The name Yuri first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in the early ’60s, and the name Aldrin showed up in the late ’60s. But these aren’t the only two Space Race baby names that popped up on the charts during the ’60s.
In 1965 and 1966, the 10 manned missions of NASA’s Project Gemini were flown. The sixth mission, in March of 1966, included the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit — the Gemini VIII with the Agena Target Vehicle (an unmanned spacecraft built specifically for that purpose).
Right on cue, the baby name Gemini debuted in 1965, and Agena followed in 1966:
U.S. Babies Named Gemini
U.S. Babies Named Agena
15 baby girls [debut]
13 baby girls [debut]
Gemini reappeared in the data later on (e.g., 11 baby girls and 12 baby boys were named Gemini in 2015) but Agena, the top one-hit wonder of 1966, never did.
So how did Project Gemini and the Agena Target Vehicle get their names?
Gemini, which means “twins” in Latin, reflects not only the two-man crews of the Project Gemini missions, but also the fact that Gemini was the second human spaceflight program (after Mercury), and that one of the overall objectives of the project was to achieve a space rendezvous that involves two spacecraft.
Agena was named after the bright star Agena (a.k.a. Beta Centauri; Hadar) in the constellation Centaurus. The name “Agena” is thought to have been coined by Connecticut astronomer Elijah H. Burritt (1794-1838) from the Greek words alpha, “first,” and gena, “knee,” as the star marks the knee of one of the centaur’s front legs.
Which do you like better as a baby name, Gemini or Agena?
A 12-year-old Vietnamese amputee named Nguyen Thi Tron, who was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in November of 1968. The cover showed Tron watching her new wooden leg being made at a government rehabilitation center in Saigon.
She and two friends, Nhien and Hai, had wandered into a “free-fire zone” to collect firewood and wild vegetables when an American helicopter happened to fly by and open fire. Nhien took shelter under an oxcart, but Hai got shot in the abdomen (she later recovered) and Tron in the leg.
I’m not sure what became of Tron. Her own view of the future was bleak (“I have only one leg. I can do nothing.”) but she did aspire to become a seamstress one day.
Regardless, her name lives on via the baby name charts. In fact, “Tron” is likely the first name to debut on the U.S. charts in connection with the Vietnam War.
*It was a one-hit wonder as a female name only. As a male name, Tron has appeared in the SSA data dozens of times.
The baby name Toosdhi debuted on the SSA’s baby name list in 1969:
1972: 7 baby girls named Toosdhi
1969: 5 baby girls named Toosdhi [debut]
Where did it come from?
It’s not a variant of Tuesdee, which happened to debut the same year.
Instead, Toosdhi is one of the dozens of baby names that debuted thanks to minor television characters (e.g. Ibe, Alethea).
In Toosdhi’s case, the character was featured on a single episode of the late ’60s TV show It Takes a Thief.
In “To Catch a Roaring Lion,” which first aired on the very last day of 1968, main character Alexander Mundy (played by Robert Wagner) is sent to the fictional African country of Zambutiko to recover a set of ancient scrolls. In Zambutiko, Mundy meets Toosdhi Mboto (played by Denise Nicholas). After introducing herself, Toosdhi spells out her unique name:
“Well, this is the first time that Monday’s ever going to follow Tuesday.”
“As with your name, it’s spelled differently. T-o-o-s-d-h-i. Toosdhi Mboto. My identification.”
“I don’t think I can read this out here, the sun is so bright. Why don’t we go to some dark spot, with rum in it.”
“I will be your personal guide while you’re here, Mr. Mundy.”
“You can call me Al.”
The name made a second appearance on the national list in the early ’70s, likely because of reruns, but hasn’t been back since.
Sadly, Karac died of a stomach infection in 1977 while Led Zeppelin was on tour in North America.
In 1979, Led Zeppelin released the album In Through the Out Door, which included a tribute to Karac called “All My Love.” At least one high-profile magazine, People, mentioned Karac in its write-up of the album. My guess is that this and other press mentions are what caused the baby name to debut in ’79.
(For the record, several U.S. babies named Karac before 1979. And I found one born in London in 1977 named “Zeppelin Karac.”)
In September of 1987, musician M.C. Hammer welcomed a baby girl named A’Keiba Monique.
But the name Akeiba didn’t debut until 1992, when A’keiba was four years old:
1994: 5 baby girls named Akeiba
1993: 6 baby girls named Akeiba
1992: 49 baby girls named Akeiba [debut]
M.C. Hammer wasn’t famous in 1987. (“U Can’t Touch This” didn’t become a hit until 1990.) So A’Keiba’s birth wouldn’t have affected the baby name charts that early.
