Elliott Arnold’s 1947 novel Blood Brother was a fictionalized account of the adventures of Old West historical figures Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache chief, and Tom Jeffords, a U.S. Indian agent.
The book was later adapted into a movie and a TV series, and both of these things ended up influencing U.S. baby names.
Sonseeahray & Debralee
The movie Broken Arrow was released in the summer of 1950. It starred Jeff Chandler as Cochise and James Stewart as Tom Jeffords. But the two baby names that debuted in the data thanks to the movie were associated with a different character: Sonseeahray, played by teenage actress Debra Paget.
Broken Arrow wasn’t Debra Paget’s first movie, but it was her first big hit, and it helped her achieve a new level of fame. And in 1951, her birth name Debralee debuted in the data. In fact, it was that year’s top debut name.
- 1955: 7 baby girls named Debralee
- 1954: 6 baby girls named Debralee
- 1953: 11 baby girls named Debralee
- 1952: 9 baby girls named Debralee
- 1951: 19 baby girls named Debralee [debut]
- 1950: unlisted
The public had become aware that Debra Paget was born “Debralee Griffin” in mid-1950, thanks to a newspaper article by AP journalist Hubbard Keavy, who called Debra’s birth name “improbable” (a curious comment, coming from guy named Hubbard Keavy). He quoted Debra’s mother, Margaret Griffin, as saying:
I christened her Debra. Her father’s people were Pagets. I used to call her Debra Lee, thinking that would be a good professional name. But Paget is more unusual and there are no Pagets in the movies.
Debra’s sister, Marcia Eloise Griffin, also acted under a stage name: Teala Loring.
The name of the character Sonseeahray also debuted in 1951:
- 1952: unlisted
- 1951: 7 baby girls named Sonseeahray [debut]
- 1950: unlisted
Sonseeahray, defined in the novel as “morning star,” seems to be legitimate Apache name; it was included and defined in the book Life Among the Apaches (1868) by John C. Cremony.
Two real-life Sonseeahrays are Fox News reporter Sonseeahray Tonsall and German actress Sonsee Neu, born Sonsee Ahray Natascha Floethmann-Neu.
Marsheela & Ansara
The TV series Broken Arrow first aired on ABC from 1956 to 1958. (Reruns aired in 1959 and 1960.) The show starred Michael Ansara as Cochise and John Lupton as Tom Jeffords. While it did not include the character Sonseeahray, an early episode did feature a Sonseeahray-like character named Marsheela.
Marsheela, played by actress Donna Martell, appeared in the episode “Apache Girl” in mid-1957. The same year, the name Marsheela was a one-hit wonder in the baby name data:
- 1958: unlisted
- 1957: 11 baby girls named Marsheela [debut]
- 1956: unlisted
I figured out the source of this one only after posting about Marsheila, which was the most-used spelling of Marsheela that year (no doubt because of the familiarity of the Irish name Sheila, which was a top-100 girl name in the U.S. throughout the ’50s and ’60s).
Another one-hit wonder was the surname of Arab-American actor Michael Ansara. Five baby boys were named Ansara in 1960:
- 1961: unlisted
- 1960: 5 baby boys named Ansara [debut]
- 1959: unlisted
Though Broken Arrow had made Michael Ansara a household name, this debut lines up more cleanly with a later TV Western that Ansara also starred in: Law of the Plainsman, which lasted from 1959 to 1960.
His surname may be based on the Arabic term al-ansar, meaning “the helpers.”