The name Falana debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1970:
1973: 8 baby girls named Falana
1972: 5 baby girls named Falana
1971: 6 baby girls named Falana
1970: 7 baby girls named Falana [debut]
What was the influence?
Entertainer Loletha “Lola” Falana, who could dance, sing, and act.
Around the time of the debut, she could be seen on various television shows, including The Hollywood Palace, The F.B.I., Mod Squad, and The Mike Douglas Show. She’d also just made her U.S. film debut in The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970), for which was nominated for a Golden Globe for “New Star Of The Year.”
The name Falana saw its highest usage in 1976. At that time, Lola Falana was regularly appearing on popular TV programs and occasionally starring in her own TV specials, like The Lola Falana Show (1976). She was also seeing success in music: her disco single “There’s A Man Out There Somewhere” peaked at #91 on Billboard’s R&B chart (then called the “Hot Soul Singles” chart) in mid-1975.
My husband and I visited Las Vegas recently, and the casinos were all decked out for Chinese New Year (which falls on February 12th this year). Decorations included lanterns, firecrackers, Chinese coins, red envelopes, oranges*, and dragons — so many dragons that I initially thought we must be coming up on the year of the Dragon.
Turns out I was wrong — it’ll be the year of the Ox — but I didn’t realize this until my husband consulted the internet. Which I’m glad he did, because he ended up spotting this intriguing paragraph:
There are typically marked spikes in the birth rates of countries that use the Chinese zodiac or places with substantial Overseas Chinese populations during the year of the Dragon, because such “Dragon babies” are considered to be lucky and have desirable characteristics that supposedly lead to better life outcomes. The relatively recent phenomenon of planning a child’s birth in the Dragon year has led to hospital overcapacity issues and even an uptick in infant mortality rates toward the end of these years due to strained neonatal resources.
So, if Dragon years are influencing babies, could they also be influencing baby names…?
To test this, we need to know two things: which years are Dragon years, and which baby names are likely to be more popular during Dragon years.
Recent Dragon years have coincided (for the most part) with the following calendar years:
(The start date varies, but always falls between January 21 and February 20, on the day of the new moon.)
As for names, the most obvious choice to me was, of course, the English word Dragon. But that’s because I don’t speak any Asian languages (beyond a few words of Cambodian, thanks to my husband’s family).
So I looked up the Chinese word for “dragon.” The correct transliteration is lóng — the ó has a rising tone — but the word is more likely to be rendered “long” or “lung” in Latin script.
Here’s what I found for Dragon, Long and Lung in the U.S. baby name data…
The baby name Dragon debuted in 1988 (a Dragon year), saw a spike in usage in 2000 (the next Dragon year), and an even larger spike in 2012 (the most recent Dragon year).
In 1988, 8 U.S. baby boys were named Dragon.
5 [63%] were born in California.
In 2000, 22 U.S. baby boys were named Dragon.
6 [27%] were born in California, 5 in Texas.
In 2012, 24 U.S. baby boys were named Dragon.
5 [21%] were born in California.
I think the state data is notable here because California has a significant Asian American population.
Long & Lung
The baby name Long debuted in 1975, likely because of Vietnamese immigration, and saw a general increase in usage during the late ’70s and early ’80s. It saw an initial spike in 1976 (a Dragon year), which was followed by three more distinct spikes in 1988, 2000, and 2012 (the three most recent Dragon years).
In 1976, 47 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
13 [28%] were born in California, 5 in Texas.
In 1988, 133 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
Long ranked 822nd nationally.
53 [40%] were born in California, 20 in Texas, 5 in Oklahoma, 5 in Massachusetts.
In 2000, 101 U.S. baby boys were named Long.
30 [30%] were born in California, 14 in Texas, 8 in Virginia, 7 in Washington, 6 in Massachusetts, 6 in Pennsylvania.
19 [23%] were born in California, 11 in Texas, 5 in Oregon.
The baby name Lung — a homograph of the English word for the internal organ, unfortunately — was a one-hit wonder in the Dragon year 1988.
While looking at the data for Long, I spotted the name Thienlong — a one-hit wonder in the Dragon year 2012. The Vietnamese name Thienlong, or “thiên long,” means something along the lines of “sky dragon” or “heavenly dragon.”
Seeing the crossover into Vietnamese names, I tried looking for other Asian words for “dragon” in the U.S. baby name data.
I didn’t have much luck until I tried one of the Japanese words for “dragon,” ryu (which should have a macron above the u, marking it as long). The word is typically rendered “ryu,” “ryo,” or “ryuu” in Latin script. (It can also have meanings other than “dragon” — just depends upon the kanji.)