But why did it suddenly hit in 1992?
Because A’keiba was in the spotlight several times that year.
Various publications ran a photo of A’keiba and her father attending the American Music Awards together in January, for instance, and Jet put Hammer and A’keiba (and her name, sans apostrophe) on the cover in May.
Delayed celebrity baby name debuts still occur these days, though less often — at least relative to the sheer number of celebrity baby name debuts that we now see on the charts.
The best internet-era example I can think of is Kailand, son of Stevie Wonder and fashion designer Kai Milla (Karen Millard-Morris). He was born in 2001, but his name didn’t debut until 2005 — the year he started showing up to fashion shows (one in February, another in December) with his parents.
Can you think of any other celebrity baby names didn’t debut on time?
Update, 5/1/16: Forgot to add Shangaleza to this list! Baseball player Dock Ellis welcomed a baby girl named Shangaleza in 1969, but her name didn’t debut until 1971. Why? A mention in the August issue of Sports Illustrated (“On the Lam with the Three Rivers Gang“):
Dock Ellis, the hottest-talking, hottest winning pitcher in the National League, explained that his one-year-old daugher’s name, Shangaleza Talwanga, meant “everything black is beautiful” in Swahili.
When a major celebrity chooses an uncommon baby name, there’s a good chance that name will become trendy.
Seems like this might be a modern phenomenon, right? Maybe tied to the rise of the Internet?
Nope. In fact, I bet you’ll be surprised at just how far back it goes.
Let’s take a look at celebrity baby names through the decades, focusing on those that inspired debuts on the SSA’s baby name list. (To debut, a rare names needs to be given to at least 5 babies of one gender or the other in a single year.)
Which baby name was the very first to debut on the charts thanks to a celebrity baby?
The answer depends on how strict you want to be about spelling.
If you exact-spelling debuts are what you want, the first I know of doesn’t appear until the late ’40s.
If variant-spelling debuts are okay, though, there’s a celebrity baby name from the early ’40s that inspired at whopping six of them:
In October of 1941, actor/comedian George Jessel (43 years old) and showgirl Lois Andrews (17) welcomed a baby girl named Jerilyn.
The name Jerilyn itself had already been on the list for a few years, but usage rose significantly in both 1941 and 1942:
1943: 182 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 558th]
1942: 325 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 397th]
1941: 135 baby girls named Jerilyn [rank: 608th]
1940: 10 baby girls named Jerilyn
The popularity of similar names like Jerrilyn and Jerelyn also increased, and six other variants appeared on the national list for the very first time in either 1941 or 1942 (asterisks denote debuts):
I was skeptical about this one for a while, as I’d never heard of George Jessel before. Was he really high-profile enough for his baby to have that sort influence? Turns out he was indeed a popular entertainer from the ’20s until at least the ’50s. He’s the one responsible for the “Garland” part of Judy Garland’s stage name, and some sources even claim he invented the Bloody Mary.
Even more variants of Jerilyn (e.g., Gerilynn) debuted during the ’40s and early ’50s, when young Jerilyn was being mentioned in newspaper articles and appearing on TV and in films with her father. Here’s a fundraising film from 1953, for instance, featuring both George and Jerilyn.
Jerilyn Jessel’s influence on the U.S baby names was impressive, but, technically speaking, she didn’t put “Jerilyn” on the map.
The first exact-spelling celebrity baby name debut was Yasmin, which appeared on the list in 1949.
In December of 1949, actor Rita Hayworth and her husband Prince Aly Khan welcomed a baby girl named Yasmin. The same year, the baby name Yasmin appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time.
(The name Yasmin was late addition to the post. Thank you, Becca!)
At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1950s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In October of 1951, actors Tyrone Power and Linda Christian welcomed a baby girl named Romina. The same year, the baby name Romina appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time.
In September of 1953, Power and Christian welcomed their second baby girl, Taryn, whose name was likely inspired by “Tyrone.” The same year, the baby name Taryn debuted on the list.
In November of 1956, boxer Floyd Patterson and his wife Sandra welcomed a baby girl named Seneca. The same year, the traditionally male name Seneca debuted on the list as a female name. Patterson said the name was inspired by a street sign.
In October of 1958, actor/singer Rosemary Clooney and actor José Ferrer welcomed a baby girl named Monsita — their fifth child. The same year, Monsita debuted. It fell off the list the very next year, though, making it a one-hit wonder.
