To younger people, “Steve Austin” is the (stone cold) professional wrestler. Back in the ’70s, though, that name belonged to an iconic TV cyborg.
The main character of The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) was former astronaut Col. Steve Austin, who acquired superhuman powers after being bionically rebuilt following a serious accident.
In an episode that aired early 1975, Steve’s goal was to track and capture the infamous “Taneha” — the last surviving member of a particular cougar species — before angry local ranchers could find him and kill him.
The same year, the baby name Taneha debuted in the U.S. baby name data:
1979: 6 baby girls named Taneha
1977: 5 baby girls named Taneha
1976: 7 baby girls named Taneha
1975: 24 baby girls named Taneha [debut]
Though the cougar was male, the name only ever charted for baby girls.
I’m not sure how the writers came up with “Taneha” for the fictional cat, but the Oklahoma town of Oakhurst was originally known as Taneha. It was built on land formerly owned by the Creek, and sources say the name was based on a Creek word meaning “oil is below.”
This was a lucky find. While researching Press Your Luck contestant names for yesterday’s post, I found out that there was a PYL precursor called Second Chance that aired for a few months during 1977 (March to July).
Only a handful of those 95 Second Chance episodes still exist, and there are currently only two on YouTube. But one of those two happens to feature a contestant with the unique name Davenia.
Does anyone remember the NBC game show Card Sharks?
The original version — which involved a pair of contestants guessing survey results (à la Family Feud) and then playing the card game High Low for prize money — ran from 1978 to 1981. During that period, two uniquely named contestants had a small influence on American baby names:
A contestant named Dilanjan was on the show for five episodes in January of 1979. That year, the baby name Dilanjan debuted on the SSA’s baby name list with 13 baby boys. It was never on the list again, though, making it a one-hit wonder.
1979: 13 baby boys named Dilanjan [debut]
The name is apparently Sinhalese (the Sinhalese people make up 75% of the population of Sri Lanka) but so far I can’t figure out the meaning.
A contestant named Risha [pronounced REE-sha] was on the show for six episodes in July of 1979. The baby name Risha had already been on the SSA’s list for several decades by then, but in 1979 usage of the name more than tripled:
1981: 17 baby girls named Risha
1980: 24 baby girls named Risha
1979: 56 baby girls named Risha
1978: 17 baby girls named Risha
1977: 17 baby girls named Risha
I have a feeling that repeat contestants on other long-gone game shows have also affected the charts…but it’s hard to do research on this sort of thing, as there isn’t some master-list of game show contestant names I can refer to (I wish!).
For all the game show junkies out there: What memorable contestant names have you spotted over the years?
Teenage thief Harry Longabaugh served an 18-month jail sentence in Sundance, Wyoming, in the late 1880s. During his imprisonment, he was nicknamed “the Sundance Kid.”
In the 1890s, Harry became associated with Butch Cassidy’s infamous “Wild Bunch” train-robbing gang.
Many years later, the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) came out. Not only did it win four Academy Awards, but it called attention to the names Cassidy and Sundance. Cassidy started appearing in the U.S. baby name data in the late ’60s, Sundance in the early ’70s.
Cassidy has been in the data ever since. It became especially popular as a girl name, peaking at 99th on the girls’ list in 1999.
Sundance, on the other hand, never really picked up steam. It was last in the data in the mid-1990s…though the most recent winner of The Voice is nicknamed Sundance, so the name might be back soon.
Which of these two names do you prefer, Sundance or Cassidy?