Here’s what I found…
Ryu, Ryuu, Ryo
The baby name Ryu debuted in 1985, dropped out of the data, and returned in 1988 (a Dragon year). It saw a small spike in usage in 2000 (the next Dragon year), then a larger spike in 2012 (the most recent Dragon year).
In 1988, 7 baby boys were named Ryu.
In 2000, 35 baby boys were named Ryu.
12 [34%] were born in California.
In 2012, 129 baby boys were named Ryu.
34 [26%] were born in California, 14 in Texas, 9 in New York.
The baby names Ryuu and Ryo both saw peak usage in the Dragon year 2012.
Ryunosuke, Ryuki, Ryujin, etc.
While looking at the data for Ryu, I found several Ryu-based names with usage patterns that seem to correlate to Dragon years:
And here’s an interesting fact: Japan’s most famous short story writer, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, “was named Ryunosuke, “dragon-son,” because he was born in the hour of the dragon, in the month of the dragon, in the year of the dragon.” (His birth-date was March 1, 1892.)
And, finally, one more…
After looking up “dragon” in many different languages, I decided to check the Latin version, Draco — yes, as in Harry Potter character Draco Malfoy — just in case.
The name did see usage increases in the Dragon years 2000 and 2012, but these increases don’t seem impressive next to the steep rise of the last couple of years (which could be due to the 2017 song “Draco” by Future…?).
The next year of the Dragon year will start in early 2024. Do you think dragon-related names will get another boost that year? If so, which ones?
And, do you know of any other dragon-related names that we should be keeping an eye on?
*Why oranges? Because the Cantonese word for mandarin orange, kam, sounds a lot like the Cantonese word for gold. (Another interesting fact: the word kumquat comes from the Cantonese words kam, “gold” or “golden,” and kwat, “orange.”)
In the mid-1970s, the name Tiant started showing up in the U.S. baby name data:
1978: 7 baby boys named Tiant
1977: 6 baby boys named Tiant
1976: 18 baby boys named Tiant
1975: 18 baby boys named Tiant [debut]
The influence? Cuban-born baseball pitcher Luis Tiant (tee-ahnt), who played in the Major Leagues from 1964 until 1982. He also had a magnificent horseshoe moustache, as you can see.
For most of the ’70s he played for the Boston Red Sox. The year 1975 is notable because of his excellent postseason performance, including shutting out the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the World Series, and also winning Game 4.
An eye-catching advertisement for Christian Children’s Fund that ran in newspapers and major magazines (Newsweek, Time, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Vogue, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents’ Magazine, Psychology Today, etc.) in 1977 and 1978.
The top of the ad featured two photos: one of an impoverished child named Tristaca, the other of a Western woman named Debbera. Below Tristaca’s photo was a letter to Debbera (“My school report is very satisfactory”), and below Debbera’s photo was a letter to Tristaca (“I’m looking forward to the holidays now — hope to do a lot of skiing this winter”).
Check out how the ad copy kept repeating their names:
Tristaca and Debbera, though they’ve never even met, share a very special love. Tristaca lived in extreme poverty. Her mother has tried to support her family herself, but she can only get menial jobs that pay almost nothing.
Tristaca was a girl without any hopes, without any dreams. Then Debbera Drake came into her life.
Christian Children’s Fund was well known for their television commercials during that era, so a TV version of this advertisement might have existed as well, though I can’t find any evidence of it so far.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Tristaca?
P.S. The oddly spelled Debbera did not see a corresponding uptick in usage while the ad was out. Deborah-based names had been very trendy in the ’50s, so no doubt they sounded relatively passé by the later ’70s.
Tennille’s trendiness only lasted a few years, but the name was popular enough to reach the top 1,000 for three years straight in the late 1970s:
1981: 87 baby girls named Tennille
1980: 140 baby girls named Tennille
1979: 113 baby girls named Tennille
1978: 141 baby girls named Tennille [rank: 984th]
1977: 425 baby girls named Tennille [rank: 462nd]
1976: 769 baby girls named Tennille [rank: 300th]
1975: 103 baby girls named Tennille (debut)
So, where did the name come from?
The musical duo Captain & Tennille, made up of married couple “Captain” Daryl Dragon and Cathryn Antoinette “Toni” Tennille. Their first hit song was the very ’70s-sounding “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which was released in April of 1975 and peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June.
The band got even bigger in 1976: “Love Will Keep Us Together” won the Grammy for Record of the Year, “Muskrat Love” became their second hit, and they began hosting the weekly Captain and Tennille variety show on television. (It lasted 20 episodes.)
The surname Tennille is probably of French origin. My guess is that it’s a variant of Tenniel, which is thought to derive from the French place name Thénioux.
Do you like Tennille as a baby name? Would you use it? (How would you spell it?)