What Turned Shalimar into a Baby Name?

shalimar, debra paget, princess of the nileThe name Shalimar first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1954:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 6 baby girls named Shalimar
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: 5 baby girls named Shalimar
  • 1953: unlisted

The inspiration here was not the famous perfume created by Guerlain in the 1920s, but a movie called Princess of the Nile released in mid-1954. It starred Debra Paget as an Egyptian Princess named Shalimar (who sometimes went incognito as a dancing girl known as Taura).

This was a few years after the Debra Paget movie Broken Arrow boosted Sonseeahray into the data, and a few years before Debra started outranking Deborah on the popularity charts.

But the word Shalamar is not Egyptian. It comes from the famous Shalimar Gardens located in Pakistan. The gardens were created in the mid-1600s by Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal around the same time). “Shalamar” was derived from the Persian-Arabic phrase shah al-‘imarat, meaning “king of buildings.”

Source: Princess of the Nile (1954) – TCM, The meaning of ‘Shalimar’

The Coming of Cochise

cochise, apache, oak

The name Cochise started appearing in the U.S. baby name data in the 1950s:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 8 baby boys named Cochise
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: 5 baby boys named Cochise [debut]
  • 1953: unlisted

Ultimately we know of this name through Cochise, the leader of the Chokonen Chiricahua Apaches during the 1860s and early 1870s.

His Apache name was Cheis or Chees. White men called him Chees, Kachise, Cachees, Cochil, and Cochise. There were other forms, spellings, and pronunciations but they all described one man — one of the fiercest guerrilla fighters who ever lived.

His name was derived from the Apache word for “oak,” but it “invok[ed] not the tree or the wood itself so much as the strength and quality of oak.”

So why were babies being named Cochise in the 1950s? Because Cochise had been turned into a character for various movies and television shows during that time:

  • 1961 – TV show Bonanza (1 episode)
  • 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 – TV show Broken Arrow (main character)
  • 1956 – TV show TV Reader’s Digest (1 episode)
  • 1955, 1956 – TV show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (3 episodes)
  • 1954 – movie Taza, Son of Cochise
  • 1953 – movie Conquest of Cochise
  • 1952 – movie The Battle at Apache Pass
  • 1951 – movie The Last Outpost
  • 1950 – movie Broken Arrow
  • 1948 – movie Fort Apache

And the name was used in the title of yet another TV show, Sheriff of Cochise, which aired from 1956 to 1958. (It was set in Cochise County, Arizona.)

Because a fictionalized version of Cochise could be seen in something during every year of the decade, it’s hard to attribute the emergence of Cochise in the ’50s to one specific piece of media.

What are your thoughts on the name Cochise?

Sources:

  • Cochise – Wikipedia
  • Livingston, Stoney. “Cochise (Cheis).” The Settlement of America: An Encyclopedia of Westward Expansion from Jamestown to the Closing of the Frontier, ed. by James A. Crutchfield. New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Roberts, David. Once They Moved Like the Wind: Cochise, Geronimo, And The Apache Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

“Broken Arrow” Baby Names

Broken Arrow movie poster

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.”

Sources:

The Rise of Deborah

deborah kerr, 1947, magazine
Deborah Kerr, cover of Time, early 1947

Right on the heels of Cheryl, the baby name Deborah skyrocketed in usage during the late ’40s and early ’50s:

  • 1952: 49,808 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
  • 1951: 42,060 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
  • 1950: 29,067 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 7th]
  • 1949: 19,208 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 15th]
  • 1948: 11,245 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 30th]
  • 1947: 5,838 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 62nd]
  • 1946: 2,470 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 119th]
  • 1945: 1,464 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 161st]
  • 1944: 1,293 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 168th]

It peaked at 2nd place (behind Mary) in 1955.

Deborah, based on the ancient Hebrew word for “bee,” had already been on a slow and steady rise. So what fueled the explosion?

I’d say the one-two punch of actresses Deborah Kerr and Debra Paget.

Scottish-born Deborah Kerr, who had been in films since the early 1940s, didn’t became one of the biggest names in Hollywood until later in the decade. (Her surname rhymes with car; MGM cleverly came up with the line, “Kerr rhymes with star.”)

Kerr ended up in some of the most financially successful movies of the era, such as King Solomon’s Mines (1950), Quo Vadis (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), and The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner.

Denver-born* Debra Paget, a starlet of the 1950s, also appeared in some big films such as the top-grossing movie of the decade, The Ten Commandments (1956). The same year she appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender (1956).

Though many variants of Deborah were being used around that time, Debra saw particular success, thanks to Paget. In fact, Debra surpassed Deborah in usage for five years in a row:

Year Debra usage Deborah usage
1961 22,153 [rank: 13th] 24,095 [rank: 10th]
1960 26,737 [rank: 8th] 25,265 [rank: 10th]
1959 31,371 [rank: 7th] 19,553 [rank: 9th]
1958 35,520 [rank: 6th] 32,940 [rank: 7th]
1957 42,734 [rank: 4th] 40,062 [rank: 6th]
1956 48,299 [rank: 2nd] 47,830 [rank: 4th]
1955 50,541 [rank: 4th] 52,314 [rank: 2nd]
1954 45,894 [rank: 6th] 54,685 [rank: 3rd]
1953 36,856 [rank: 7th] 52,188 [rank: 3rd]
1952 26,832 [rank: 9th] 49,808 [rank: 4th]
1951 17,074 [rank: 18th] 42,060 [rank: 4th]

(Interesting fact: One of the babies named for Debra Paget was future actress Debra Winger, born in 1955.)

The occupational surname Paget, a diminutive form of the word page (a “youth employed as a personal attendant to a person of rank”), was also appearing in the SSA’s data as a girl around this time. It debuted in 1948, the year Debra Paget appeared in her first film, Cry of the City.

Which spelling do you prefer, the traditional Deborah or the streamlined Debra?

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Sources: Deborah Kerr – Wikipedia, Debra Paget – Wikipedia, Page – Online Etymology Dictionary

*These Rams were installed in Denver three years after Debra was born.

The Baby Name Kismet

baby name, comic strip, kismet, 1950s
Kismet Kildare (Rip Kirby, Dec. 1954)

The Turkish baby name Kismet (meaning “fate”) debuted in the U.S. data in the mid-1950s:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 8 baby girls named Kismet
  • 1956: 9 baby girls named Kismet
  • 1955: 11 baby girls named Kismet [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted

Was it due to immigration?

Nope! Pop culture.

My initial theory was the movie Kismet, a musical that came out in late 1955. It was based on the stage musical of the same name that ran on Broadway from December of 1953 to April of 1955. While the stage production won three Tony Awards (including Best Musical) in 1954, the film’s reviews were “mixed to dismal” and it didn’t make a big splash at the box office.

kismet, movie, 1955

Then, while doing some research on mid-century comics, I randomly happened upon a much more logical answer: Kismet Kildare, a female character from the Rip Kirby comic strip. She was featured in the storyline “The Eyes of Kismet Kildare,” which ran from December of 1954 to April of 1955.

Kismet was a beautiful, Paris-trained artist who got into a romantic relationship with Rip, but whose ultimate aim was to dump him in revenge for the part he played in sending her father to prison years before. By the end of the storyline, Rip had re-investigated the case and discovered that Kismet’s father had been framed.

The name Kismet has never been common in the U.S., but Destiny, which has the same meaning, nearly reached the top 20 in the early 2000s. Which name do you like more, Kismet or Destiny?

Source: Rib Kirby – Grand Comics Database, Kismet (1955) – TCM