The Baby Name Damita

Damita Jo, 1952, singer
© 1952 Jet

The name Damita first appeared in the SSA’s baby name dataset in 1950:

  • 1953: 33 baby girls named Damita
  • 1952: 7 baby girls named Damita
  • 1951: 18 baby girls named Damita
  • 1950: 5 baby girls named Damita [debut]
  • 1949: unlisted

It saw peak usage in the early ’60s:

  • 1963: 74 baby girls named Damita
  • 1962: 102 baby girls named Damita
  • 1961: 117 baby girls named Damita [peak]
  • 1960: 49 baby girls named Damita
  • 1959: 20 baby girls named Damita

(In fact, the name Damita would have entered the top 1,000 in 1961 if the six-way tie between Barrie, Callie, Damita, Freida, Staci, and Tonda — ranked 1,000th through 1,005th — hadn’t included a B-name and a C-name. As it happened, only Barrie made the cut and Damita technically ended up in 1,002nd place.)

So what was the influence?

Singer Damita Jo DeBlanc, born in Texas in 1930 and known simply as “Damita Jo” for most of her decades-long career.

Though she was most successful during the early ’60s — her highest-charting songs were 1960’s “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You” and 1961’s “I’ll Be There” — her first solo singles (like “Believe Me” and “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere”) were released in 1950 and 1951, and she spent the rest of the ’50s performing and recording with the R&B group Steve Gibson & the Red Caps. She also appeared on, and won, an episode of the TV talent show Chance of a Lifetime in 1952.

In 1960, Jet magazine defined Damita Jo DeBlanc’s name as meaning “little lady of white” in “French and Spanish.”

My wild guess is that she was named after French-born movie star Lili Damita, whose Hollywood career began in the late ’20s. The Spanish word damita does indeed mean “little lady,” but Lili Damita’s claim that it was a nickname given to her by King Alfonso XIII of Spain is harder to prove.

damita jo, janet jackson, 2004Speaking of namesakes, several of Damita Jo’s namesakes became famous in their own right. There’s Damita Jo Freeman (b. 1953), the memorable Soul Train dancer. There’s Damita Jo Nicholson (b. 1953), “Miss Miami Beach 1972.” And, most notable of all, there’s singer/actress Janet Damita Jo Jackson (b. 1966) – yes, Michael’s sister. Janet even put out an album called “Damita Jo” in 2004 — the year of her infamous wardrobe malfunction.

Do you like the name Damita?

Sources:

Image: Cover of Jet from July 24, 1952

The 1951 Uptick in Dagmars

© 1951 Life

The name Dagmar (based on the Old Norse words dagr, meaning “day,” and mær, meaning “maid”) peaked in usage in the mid-1910s. But it returned for a secondary peak in 1951:

  • 1953: 16 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1952: 21 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1951: 28 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1950: 18 baby girls named Dagmar
  • 1949: 15 baby girls named Dagmar

What gave it a boost that particular year?

An American actress known simply as Dagmar. She became one of television’s first stars — and its very first sex symbol — in 1951.

She was born Virginia Ruth Egnor in West Virginia in 1921. When she began modeling and acting in the 1940s, she adopted the stage name “Jennie Lewis.”

But that stage name was changed to “Dagmar” when she was hired to appear on NBC’s Broadway Open House (1950–51), which was the first late-night variety show on network television. The bosomy* actress was instructed by the show’s host, Jerry Lester, to “act dumb” on the air. Justin Peters of Slate described the Dagmar segments of Broadway Open House as “gleefully sexist and unfunny, yet somehow redeemed by Dagmar’s odd, icy sense of dignity.”

Dagmar soon became more popular than the host himself. Lester ended up quitting, and Dagmar hosted the show during its final month on the air.

Around the same time, she began appearing on other TV variety shows (like Texaco Star Theater and the Bob Hope Show). She even landed on the the cover of Life magazine.

What are your thoughts on the name Dagmar? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

*Fun fact: The two conical front bumper guards of various ’50s Cadillacs (and other GM cars) — originally modeled after artillery shells — came to be known as “Dagmar bumpers” or simply “Dagmars” in reference to the actress.

Sources:

The Introduction of Ingemar

ingemar johansson, boxer
Ingemar “Ingo” Johansson

Swedish immigration to the United States was heaviest during the last decades of the 19th century, and records show that dozens of U.S. baby boys were given the Swedish name Ingemar during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But because the number of Ingemars born per year was low, and also because the SSA’s data from that period is incomplete, the name Ingemar didn’t surface in the data until decades later:

  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 6 baby boys named Ingemar
  • 1960: 7 baby boys named Ingemar
  • 1959: 8 baby boys named Ingemar [debut]
  • 1958: unlisted

Why?

Because of Swedish boxer Ingemar “Ingo” Johansson, who unexpectedly defeated Floyd Patterson in June of 1959 to become the world heavyweight boxing champion.

