name Chaz.

Honorable mentions from the ’60s include:

  • Dodd, which became more popular after Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee named their son Dodd in late 1961.

1970s

Rasheda & Jamillah Ali in 1971
The Alis and babies Rasheda & Jamillah in 1971 © Ebony

At least eight of the baby names that debuted during the 1970s were inspired by celebrity babies:

Rasheda

In August of 1970, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed twin baby girls named Rasheda and Jamillah. The same year, the baby name Rasheda debuted on the list.

(An Ebony article from 1971 misspelled her name “Reeshemah.” The same year, there was a spike in the usage of Reeshemah and a dip in the usage of Rasheda.)

Ayanna

In 1971, comedian/activist Dick Gregory and his wife Lillian welcomed a baby girl named Ayanna. The same year, the baby name Ayanna debuted on the list.

Yohance

In July of 1973, Dick Gregory and Lillian welcomed a baby boy named Yohance. The same year, the baby name Yohance debuted on the list.

(I wrote more about baby names in the Gregory family a few years ago.)

Kidada

In March of 1974, musician/producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton welcomed a baby girl named Kidada. The same year, the baby name Kidada debuted on the list.

Taryll

In August of 1975, singer Tito Jackson (of The Jackson 5) and his wife Dee Dee welcomed a baby boy named Taryll. The same year, the baby name Taryll debuted on the list.

Turkessa

In April of 1975, singer Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) and her husband Pedro welcomed a baby girl named Turkessa. The same year, the baby name Turkessa debuted on the list. Turkessa was just 3 babies away from being the top baby name debut of the year. Here’s how Mary came up with the name:

Pedro brought me a beautiful plant. I asked him was it was called. “Turquesa,” he replied, “Spanish for turquoise.” So we named our daughter Turkessa.

Chudney

In November of 1975, singer Diana Ross (also of The Supremes) and her husband Robert welcomed a baby girl named Chudney. The next year, the baby name Chudney debuted on the list. Here’s how Diana came up with the name:

Friends kept suggesting popular names like Courtney, but so many girl babies were getting that. I suddenly thought of something I liked very much — chutney. Only I didn’t know how to spell it — I put a ‘d’ where the ‘t’ should have been on the birth certificate. And that’s how my little girl became Chudney!

Katiria

In 1978, Puerto Rican dancer/singer Iris Chacón and her husband Junno welcomed a baby girl named Katiria. The same year, the baby name Katiria debuted on the list. Most of these babies were born in New York.

1980s

Condola Rashad in 1987
The Rashads and baby Condola
© Ebony
At least three of the baby names that debuted during the 1980s were inspired by celebrity babies, and at least one was inspired by a celebrity grandbaby:

Rishawn

In September of 1984, singer Gladys Knight didn’t have a baby, but her son James (b. 1962) and his wife Michelene did. They welcomed a boy named Rishawn. The next year, the baby name Rishawn debuted on the list. It was one of the top debut names of 1985, in fact.

Shakari

In November of 1986, football player Willie Gault and his wife Dainnese welcomed a baby girl named Shakari. The next year, the baby name Shakari debuted on the list.

Condola

I wrote about Condola a few months ago, but here’s a recap: In December of 1986, actress Phylicia Rashad and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad welcomed a baby girl named Condola. The next year, the baby name Condola debuted on the list.

Satchel

In December of 1987, filmmaker/actor Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow welcomed a baby boy named Satchel. The next year, the baby name Satchel debuted on the list. He now goes by Ronan, and rumor has it that he is *possibly* the biological son of Frank Sinatra.

1990s

Demi, pre-Scout, on cover of Vanity Fair, August 1991
Demi Moore and baby Scout (kinda)
© Vanity Fair
At least three of the baby names the debuted during the 1990s were inspired by celebrity babies:

Scout

In July of 1991, actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis welcomed a baby girl named Scout. (And in August, that famous image of 7-months-pregnant Demi ran on the cover of Vanity Fair.) The next year, the baby name Scout debuted on the list, for both genders.

Aquinnah

In February of 1995, actor Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy welcomed twin baby girls named Aquinnah and Schuyler. The same year, the baby name Aquinnah debuted on the list. (I wrote more about the name Aquinnah a few years ago.)

Sailor

In July of 1998, model Christie Brinkley and her husband Peter welcomed a baby girl named Sailor. The same year, the baby name Sailor debuted on the list as a girl name. It had debuted as a boy name the year before.

Honorable mentions from the ’90s include:

  • Seven, which became more popular after Erykah Badu named her son Seven in 1997.
  • Zion, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her son Zion in 1997.
  • Selah, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her daughter Selah in 1998.

