If you meet someone in the U.S. named Sheena, chances are she was born in the 1980s. That’s when the usage of baby name Sheena spiked impressively thanks to Scottish singer Sheena Easton, whose first big hit was “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” and whose name was no doubt based on Sìne, the Scottish form of Jeanne.
But the name Sheena has been on the onomastic map (here in the U.S.) a lot longer than that. And I think the initial influence was a comic book character.
“Queen of the Jungle” Sheena, who always wore a skimpy, leopard-print outfit, started appearing in the adventure anthology comic book Jumbo Comics in 1938. She’d been created by artist Will Eisner as a female counterpart to Tarzan, and her name was inspired by H. Rider Haggard’s novel She: A History of Adventure.
By the second half of 1940, Sheena was being featured on the cover of Jumbo Comics regularly. And in the spring of 1942, Sheena became the first female character to star in her own comic book in the spin-off series Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. (The first issue of Wonder Woman didn’t appear until later in 1942.)
Around the same time, the baby name Sheena debuted in the SSA’s baby name data:
1945: 14 baby girls named Sheena
1944: 11 baby girls named Sheena
1943: 9 baby girls named Sheena [debut]
The next decade, Sheena got her own TV series. Sheena, Queen of the Jungle first aired from 1955 to 1956 and the title character was played by Nellie Elizabeth “Irish” McCalla. The show gave the name a boost in the mid-1950s:
1958: 121 baby girls named Sheena
1957: 163 baby girls named Sheena
1956: 136 baby girls named Sheena
1955: 34 baby girls named Sheena
1954: 20 baby girls named Sheena
The name got another (lesser) boost in the late ’70s with the release of the Ramones song “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” (1977), but it was nothing like the rise that was to come a few years later thanks to Sheena Easton.
The curious name Taimak debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1986. It appeared twice more, both times in the 1980s, before dropping out the data entirely.
1989: 5 baby boys named Taimak
1987: 6 baby boys named Taimak
1986: 8 baby boys named Taimak [debut]
Where did it come from?
Taimak Guarriello, the martial artist who played lead character Leroy Green in the movie The Last Dragon (1985). Leroy, a martial artist living in Harlem, was known to the other characters as “Bruce Leroy” because of his obsession with Bruce Lee.
It was Taimak’s first professional acting role, and, to date, his only lead role in a feature film. He was credited simply as “Taimak” in the opening credits.
(One of his co-stars in the movie was Prince protégé Vanity, and one of the songs from the soundtrack was the hit “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge.)
What does Taimak’s name mean? Here’s what he told Jet magazine in 2013:
I’m Black and Italian, but the name Taimak comes from the Aztec culture. “Teimoc” means striking eagle.
(I’m guessing it was based on the name Cuauhtémoc, which means “eagle that descends [in order to strike its prey]” in Nahuatl. Cuauhtémoc was the name of a 16th-century Aztec ruler.)
Ready for a mystery from the ’80s? Today’s mystery baby name is Fashionette, which popped up in the SSA data for three consecutive years in the 1980s:
1988: 6 baby girls named Fashionette
1987: 15 baby girls named Fashionette
1986: 7 baby girls named Fashionette [debut]
Why? I don’t know!
Research tells me that “Fashionette” was the name of a hair net introduced in the 1900s, a novelty song [vid] popular in the 1920s, and an air conditioner introduced by General Electric in the 1960s.
It’s also been used as the name of various local businesses (particularly beauty salons, clothing stores, and sewing stores) and at least one online business (a designer handbag store).
But what the heck was it in the 1980s? What turned Fashionette into a baby name?
The SSA’s state-by-state data doesn’t offer any clues, but records suggest that more than a few of those ’80s Fashionettes were born in Texas. (One had the very Texas-sounding first-middle combo “Dallas Fashionette.”)
So, I’m stumped. Do you have any theories about where the name Fashionette came from?
The name Winona has been in the U.S. baby name data since the very beginning, but the specific spelling Wynonna didn’t show up until the mid-1980s:
1986: 6 baby girls named Wynonna
1985: 5 baby girls named Wynonna [debut]
What was the influence?
Country singer Wynonna Judd. She and her mother, Naomi Judd, formed The Judds in the early ’80s and the duo won a Grammy Award in 1985 for the song “Mama He’s Crazy.”
The name saw peak usage in 1993, not long after Wynonna began her solo career.
Wynonna’s birth name was Christina Ciminella. She was inspired to change her name after her mother, previously known as Diana Ciminella, became Naomi Judd in the early ’70s following a divorce. (‘Judd’ was her maiden name, but ‘Naomi’ was brand new.)
She chose the name ‘Wynonna’ because she liked the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” which mentions Winona, Arizona.
(Naomi tried to persuade her younger daughter, Ashley, to change her name as well — to ‘Ramona,’ because of its similarity to ‘Wynonna.’ She wasn’t interested, but she did start to use the surname ‘Judd.’)
The name dropped out of the data in the early 2000s, but has come back recently:
2017: 20 baby girls named Wynonna
2016: 5 baby girls named Wynonna
Why? Because of the supernatural Western TV series Wynonna Earp, which debuted on Syfy in 2016.
What are your thoughts on the baby name Wynonna? Do you like the spelling?
Source: Millard, Bob. The Judds: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
The baby name Miata appeared in the U.S. data for a little more than a decade, 1989 to 1999, and saw peak usage in the early ’90s:
1993: 19 baby girls named Miata
1992: 17 baby girls named Miata
1991: 25 baby girls named Miata [peak]
1990: 25 baby girls named Miata [peak]
1989: 23 baby girls named Miata [debut]
The inspiration, of course, was the Mazda MX-5 Miata — a lightweight, two-seat, open-top roadster that was unveiled in February of 1989 and went on sale in the U.S. the following May.
The sporty car became popular right away, with the help of enthusiastic reviews like this one from Car and Driver (Sept. 1989):
With the new Miata, Mazda has brought back the simple, honest sports car we feared had vanished forever. No longer will we gaze in frustration at 1960s movies and their rakish Triumph TR4s and Lotus Elans and MGBs. Mazda has resurrected those barnstorming sports-car times in one spectacular, up-to-date package.
According to one source, the name of the car came from the Old High German word miata, meaning “a reward” or “due amount of praise.” Interestingly, the name was used only in the North American market.