“Broken Arrow” Baby Names

Broken Arrow movie poster

Elliott Arnold’s 1947 novel Blood Brother was a fictionalized account of the adventures of Old West historical figures Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache chief, and Tom Jeffords, a U.S. Indian agent.

The book was later adapted into a movie and a TV series, and both of these things ended up influencing U.S. baby names.

Sonseeahray & Debralee

The movie Broken Arrow was released in the summer of 1950. It starred Jeff Chandler as Cochise and James Stewart as Tom Jeffords. But the two baby names that debuted in the data thanks to the movie were associated with a different character: Sonseeahray, played by teenage actress Debra Paget.

Broken Arrow wasn’t Debra Paget’s first movie, but it was her first big hit, and it helped her achieve a new level of fame. And in 1951, her birth name Debralee debuted in the data. In fact, it was that year’s top debut name.

  • 1955: 7 baby girls named Debralee
  • 1954: 6 baby girls named Debralee
  • 1953: 11 baby girls named Debralee
  • 1952: 9 baby girls named Debralee
  • 1951: 19 baby girls named Debralee [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted

The public had become aware that Debra Paget was born “Debralee Griffin” in mid-1950, thanks to a newspaper article by AP journalist Hubbard Keavy, who called Debra’s birth name “improbable” (a curious comment, coming from guy named Hubbard Keavy). He quoted Debra’s mother, Margaret Griffin, as saying:

I christened her Debra. Her father’s people were Pagets. I used to call her Debra Lee, thinking that would be a good professional name. But Paget is more unusual and there are no Pagets in the movies.

Debra’s sister, Marcia Eloise Griffin, also acted under a stage name: Teala Loring.

The name of the character Sonseeahray also debuted in 1951:

  • 1952: unlisted
  • 1951: 7 baby girls named Sonseeahray [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted

Sonseeahray, defined in the novel as “morning star,” seems to be legitimate Apache name; it was included and defined in the book Life Among the Apaches (1868) by John C. Cremony.

Two real-life Sonseeahrays are Fox News reporter Sonseeahray Tonsall and German actress Sonsee Neu, born Sonsee Ahray Natascha Floethmann-Neu.

Marsheela & Ansara

The TV series Broken Arrow first aired on ABC from 1956 to 1958. (Reruns aired in 1959 and 1960.) The show starred Michael Ansara as Cochise and John Lupton as Tom Jeffords. While it did not include the character Sonseeahray, an early episode did feature a Sonseeahray-like character named Marsheela.

Marsheela, played by actress Donna Martell, appeared in the episode “Apache Girl” in mid-1957. The same year, the name Marsheela was a one-hit wonder in the baby name data:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 11 baby girls named Marsheela [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

I figured out the source of this one only after posting about Marsheila, which was the most-used spelling of Marsheela that year (no doubt because of the familiarity of the Irish name Sheila, which was a top-100 girl name in the U.S. throughout the ’50s and ’60s).

Another one-hit wonder was the surname of Arab-American actor Michael Ansara. Five baby boys were named Ansara in 1960:

  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 5 baby boys named Ansara [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted

Though Broken Arrow had made Michael Ansara a household name, this debut lines up more cleanly with a later TV Western that Ansara also starred in: Law of the Plainsman, which lasted from 1959 to 1960.

His surname may be based on the Arabic term al-ansar, meaning “the helpers.”

Sources:

The Rise of Deborah

deborah kerr, 1947, magazine
Deborah Kerr, cover of Time, early 1947

Right on the heels of Cheryl, the baby name Deborah skyrocketed in usage during the late ’40s and early ’50s:

  • 1952: 49,808 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
  • 1951: 42,060 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 4th]
  • 1950: 29,067 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 7th]
  • 1949: 19,208 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 15th]
  • 1948: 11,245 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 30th]
  • 1947: 5,838 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 62nd]
  • 1946: 2,470 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 119th]
  • 1945: 1,464 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 161st]
  • 1944: 1,293 baby girls named Deborah [rank: 168th]

It peaked at 2nd place (behind Mary) in 1955.

Deborah, based on the ancient Hebrew word for “bee,” had already been on a slow and steady rise. So what fueled the explosion?

I’d say the one-two punch of actresses Deborah Kerr and Debra Paget.

Scottish-born Deborah Kerr, who had been in films since the early 1940s, didn’t became one of the biggest names in Hollywood until later in the decade. (Her surname rhymes with car; MGM cleverly came up with the line, “Kerr rhymes with star.”)