Honorable mentions from the ’50s include:
Liza, which became more popular after Liz Taylor named her daughter Liza in 1957.
Tyrone, which became more popular after Tyrone Power named his third child Tyrone in 1959. The increased usage could also have been influenced by the death of the actor himself the same year, though.
At least four of the baby names that debuted during the 1960s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In September of 1961, singer of Nat King Cole and his wife Maria welcomed identical twin baby girls named Timolin and Casey. The same year, the baby name Timolin debuted on the list.
In September of 1965, actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands welcomed a baby girl named Alexandra “Xan” Cassavetes. The same year, the baby name Xan debuted on the list.
In June of 1968, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed a baby girl named Maryum. The same year, the baby name Maryum debuted on the list.
In March of 1969, singers Cher and Sonny Bono, welcomed a baby girl named Chastity. The same year, the baby name Chastity debuted on the list. In May of 2010, Chastity legally changed genders and adopted the name Chaz.
At least eight of the baby names that debuted during the 1970s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In August of 1970, boxer Muhammad Ali and his wife Belinda welcomed twin baby girls named Rasheda and Jamillah. The same year, the baby name Rasheda debuted on the list.
(An Ebony article from 1971 misspelled her name “Reeshemah.” The same year, there was a spike in the usage of Reeshemah and a dip in the usage of Rasheda.)
In 1971, comedian/activist Dick Gregory and his wife Lillian welcomed a baby girl named Ayanna. The same year, the baby name Ayanna debuted on the list.
In July of 1973, Dick Gregory and Lillian welcomed a baby boy named Yohance. The same year, the baby name Yohance debuted on the list.
In March of 1974, musician/producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton welcomed a baby girl named Kidada. The same year, the baby name Kidada debuted on the list.
In August of 1975, singer Tito Jackson (of The Jackson 5) and his wife Dee Dee welcomed a baby boy named Taryll. The same year, the baby name Taryll debuted on the list.
In April of 1975, singer Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) and her husband Pedro welcomed a baby girl named Turkessa. The same year, the baby name Turkessa debuted on the list. Turkessa was just 3 babies away from being the top baby name debut of the year. Here’s how Mary came up with the name:
Pedro brought me a beautiful plant. I asked him was it was called. “Turquesa,” he replied, “Spanish for turquoise.” So we named our daughter Turkessa.
In November of 1975, singer Diana Ross (also of The Supremes) and her husband Robert welcomed a baby girl named Chudney. The next year, the baby name Chudney debuted on the list. Here’s how Diana came up with the name:
Friends kept suggesting popular names like Courtney, but so many girl babies were getting that. I suddenly thought of something I liked very much — chutney. Only I didn’t know how to spell it — I put a ‘d’ where the ‘t’ should have been on the birth certificate. And that’s how my little girl became Chudney!
In 1978, Puerto Rican dancer/singer Iris Chacón and her husband Junno welcomed a baby girl named Katiria. The same year, the baby name Katiria debuted on the list. Most of these babies were born in New York.
At least three of the baby names that debuted during the 1980s were inspired by celebrity babies, and at least one was inspired by a celebrity grandbaby:
In September of 1984, singer Gladys Knight didn’t have a baby, but her son James (b. 1962) and his wife Michelene did. They welcomed a boy named Rishawn. The next year, the baby name Rishawn debuted on the list.
In November of 1986, football player Willie Gault and his wife Dainnese welcomed a baby girl named Shakari. The next year, the baby name Shakari debuted on the list.
I wrote about Condola a few months ago, but here’s a recap: In December of 1986, actress Phylicia Rashad and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad welcomed a baby girl named Condola. The next year, the baby name Condola debuted on the list.
In December of 1987, filmmaker/actor Woody Allen and actress Mia Farrow welcomed a baby boy named Satchel. The next year, the baby name Satchel debuted on the list. He now goes by Ronan, and rumor has it that he is *possibly* the biological son of Frank Sinatra.
At least three of the baby names the debuted during the 1990s were inspired by celebrity babies:
In July of 1991, actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis welcomed a baby girl named Scout. (And in August, that famous image of 7-months-pregnant Demi ran on the cover of Vanity Fair.) The next year, the baby name Scout debuted on the list, for both genders.
In February of 1995, actor Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy welcomed twin baby girls named Aquinnah and Schuyler. The same year, the baby name Aquinnah debuted on the list. (I wrote more about the name Aquinnah a few years ago.)
