The name Lajeune appeared in the U.S. baby name data for three years straight at the start of the 1960s:
1962: 5 baby girls named Lajeune
1961: 7 baby girls named Lajeune
1960: 17 baby girls named Lajeune
African-American model La Jeune Hundley of Virginia. In May of 1960, she was voted “Miss Festival” at the Cannes Film Festival in France. During the last half of the year, she was featured heavily in African-American magazines and newspapers. For instance, she was on covers of Sepia in September, Ebony in October, and Jet in November.
Notably, she was the second African-American woman to win the title. The year before, Cecilia Cooper of New York City was the winner. At the time, black women were still not welcome in most American beauty pageants. (Clearly they could win equivalent titles overseas, though.)
In 1962, La Jeune was one of the woman pictured in Life magazine alongside a short article about black models becoming more visible in high fashion.
Her name may have been inspired on the French surname Le Jeune, which means “the young” or “the younger.”
Because of the film Phaedra, released in late 1962. It was a flop at the U.S. box office, but had a big impact on U.S. baby names nonetheless.
The title character Phaedra (played by Greek actress Melina Mercouri, who’d played Ilya in the hit Never on Sunday) was the second wife of a wealthy man named Thanos. She initiated a forbidden romance with her husband’s adult son, Alexis, and then both of them had to suffer the consequences.
The movie is one of the many modern versions of the ancient Greek tragedy Hippolytus by Euripides.
In the film, the name Phaedra (based on an ancient Greek word meaning “bright”) is pronounced FEH-dra, with a short E. (Say “Ephedra” without the initial vowel.) Looking at online discussions about the name, though, it’s clear that people use various pronunciations, including FAY-dra and FEE-dra.
What are your thoughts on the name Phaedra? Which pronunciation do you prefer?
The name also saw it’s highest-ever usage that year, as did the variant spelling Corretta. And another spelling, Koretta, appeared for the very first time in the data in 1968.
What was bringing all this attention to the baby name Coretta in 1968?
Coretta Scott King. She was the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., until his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. This event put Coretta and her children (Yolanda, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice*) in the national spotlight.
Not long after the death of her husband, Coretta took Martin’s place as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was instrumental in establishing the national holiday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — which happens to be today.
Coretta Scott King was named in honor of her paternal grandmother, Cora. The name Cora is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name Kore (“maiden”), one of the epithets of the goddess Persephone.
*Usage of the names Yolanda and Dexter increased markedly in 1968. The usage of Martin, which had been declining, saw an uptick that year. (Peak usage was in 1963, the year of MLK’s legendary “I have a dream” speech.) The usage of Bernice was seemingly unaffected by the assassination.
I chose the name Yolanda Denise, but my husband had reservations about it. He questioned whether people would call her Yolanda or would mispronounce the name. He was right. Her name is so frequently mispronounced that it bothered her when she was growing up.
There is a tendency among middle-class African Americans to give their children unusual names. Perhaps they are seeking elegance or some special identification. I fell victim to this custom, rather than following the sensible practice of naming the baby after a member of the family. Later Martin said, “If we ever have another baby girl, I’m going to give her a simple name like Mary Jane.”
When we did have another daughter, we called her Bernice Albertine, after her two grandmothers. Her name was not quite Mary Jane, but at least she was named for members of the family.