The Baby Name Keena

keena, brave eagle, 1956

The name Keena has had a dueling dual-gender history.

Keena (and Kina) started surfacing in the girls’ data in the early 1950s, perhaps influenced by the usage of Tina, which was creeping upward at that time. (Tina wouldn’t become massively trendy until the late ’50s and early ’60s.)

Then came the single-season TV series Brave Eagle (1955-1956), which was TV’s first attempt at a western told from a Native American point of view. A main character on the show was Brave Eagle’s adopted son Keena, played by Hopi/Karuk child actor Anthony “Tony” Numkena (stage name Keena Numkena). This character boosted the name Keena into the boys’ data for the first time:

  • 1958: 41 girls and 11 boys named Keena
  • 1957: 34 girls and 5 boys named Keena
  • 1956: 21 girls and 11 boys named Keena
  • 1955: 7 girls named Keena
  • 1954: 6 girls named Keena

A decade and a half later, female Olympic swimmer Keena Rothhammer (born in 1957) won both a gold and a bronze medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. She also twice set a new world record in the women’s 800-meter freestyle (on successive days).

The same year, usage of the name spiked for girls:

  • 1974: 64 baby girls named Keena
  • 1973: 99 baby girls named Keena
  • 1972: 152 baby girls named Keena [peak usage for girls]
  • 1971: 29 baby girls named Keena
  • 1970: 34 baby girls named Keena

Here’s what Keena told Sports Illustrated about her name: “My mother says it’s Hawaiian. She says she heard it on the radio.”

Then, more than a decade after that, male linebacker Keena Turner (born in 1958), who played for the San Francisco 49ers from 1980 to 1990, had some particularly good seasons in the mid-1980s

And in 1985, usage of the name spiked for boys (as well as girls):

  • 1987: 47 girls and 9 boys named Keena
  • 1986: 57 girls and 15 boys named Keena
  • 1985: 105 girls and 46 boys named Keena [peak usage for boys]
  • 1984: 66 girls and 12 boys named Keena
  • 1983: 53 girls named Keena

Now it’s your turn: Do you like the name Keena? Do you prefer it as a boy name or as a girl name? Why?

Source: “Mark of Excellence.” Sports Illustrated. 14 Aug. 1972: 16-21.

The Appearance of Pashen (& Passion)

The baby name Pashen debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1974.

I’ve known for a while that the baby name Passion debuted impressively in 1974. Not as high as Nakia, but higher than Savalas.

  • 1976: 30 baby girls named Passion
  • 1975: 34 baby girls named Passion
  • 1974: 34 baby girls named Passion [debut]
  • 1973: unlisted
  • 1972: unlisted

I occasionally looked for a reason, but never spent too much time on it because word-names are notoriously tricky to research.

Then I happened to discover something about the like-sounding name Pashen — which also debuted in ’74, and which I thought was merely a variant of Passion.

  • 1976: unlisted
  • 1975: 6 baby girls named Pashen
  • 1974: 9 baby girls named Pashen [debut & peak]
  • 1973: unlisted
  • 1972: unlisted

As it turns out, the blaxploitation movie Willie Dynamite, which was released nationally in early 1974, featured a female character named Pashen (played by Joyce Walker). Willie was a New York City pimp, and Pashen was one of his call girls. Here’s how Pashen’s name appears in the end credits:

pashen, spelling, willie dynamite, 1970s, movie

So: “Pashen” was the main form of the name, while “Passion” — despite being correctly spelled — was the variant form. (Other variant forms that also debuted in 1974 were Pashion and the one-hit wonder Pashun.)

Since then, though, “Passion” has emerged as the preferred spelling among expectant parents. Well over 2,000 baby girls have been named Passion since the mid-1970s, whereas only about two dozen baby girls have been named Pashen.

What are your thoughts on these names? Which spelling do you prefer?

Source: Willie Dynamite (1974) – IMDb

P.S. The actor who played Willie Dynamite, Roscoe Orman, was also Gordon on Sesame Street!

The Coming of Karenina

anna karenina, 1978, television, baby name
Nicola Pagett as Anna Karenina

The literary surname Karenina debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1978:

  • 1980: unlisted
  • 1979: unlisted
  • 1978: 7 baby girls named Karenina
  • 1977: unlisted
  • 1976: unlisted

But the Leo Tolstoy tome Anna Karenina was first published as a standalone book way back in 1878…so how did “Karenina” end up in the U.S. baby name data 100 years later?

Television. Specifically, the 10-episode mini-series Anna Karenina that originally aired on British television in 1977, then aired on American television (as part of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre) in early 1978. The mini-series starred British actress Nicola Pagett as Countess Anna Karenina.

How did Tolstoy come up with the surname Karenin(a) in the first place? He based it on the ancient Greek word káranon, meaning “head.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Karenina?


  • Anna Karenina (1978) – Masterpiece Theatre
  • Bartless, Rosamund. “Principal Characters and Guide to Pronunciation.” Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Rosamund Bartless. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

The Takeoff of Turi

turi, baby name, news, pilot
Turi Widerøe © 1970 AP

The simple name Turi has appeared just twice so far (as a girl name) in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1972: unlisted
  • 1971: 10 baby girls named Turi
  • 1970: 9 baby girls named Turi [debut]
  • 1969: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Norwegian pilot Turi Widerøe, who was billed as the first female pilot for a major commercial airline in the western world. (Women were already piloting planes in communist countries like the USSR and Bulgaria.) She had joined Scandinavian Airlines System in May of 1969 and her assignment at that time was co-piloting a 56-passenger Convair 440 Metropolitan on SAS’s Lapland route above the Arctic Circle.

Her achievement was significant enough that SAS sent her on a whirlwind PR tour of North America in February of 1970. She came for three weeks and visited New York City, Toronto, Chicago, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The newspapers described Turi as “a 32-year-old blonde fro Oslo who has the height (just under 6 feet), the cheekbones and the long, shapely legs of a fashion model.” She was the daughter of Viggo Wideroe, co-founder of the regional airline Widerøes Flyveselskap AS, and she’d flown seaplanes for her father’s company for eight years before joining SAS.

She told U.S. interviewers that she wore pants (not a skirt) in the cockpit, that she’d only encountered a single instance of male chauvinism so far, and that she once had to swerve during a landing to avoid a fox on the runway.

During the week she spent in New York, she made several television appearances — mainly on news programs, but also on at least one game show (To Tell the Truth on CBS).

Speaking of TV, in September of 1971 — long after Turi had returned home — a documentary called What Makes Turi Fly? premiered on U.S. television. According to SAS, a total of 200 million people watched the program. This easily accounts for the name’s second appearance in the data.

The name Turi can be traced back to the Old Norse name Þórfríðr, which is made up of elements meaning “thunder” and “beautiful.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Turi?