Royal Baby Name: Soraya

soraya, 1951, wedding, shah, iranMohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, married three times (and divorced twice). His second wife was the half-Iranian, half-German Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari. They wed in Tehran in 1951.

Soraya’s first name is the Persian form of Thurayya, from the Arabic term al-Thurayya, which refers to the Pleiades star cluster (literally, “the many little ones”).

The Imperial couple paid a long visit to the U.S. in 1954-1955, and (as with Twiggy and Nikita) the press coverage of their trip led to the debut of the name Soraya on the U.S. baby name charts in 1955:

  • 1961: 39 baby girls named Soraya
  • 1960: 24 baby girls named Soraya
  • 1959: 20 baby girls named Soraya
  • 1958: 28 baby girls named Soraya
  • 1957: 6 baby girls named Soraya
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: 6 baby girls named Soraya [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted

Usage jumped in 1958, the year the Shah divorced Soraya (because she wasn’t able to produce an heir). And it stayed relatively high after that, because the U.S. press continued to report on the “sad queen” for years to come — her travels, her rumored romances, her attempt to kick off acting career in the mid-1960s.

What do you think of the name Soraya?

(And who were the Shah’s other two wives? The first was an Egyptian princess named Fawzia, sister-in-law of Farida, and the third was an Iranian commoner named Farah who we’ll talk more about tomorrow…)

Sources: Soraya_Esfandiary-Bakhtiari – Wikipedia, Thurayya – Behind the Name

The Baby Name “Topper”

topper, tv, 1950s
2 Ghosts & Cosmo Topper (R)
The baby name Topper popped up in the U.S. data for the first and only time in 1954:

  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: 5 baby boys named Topper [debut]
  • 1953: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The two-season TV show Topper, which aired on CBS from October of 1953 to mid-1955. Though it isn’t well remembered today, Topper was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Situation Comedy in 1954 (it lost to I Love Lucy) and ranked the 24th in the Nielsen ratings during the 1954-55 season.

But the tale of Topper actually began three decades earlier, in the form of a book. The comic fantasy Topper (1926) was written by Thorne Smith, who the New York Times called “one of America’s most significant humor writers.”

The titular character, Cosmo Topper, is a “law-abiding, mild-mannered bank manager [who] decides to buy a secondhand car, only to find it haunted by the ghosts of its previous owners–the reckless, feckless, frivolous couple who met their untimely demise when the car careened into an oak tree.” The mischievous ghosts, named George and Marion, proceed to take Topper on series of adventures.

Smith followed the first book with a sequel, Topper Takes a Trip (1932).

His two books were eventually turned into three films: Topper (1937), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), and Topper Returns (1941). The first movie starred Cary Grant (as a ghost, not as Topper) and it later became the very first black-and-white motion picture to be digitally colorized (by Hal Roach Studios, in 1985).

There was also short-lived radio sitcom called The Adventures of Topper that aired in 1945, from June to September. In the radio show, Topper’s wife is named Malvena — I’ll bet this is what accounts for Malvena jumping back onto the charts one final time in 1946.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Topper? (Do you like it more or less than Tinker?)

Sources: Thorne Smith Profile – TCM, Topper by Thorne Smith — Goodreads

Faron from the Fifties

Faron Young, 1956, country musicThe baby name Faron debuted (rather impressively) in the U.S. baby name data in 1952:

  • 1957: 107 baby boys named Faron
  • 1956: 146 baby boys named Faron (peak)
  • 1955: 117 baby boys named Faron
  • 1954: 82 baby boys named Faron
  • 1953: 54 baby boys named Faron
  • 1952: 12 baby boys named Faron [debut]
  • 1951: unlisted

It entered the top 1,000 the next year, and stayed there until the late 1960s.

What popularized it? A Louisiana-born honky-tonk singer named Faron Young. His first single came out in 1951, and his earliest hit on the country music charts was “Goin’ Steady,” which peaked at #2 in 1952.

The name itself peaked on the baby name charts in 1956, when Faron started to appear in Hollywood movies. The image above comes from a mid-1956 advertisement in Billboard magazine for both his latest song, “Sweet Dreams,” and his first movie, Hidden Guns.