The win was followed by TV and film appearances, but Ingo’s boxing success was short-lived. He lost the title back to Patterson in 1960, and wasn’t able to regain it in their third matchup in 1961. (These were the only two losses of Johansson’s professional career.)

The name Ingemar can be traced back to two Germanic elements, the first referring to either the ancient god Ing (a.k.a. Yngvi) or to the Ingaevones (an ancient tribal group), the second meaning “famous.”

Ingemar’s then-fiancée Birgit Lundgren was also in the spotlight around this time. She was a contestant on a June 1959 episode of What’s My Line? (her line: newspaper correspondent) and appeared with Ingemar on the June 1959 cover of Life. Accordingly, the name Birgit saw peak usage in 1960:

  • 1962: 10 baby girls named Birgit
  • 1961: 19 baby girls named Birgit
  • 1960: 25 baby girls named Birgit [peak]
  • 1959: 12 baby girls named Birgit
  • 1958: unlisted [fewer than 5 occurrences]

Coincidentally, the name Brigitte saw peak usage the same year, thanks to French actress Brigitte Bardot, who’d become famous stateside upon the 1957 U.S. release of And God Created Woman. So “Birgit” may have gotten an boost from “Brigitte” as well.

What do you think of the names Ingemar and Birgit? Would you use either one?

Sources: Ingemar Johansson – Wikipedia, Ingemar – Nordic Names Wiki

The Baby Name Destry

destry, movie, 1954, 1955, audie, The 1930 book Destry Rides Again by Max Brand* was set in Texas circa 1900. It followed main character Harrison Destry as he sought revenge against the jurors who wrongfully convicted him of robbery.

The book was adapted to film three times (1932, 1939, and 1954), made into a musical (1959), and turned into a short-lived television series (1964, February to May).

Both the third film and the TV show — neither of which were much like the original novel — had an impact on American baby names. Check out the usage of Destry during the ’50s and ’60s:

  • 1967: 34 baby boys named Destry
  • 1966: 43 baby boys named Destry
  • 1965: 50 baby boys and 7 baby girls named Destry
  • 1964: 149 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Destry [rank: 636th]
  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: 5 baby boys named Destry
  • 1957: 6 baby boys named Destry
  • 1956: 10 baby boys named Destry
  • 1955: 8 baby boys named Destry [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted
  • 1953: unlisted

The third movie, starring Audie Murphy — who was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WWII before becoming an actor — is what put Destry on the map. (The name Audie was also on the rise during the early ’50s. Peak usage was in 1956.)

The TV show gave Destry such a big boost in 1964 that it reached the top 1,000 rather impressively that year. (The name Stormy also saw an uptick in usage, thanks to the Destry episode “Stormy Is a Lady,” which featured a young girl name Stormy.)

Some sources suggest the surname Destry is related to the medieval English word destrier, which referred to a war horse, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.

What do you think of the name Destry?

*Max’s real name: Frederick Schiller Faust.

Source: Destry Rides Again (novel) – Wikipedia

The Arrival of Vallorie

brenda starr, comic strip, baby name, queen vallorie
Brenda Starr meets Queen Vallorie

The name Valerie was rising fast on the baby name charts in the ’40s and ’50s, but the specific spelling Vallorie debuted and spiked in usage right in the middle of that period:

  • 1952: 8 baby girls named Vallorie
  • 1951: 5 baby girls named Vallorie
  • 1950: 49 baby girls named Vallorie [peak]
  • 1949: 6 baby girls named Vallorie [debut]
  • 1948: unlisted
  • 1947: unlisted

Why?

Comics! The Brenda Starr, Reporter comic strip featured a storyline called “Queen Vallorie” during the early months of 1950. Queen Vallorie wasn’t an adult, but a little girl who ran off to America with her dog (Veronica) after the death of her grandfather, the king of Gastovia (a fictional European nation). Vallorie was next in line for the throne.

Generations ago, fewer parents named their newborns right away — that’s how how a comic strip character from 1950 would have influenced the names of babies born 1949.

The main character of the strip, glamorous redhead Brenda Starr, had been modeled after actress Rita Hayworth and named after two things: debutante Brenda Frazier, and the fact that she was the star reporter at her newspaper, The Flash.

Strip creator Dale Messick (1906-2005) ended up naming her own daughter Starr (b. 1942) after the character. And when the character had a baby girl in 1977, the baby was in turn named Starr after Dale’s real-life daughter.

Dale herself was originally a Dalia, but was convinced (by a secretary at the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate) to change her first name to Dale “to get around the blatant sexism of the time.”

Sources: Cartoonist Dale Messick Dies; Creator of ‘Brenda Starr’ Strip, Dale Messick, 98, Creator of ‘Brenda Starr’ Strip, Dies, Another Starr Is Born, Brenda Starr Retires