In July of 1998, model Christie Brinkley and her husband Peter welcomed a baby girl named Sailor. The same year, the baby name Sailor debuted on the list as a girl name. It had debuted as a boy name the year before.
Honorable mentions from the ’90s include:
Seven, which became more popular after Erykah Badu named her son Seven in 1997.
Zion, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her son Zion in 1997.
Selah, which became more popular after Lauryn Hill named her daughter Selah in 1998.
At least five of the baby names that debuted during the 2000s (the decade) were inspired by celebrity babies:
In August of 2001, singer Shania Twain and her husband Robert welcomed a baby boy named Eja. The same year, the baby name Eja debuted on the list (as a girl name).
In August of 2001, actors Tisha Campbell-Martin and Duane Martin welcomed a baby boy named Xen. The same year, the baby name Xen debuted on the list.
In March of 2003, singer Toni Braxton and musician Keri Lewis welcomed a baby boy named Diezel. The same year, the baby name Diezel debuted on the list.
In June of 2005, magician Penn Jillette and his wife Emily welcomed a baby girl named Moxie (middle name CrimeFighter). The next year, the baby name Moxie debuted on the list.
In September of 2006, model Anna Nicole Smith and her partner Larry Birkhead welcomed a baby girl named Dannielynn. The next year, the baby name Dannielynn debuted on the list.
Honorable mentions from the ’00s include:
Massai, which became more popular after Nia Long named her son Massai in 2000.
Rocco, which became more popular after Madonna and Guy Ritchie named their son Rocco in 2000.
Denim, which became more popular after Toni Braxton named her son Denim in 2001.
Maddox, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted son Maddox in 2002.
Carys, which became more popular after Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas named their daughter Carys in 2003.
Stellan, which became more popular after Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany named their son Stellan in 2003.
Apple, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their daughter Apple in 2004.
Coco, which became more popular after Courtney Cox and David Arquette named their daughter Coco in 2004.
Zahara, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie named her adopted daughter Zahara in 2005.
Moses, which became more popular after Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their son Moses in 2006.
Kingston, which became more popular after Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale named their son Kingston in 2006.
Suri, which became more popular after Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes named their daughter Suri in 2006.
Shiloh, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their daughter Shiloh in 2006.
Pax, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their adopted son Pax in 2007.
Harlow, which became more popular after Nicole Richie and Joel Madden named their daughter Harlow in 2008.
Knox & Vivienne, which became more popular after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt named their twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
Honor, which became more popular after Jessica Alba named her daughter Honor in 2008.
Nahla, which became more popular after Halle Berry named her daughter Nahla in 2008.
Bronx, which became more popular after Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz named their son Bronx in 2008.
The Russian name Svetlana, which is derived from the Slavic word svet, meaning “light,” debuted on the U.S. baby name list in 1967:
1970: 8 baby girls named Svetlana
1968: 11 baby girls named Svetlana
1967: 10 baby girls named Svetlana [debut]
This was the year that Josef Stalin’s only daughter, Svetlana, defected to the United States.
Her defection from the Soviet Union, which attracted worldwide attention, was the most high-profile since Rudolf Nureyev’s defection in 1961.
Weirdly, her name also led her to a marriage several years later:
The widow of Frank Lloyd Wright, the great architect, invited Svetlana to stay with her. She herself had had a daughter Svetlana, killed in a car crash. She felt a mystical connection to this new and famous Svetlana. Her own Svetlana had been married to Wesley Peters, the architect’s senior apprentice. Mrs. Wright wanted the new Svetlana to meet Peters and like him. She did. They were married in three weeks.
Update, 8/9/16: Though I don’t have data to back it up, TIME says “thousands” of babies in Russia were named after Svetlana:
Svetlana Stalina, the daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was born on February 28, 1926. Though brutal to the Russian public, Stalin was said to fawn over his daughter; she became a celebrity on the order of Shirley Temple in Russia, with thousands of babies named in her honor.
She became the first female jockey to win at a major American Thoroughbred track (Santa Anita Park) on March 1st of that year. She was 27 years old at the time.
Tuesdee was her legal name, but it wasn’t her birth name. She was born a Helen. But she preferred “Tuesdee” — a nickname bestowed by her grandmother — and eventually had it changed.
In April of 1969, Tuesdee Testa took part in the all-female “Lady Godiva Stakes.” I’m not sure how long she continued to race professionally, but fellow female jockey Diane Crump has since noted that Testa and others left the sport because of sexism: “They couldn’t take the pressure from the fans.”
(The name Tuesday was already being given to dozens of babies per year by the late ’60s, thanks to actress Tuesday Weld.)