The Start of Sommers

The baby name Sommers debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1977.

The name Sommers was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in 1977:

  • 1979: unlisted
  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: 7 baby girls named Sommers [debut]
  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: unlisted

What put Sommers on the map?

The popular TV show The Bionic Woman (1976-1978), which featured a main character named Jaime Sommers (played by Lindsay Wagner).

The character originated on an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man* called “The Bionic Woman.” In that episode, Jaime was severely injured in a skydiving accident. She ended up with bionic legs, a bionic right arm, and a bionic right ear that gave her superhuman speed, strength, and hearing.

In the spin-off series, she put her new abilities to use by going on dangerous missions for the government.

The more common names Jaime and Lindsay (and sound-alikes Jamie, Lindsey, etc.) also saw much higher usage while the show was on the air. The rise of Jaime (as a girl name) was particularly dramatic:

  • 1978: 4,002 baby girls named Jaime [rank: 71st]
  • 1977: 5,906 baby girls named Jaime [rank: 46th]
  • 1976: 7,836 baby girls named Jaime [rank: 29th]
  • 1975: 915 baby girls named Jaime [rank: 263rd]
  • 1974: 260 baby girls named Jaime [rank: 606th]

In fact, I remember quoting a person named after Jaime Sommers in name quote post a few years ago.

So what are your thoughts on the rare name Sommers? Would you use it? (How about the slightly more common Summers?)

Sources: The Bionic Woman – Wikipedia, The Bionic Woman – NBC.com

*See Taneha.

The Debut of Delvecchio

delvecchio, tv show, 1970s, baby name

On the short-lived TV series Delvecchio, Los Angeles police detective Dominick Delvecchio (played by Judd Hirsch) was a cop who aspired to be a lawyer. (He’d graduated from law school, but hadn’t managed to pass the bar exam yet.) This made him more complex than the average TV detective of the era:

“What you have in Delvecchio is basically a schizoid personality. A cop is trained to assume guilt. A lawyer is trained to assume innocence and we have both of those things in the same guy. […] For that reason we have always built situations for Delvecchio where he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. […] So he lies to his bosses, he occasionally bends police procedure. He gets personally involved.”

Though the show was only on the air for a single season (1976-1977), it had a relatively strong impact on baby names.

The name Delvecchio was the top boy-name debut of 1976:

  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: 44 baby boys named Delvecchio
  • 1976: 27 baby boys named Delvecchio [debut]
  • 1975: unlisted

And the surname of Delvecchio’s partner/sidekick, detective Paul Shonski (played by Charles Haid), was a one-hit wonder in the data the next year:

  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: 5 baby boys named Shonski [debut]
  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: unlisted

I haven’t been able to figure out the etymology of Shonski, but the Italian surname Delvecchio is easy: del means “of the” or “from the,” and vecchio means “old” or “mature.” So one original usage would have been to denote the son or servant of an older man. The name was also “taken by various Jewish families long established in Italy (allegedly since the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70) to distinguish themselves from later arrivals who migrated there on being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula after 1492.”

What are your thoughts on Delvecchio and Shonski as first names?

Sources:

  • Vanocur, Sander. “A Non-Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Washington Post 27 Feb. 1977.
  • Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

The Arrival of Amoreena

amoreena, music, baby name, 1971The pretty name Amoreena debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1971 and was used most often during the 1970s:

  • 1974: 10 baby girls named Amoreena
  • 1973: 17 baby girls named Amoreena
  • 1972: 15 baby girls named Amoreena
  • 1971: 14 baby girls named Amoreena
  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The Elton John song “Amoreena.” It was never released as a single, but was featured on the album Tumbleweed Connection, “a loose concept record about the Old West written by two people [composer Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin] who had never even been to America.” The record came out in October of 1970.

According to one source, the song was a nod to Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” (1969). “Both songs paint lyrical images of a lusty country girl in a pastoral setting.”

So how did Bernie Taupin come up with the name?

No one knows. One theory is that it’s based on amor, which means “love” in several Latin-based languages (including Spanish).