Where does the name “Faron” come from? It’s a French surname that can be traced back to an ancient Germanic word (fara) meaning “journey, fare.”

A similar name, Farren — along with a slew of variants (Farrin, Ferren, Ferrin, etc.) — saw a spike in usage for baby girls in the mid-1980s thanks to a character named Farren Connor on the soap opera The Young and the Restless.

Do you like Faron, Farren, and similar names? If so, do you think they sound better as male names or as female names?

Source: Faron Young – Wikipedia

Babies Named Renault?

Renault Dauphine, commercial, car, retro
Renault Dauphine
We all know that Renault is a French automaker. But did you know that it’s also an American baby name?

In 1959, the name Renault (ruh-noh) appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 6 baby boys named Renault
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 8 baby boys named Renault [debut]
  • 1958: unlisted

The name Dauphine (doh-feen), which was last on the charts since the 1920s, also saw a slight boost in usage around this time:

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: 6 baby girls named Dauphine
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 8 baby girls named Dauphine
  • 1959: 10 baby girls named Dauphine
  • 1958: unlisted

The cause? The Renault Dauphine, a “frisky, thrifty family car” introduced to U.S. consumers in 1957.

The car was widely praised (at first) and sales rose impressively during the late ’50s, peaking in 1959.

I even found a baby girl born in Texas in 1959 with the name Renault Dauphine Sanders. None of her four sisters — Netha, Andra, Elizabeth, and Tina — were named for cars.

Here’s a TV commercial for the Renault Dauphine. Notice how the American voice-over actor pronounces company name ruh-nawlt.

But the rise of the Renault Dauphine was cut short when problems began to emerge. The Dauphine was quick to rust, for instance, and it took more than 30 seconds to reach 60 mph. Sales started falling in 1960 and never recovered. Renault stopped producing new Dauphines altogether in the late ’60s.

Another name that may have been influenced by Renault? Ondine:

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 5 baby girls named Ondine [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted

The Renault Ondine was a variant of the Renault Dauphine produced from 1960 to 1962. It came to America in 1961, and while it was typically called the “Deluxe” here, the name “Ondine” was mentioned here and there (like in Car Life).

So what do all these names mean? Ondine is the French form of Undine, Dauphine refers to the wife of the Dauphin (the heir apparent to the French throne), and Renault is a variant of the French surname Renaud, which has the same Germanic root as the English name Reynold.

(Ironically, a name very similar to Dauphine, Delphine, saw peak usage in 1958 thanks to a TV character. It’s possible that the character name helped the car name seem even trendier right around that time.)


Babies Named for Covergirl Clintona

Clintona Jackson. Ebony, 1962

Two very similar names, Clintonia and Clintona, debuted in the baby name data in 1957:

Year Clintonia Clintona
7 baby girls
13 baby girls
5 baby girls
6 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]
5 baby girls
9 baby girls
11 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]

Both saw peak usage in 1962 before slipping off the charts entirely a few years later.

Where did they come from? A Detroit debutante named Clintona “Tona” Jackson, who was featured in several African-American magazines (including Jet, Hue, and Ebony) in the late ’50s and early ’60s. These magazines sometimes misspelled her name “Clintonia.”

She was on the cover of both Hue and Jet in 1957, when she was just 15.

The increased usage in 1962 corresponds to coverage of Clintona’s first-place finish at the International Freedom Festival beauty pageant in Detroit-Windsor. Tona, by then a 20-year-old Howard University student, was chosen from a pool of 120 contestants. She was the first black Miss Freedom Festival and, according to reports, many people were openly displeased about it:

Tona told intimates after winning: “I didn’t do it for myself but for my people.” Not a single white mother or father congratulated Tona or her mother, nor did Tona receive many of the lavish gifts usually donated.

Do you like the name Clintona? Do you like it more or less than Clintonia (which is also a type of flower)?

Source/Image: “Detroit Beauty Queen.” Ebony Sept. 1962: 23-28.