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

Baby Names from Bleaching Creams?

Ad campaigns don’t just popularize products — they also popularize baby names.

And ads for certain types of products (like perfumes) are much more likely to influence baby names than ads for other types of products. But nothing is off limits, really, if the exposure is wide enough and the product name looks/sounds enough like a human name (e.g., Corelle dishes, Finesse shampoo).

One type of product I never expected to find in my ongoing hunt for pop culture baby names, though, was bleaching creams — used to lighten/whiten/even-out skin tone.

These days, ads for bleaching creams ignite controversy. But decades ago, these ads ran regularly in magazines with African-American audiences, and, as a result, at least two bleaching cream brand names ended up on the baby name charts.

Artra

baby name, product, 1960s
Artra ad in Ebony, 1962

The baby name Artra, inspired by Artra Skin Tone Cream, was a one-hit wonder in the data that appeared in the early 1960s:

  • 1964: unlisted
  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: 5 baby girls named Artra [debut]
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: unlisted

Ambi

ambi, cosmetic, baby name, 1970s
Ambi ad (detail) in Ebony, 1977

The baby name Ambi, inspired by Ambi Skin Cream, stuck around a little longer — three years in the late ’70s and early ’80s:

  • 1982: unlisted
  • 1981: 12 baby girls named Ambi
  • 1980: 6 baby girls named Ambi
  • 1979: unlisted
  • 1978: 5 baby girls named Ambi [debut]
  • 1977: unlisted

…Another bleaching cream that was advertised during the ’60s and ’70s (as well as decades earlier) was Nadinola. The name Nadinola never appeared in the U.S. baby name data, but records reveal that it was given to a handful of U.S baby girls during the 20th century.

What are your thoughts on these names?

The Ephemeral Marpessa

marpessa dawn, actress
© 1959 Ebony

The baby name Marpessa was a mere one-hit wonder in the data, back in 1960:

  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 8 baby girls named Marpessa [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The inspiration was a half-black, half-Filipino actress named Marpessa Dawn. She was American, but spent most of her adult life in Europe.

It was her starring role in the 1959 Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) that brought her to the attention of American audiences. The film was based on the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in mid-1959, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1960, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film in 1960.

But Marpessa wasn’t able to capitalize on this brief period of fame, so she (and her name) soon fell out of the spotlight.

Marpessa’s name, like her most memorable film, has ancient Greek roots. The mythical Marpessa in Homer’s Iliad was an Aetolian princess who had been seized from her mortal lover Idas by the sun god Apollo. The name, accordingly, is based on an ancient Greek verb meaning “to seize.”

Do you like the name Marpessa? Would you use it?

Sources:

  • “America’s Dawn Comes Up in France.” Life 14 Mar. 1960: 57-59.
  • Nelson, Eric. The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Image: Ebony, Nov. 1959 issue

The Rare Name “Gig”

The odd name Gig has been on the SSA’s list a total of three times:

  • 1969: unlisted
  • 1968: 5 baby boys named Gig
  • 1967: unlisted
  • 1966: unlisted
  • 1965: unlisted
  • 1964: 6 baby boys named Gig
  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 6 baby boys named Gig [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted

The source here is actor Gig Young (1913-1978), though these years don’t quite match up with the high points in his career, such as his 1969 Oscar win.

I’m mentioning him today because yesterday, in the Fiona post, we talked about the movie The Gay Sisters (1942). One of Gig’s first notable roles was in this movie, but get this: He was hired to play the part of Gig Young. He got the the gig under his birth name, Byron Barr.

Improbably, there was already an established actor in Hollywood named Byron Barr (1917-1966) when the second Byron was starting out. So at some point during the making of the film, a publicist suggested that he adopt “Gig Young” as his stage name. And he did.

Here’s the actor (and his new name) being spotlighted in an ad for the film:

gig young, 1940s, name

Not long after this, Gig appeared in Old Acquaintance (1943) — the film that gave us the Deirdre spike of ’44.

Sadly, Gig’s life wasn’t easy. It ended in suicide, immediately after he murdered (!) his fifth wife. A 1991 biography — “an interesting look at the disintegration of yet another film actor” — was cleverly titled Final Gig.

What are your thoughts on the name Gig?

Source: In ‘Final Gig,’ Psychoanalysis Of Young Goes On To Bitter End

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