But we do know that the wife of Ray Williams (Elton John’s first manager) was pregnant at the time, and that Taupin suggested “Amoreena” as a potential baby name. Amoreena Joanne Williams was born during the first half of 1970, months before the album was released.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Amoreena?

Sources:

P.S. More than a decade later, the Elton John song “Nikita” had a similar influence on the name Nikita.

African Nations as Baby Names

biafra
Flag of Biafra

During the ’60s and ’70s, a slew of Africa-inspired baby names debuted in the U.S. baby name data. These included traditional African names (e.g., Abayomi, Ayanna), names taken from African and African-American public figures (e.g., Lumumba, Levar), and — the focus of today’s post — African place names, particularly country names.

Here are all the African country/region/kingdom names I’ve spotted in the SSA data so far. (I didn’t omit Chad, even though it coincides with the English name Chad.)

Name Debut year Peak usage
Chad 1914 13,400 baby boys in 1972
Tunisia 1943 (due to WWII) 39 baby girls in 1974
Rwanda 1951 5 baby girls in both 1951 & 1973
Kenya 1952 894 baby girls in 1973
Sahara 1964 248 baby girls in both 2006 & 2007
Rhodesia 1966 12 baby girls in 1977
Mali 1967 65 baby girls in 2008
Tanzania 1968 38 baby girls in 1992
Africa 1969 76 baby girls in 1972
Biafra 1969 (due to Biafra being in the news; the Biafran War lasted from 1967 to 1970) 5 baby girls in 1969; one-hit wonder
Ghana 1969 7 baby girls in 1969
Tanganyika 1969 16 baby girls in 1972
Nubia 1969 83 baby girls in 1969
Ashanti 1970 2,945 baby girls in 2002 (due to the singer)
Uganda 1973 12 baby girls in 1973
Algeria 1974 6 baby girls in both 1993 & 1995
Libya 1974 8 baby girls in 2011
Zaire 1974 316 baby boys in 2017
Egypt 1975 266 baby girls in 2017
Nigeria 1975 58 baby girls in 2000
Niger 1976 9 baby girls in both 1976 & 1977
Somalia 1977 43 baby girls in 1993
Zimbabwe 1981 5 baby boys in 1981; one-hit wonder
Sudan 1982 5 baby boys in both 1982 & 1995
Eritrea 1991 (due to Eritrea being in the news; the Eritrean War of Independence ended in 1991) 5 baby girls in 1991; one-hit wonder
Asmara 1993 (due to Asmara being in the news; it became the capital of independent Eritrea in 1993) 13 baby girls in 2013
Morocco 2005 19 baby boys in 2017

Only five of the above did not either debut or see peak usage during the 1960s/1970s.

The Emergence of Marjoe

marjoe gortner, baby names, 1970s
Marjoe Gortner, preaching, 1971

The rare name Marjoe has appeared in the U.S. baby name just twice, both times in the mid-1970s:

  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: 6 baby boys named Marjoe
  • 1974: 6 baby boys named Marjoe [debut]
  • 1973: unlisted

This name is similar to Uldine in that both are associated with something rather unusual: child preachers.

In the case of Marjoe, the influence was child preacher-turned-actor Marjoe Gortner.

He was born Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner to parents to Vernon and Marge of California in 1944. According to an early source, the middle name “Marjoe” was based on the name of his mother Marge. (His younger siblings were named Vernoe and Starloe.) Later sources claim “Marjoe” was a combination of Mary and Joseph.

Marjoe Gortner was a precocious child, and his family was full of preachers, so his parents (putting two and two together) decided to turn Marjoe into a child preacher. By the age of four, he was an ordained minister and could deliver about 40 different sermons from memory. His entire childhood was spent evangelizing.

By the early 1970s, Marjoe Gortner was in his late 20s and only in it for the money. In the autobiographical documentary Marjoe (1972), he gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at “the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching.” It earned critical acclaim and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in early 1973, but wasn’t screened in many theaters.

Following the success of the documentary, Marjoe pursued an acting career. He was most visible in the mid-1970s, appearing mainly on television. He could be seen on episodes of various TV shows (like Nakia, in 1974) and in several made-for-TV movies (like The Gun and the Pulpit, also in 1974).

What are your thoughts on the name Marjoe?

Sources: