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.)
The rare name Marjoe has appeared in the U.S. baby name just twice, both times in the mid-1970s:
1975: 6 baby boys named Marjoe
1974: 6 baby boys named Marjoe [debut]
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?
Gaines, Steven S. Marjoe: The Life of Marjoe Gortner. New York: Harper & Row: 1973.
The Arabic word Ayatollah (ayatu-llah), which is a title for a Shiite religious leader in Iran, literally means “sign of god.”
Americans started hearing this word more often in the late ’70s, when Iran’s Ruhollah Khomeini, typically called “Ayatollah Khomeini” by the U.S. press, led the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (whose wives included Farah and Soraya).
From that point onward, Khomeini became the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The year the revolution ended and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the country, we see the baby name Ayatollah appear in the U.S. baby name data for the first and only time:
1979: 6 baby boys named Ayatollah
What are your thoughts on “Ayatollah” as a baby name?
In 1973, the name “Season” debuted in the U.S. baby name data rather impressively. (It wasn’t the top debut of the year, but it was in the top 10, just above Sacheen.)
1976: 61 baby girls named Season
1975: 66 baby girls named Season
1974: 68 baby girls named Season
1973: 28 baby girls named Season
Word-based baby names like “Season” are notoriously hard to figure out, but I eventually stumbled upon the influence: actress Season Hubley, whose birth name was Susan.
Her first major role was as the title character in the movie Lolly-Madonna XXX, which was released in early 1973. The film depicted two feuding families in rural Tennessee. It was based on the Sue Grafton novel The Lolly-Madonna War (1969).
Usage of the name peaked in 1979 — the year Season played Priscilla Presley in the made-for-TV movie Elvis, for which she is best remembered. She married her Elvis co-star Kurt Russell that year as well.
Season and Kurt had a son in 1980 (before divorcing in 1983) and named him Boston. Their usage of the name gave it a slight boost in ’81, but didn’t kick off the high usage that was to come in the early 2000s.
And now for the question of the day: If you were having a baby girl and had to choose either Susan or Season for the first name, which one would you pick?
P.S. One of Season’s siblings was actor Whip Hubley (birth name: Grant Hubley), who played “Hollywood” in Top Gun. So far, “Whip” has never been in the SSA data.