2000s

Angelina and Maddox Jolie in 2002
Angelina Jolie and baby Maddox
© People
At least five of the baby names that debuted during the 2000s (the decade) were inspired by celebrity babies:

Eja

In August of 2001, singer Shania Twain and her husband Robert welcomed a baby boy named Eja. The same year, the baby name Eja debuted on the list (as a girl name).

Xen

In August of 2001, actors Tisha Campbell-Martin and Duane Martin welcomed a baby boy named Xen. The same year, the baby name Xen debuted on the list.

Diezel

In March of 2003, singer Toni Braxton and musician Keri Lewis welcomed a baby boy named Diezel. The same year, the baby name Diezel debuted on the list.

Moxie

In June of 2005, magician Penn Jillette and his wife Emily welcomed a baby girl named Moxie (middle name CrimeFighter). The next year, the baby name Moxie debuted on the list.

Dannielynn

In September of 2006, model Anna Nicole Smith and her partner Larry Birkhead welcomed a baby girl named Dannielynn. The next year, the baby name Dannielynn debuted on the list.

Honorable mentions from the ’00s include:

  • Massai, which became more popular after Nia Long named her son Massai in 2000.
  • Rocco, which became more popular after Madonna and Guy Ritchie named their son Rocco in 2000.
  • Denim, which became more popular after Toni Braxton named her son Denim in 2001.
  • Maddox, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted son Maddox in 2002.
  • Carys, which became more popular after Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas named their daughter Carys in 2003.
  • Stellan, which became more popular after Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany named their son Stellan in 2003.
  • Apple, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their daughter Apple in 2004.
  • Coco, which became more popular after Courtney Cox and David Arquette named their daughter Coco in 2004.
  • Zahara, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted daughter Zahara in 2005.
  • Moses, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their son Moses in 2006.
  • Kingston, which became more popular after Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale named their son Kingston in 2006.
  • Suri, which became more popular after Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes named their daughter Suri in 2006.
  • Shiloh, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their daughter Shiloh in 2006.
  • Pax, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their adopted son Pax in 2007.
  • Harlow, which became more popular after Nicole Richie and Joel Madden named their daughter Harlow in 2008.
  • Knox & Vivienne, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
  • Honor, which became more popular after Jessica Alba named her daughter Honor in 2008.
  • Nahla, which became more popular after Halle Berry named her daughter Nahla in 2008.
  • Bronx, which became more popular after Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz named their son Bronx in 2008.

*

The 2010s are only half over and already we’ve seen more celebrity baby-inspired debuts than in any other decade — Naleigh, Aleph (for boys), Locklyn, Aaradhya, Sebella, Sparrow (for boys), Viaan, Naiovy, Eisele, and no doubt others I’ve missed. Follow along as we uncover more year by year in the Pop Culture Baby Names 2010s category.

Sources:

  • Manners, Dorothy. “Off the Grapevine.” Toledo Blade 14 Feb. 1977: P-3.
  • Wilson, Mary and Patricia Romanowski. Supreme Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Bambi & Faline – Early Disney Baby Names

Bambi meets Faline
Bambi meets Faline

Plenty of Disney Princesses (Ariel, Mulan, Tiana, Elsa, etc.) have had an impact on the U.S. baby name charts. But two of the earliest Disney characters to affect the charts weren’t princesses. In fact, they weren’t even human. They were white-tailed deer.

The classic animated film Bambi came out in August of 1942. The next year, the baby names Bambi and Faline both debuted as girl names on the SSA’s baby name list.

Bambi:

  • 1946: 11 baby girls named Bambi
  • 1945: 9 baby girls named Bambi
  • 1944: 7 baby girls named Bambi
  • 1943: 8 baby girls named Bambi [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted

Faline:

  • 1946: unlisted
  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 5 baby girls named Faline [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted

The name Faline remains rare to this day, but the name Bambi went on to be given to hundreds of baby girls per year from the mid-’50s to the mid-’60s, then again from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s.

The New York Times states that “Bambi reached peak popularity in 1979 after the release of the song “Who Killed Bambi?” in a movie about the Sex Pistols, an influential punk rock band.” It’s an interesting coincidence, but I doubt the song had any influence on usage.

The Disney movie was based on the 1923 novel Bambi, Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde (Bambi, a Life in the Woods) by Austrian author Felix Salten. In German, Faline’s name is pronounced fah-LEE-neh (as opposed to fah-LEEN in English).

Source: After ‘Frozen,’ a Baby Boomlet of Elsas

P.S. StoryCorps recently ran a story on 80-year-old Donnie Dunagan, one of the voices of Bambi.