Kerr ended up in some of the most financially successful movies of the era, such as King Solomon’s Mines (1950), Quo Vadis (1951), From Here to Eternity (1953), and The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner.

Denver-born* Debra Paget, a starlet of the 1950s, also appeared in some big films such as the top-grossing movie of the decade, The Ten Commandments (1956). The same year she appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender (1956).

Though many variants of Deborah were being used around that time, Debra saw particular success, thanks to Paget. In fact, Debra surpassed Deborah in usage for five years in a row:

Year Debra usage Deborah usage
1961 22,153 [rank: 13th] 24,095 [rank: 10th]
1960 26,737 [rank: 8th] 25,265 [rank: 10th]
1959 31,371 [rank: 7th] 19,553 [rank: 9th]
1958 35,520 [rank: 6th] 32,940 [rank: 7th]
1957 42,734 [rank: 4th] 40,062 [rank: 6th]
1956 48,299 [rank: 2nd] 47,830 [rank: 4th]
1955 50,541 [rank: 4th] 52,314 [rank: 2nd]
1954 45,894 [rank: 6th] 54,685 [rank: 3rd]
1953 36,856 [rank: 7th] 52,188 [rank: 3rd]
1952 26,832 [rank: 9th] 49,808 [rank: 4th]
1951 17,074 [rank: 18th] 42,060 [rank: 4th]

(Interesting fact: One of the babies named for Debra Paget was future actress Debra Winger, born in 1955.)

The occupational surname Paget, a diminutive form of the word page (a “youth employed as a personal attendant to a person of rank”), was also appearing in the SSA’s data as a girl around this time. It debuted in 1948, the year Debra Paget appeared in her first film, Cry of the City.

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Sources: Deborah Kerr – Wikipedia, Debra Paget – Wikipedia, Page – Online Etymology Dictionary

*These Rams were installed in Denver three years after Debra was born.

Name Quotes #62: Alice, Donna, Shachar

Ready for another batch of name-related quotes gathered from all over the place?

Let’s start with Liberian midwife Alice Sumo:

…[S]he was both surprised and delighted when quickly babies were named after her.

“I said ‘oh wow’ because with some of them I didn’t even know that they had named the baby after me! When you go to the market everybody is called Alice of Alex or Ellis. The last time I counted it was 862 Alices but now it has increased to 1,000 plus!

“To me the name Alice is an action name. Alice people are active people, they are caring people, they are loving people. A, the first letter in the alphabet. A for action.”

From Jack Burton’s article about songwriters Harry and Albert Von Tilzer in the April 9, 1949, issue of Billboard magazine:

After a season of tanbark and tinsel, Harry caught on with a traveling repertoire company, playing juvenile roles, singing songs of his own composing, and abandoning the family name of Gumm for a more glamorous and professional moniker. He took his mother’s maiden name of Tilzer and added “Von” for a touch of class. This switch in nomenclature proved to be the keystone of a songwriting dynasty which was destined to make history in Tin Pan Alley with the turn of the century.

The family’s surname was originally Gumbinsky. The phrase “tanbark and tinsel” refers to the circus; Harry was part of a traveling circus for a time as a teenager.

From an article about names in Israel by Abigail Klein Leichman:

I figured [Forest Rain’s] parents must have been hippies or Native Americans. In mainstream American culture, it is unusual to name children after elements of nature. How many people do you know named Rainbow, Lightning, Juniper Bush, Boulder, Valley, Oak, Prairie, Wellspring, or Wave?

In Israel, such names are extremely commonplace. If Forest Rain translated her name to Ya’ara Tal, no Israeli would think it exotic in the least. The words mentioned above translate to the everyday Hebrew names Keshet, Barak, Rotem, Sela, Guy, Alon, Bar, Ma’ayan, and Gal.

Another difference is that many modern Israeli names are unisex. You often cannot tell by name alone if someone is male or female. Tal, Gal, Sharon, Noam (pleasant), Shachar (Dawn), Inbar (amber), Inbal (bell), Neta (sapling), Ori (my light), Hadar (splendor), Amit (friend), and myriad other common names are used for either gender.

From an essay in which birder Nicholas Lund contemplates naming his baby after a bird (found via Emily of Nothing Like a Name):

Eventually Liz asked me to think about why I was pushing for this, and whether a birdy name was in the best interests of our kid. Did he need to carry on my own birding legacy? She was right. My son may very well grow up to love birds—I really hope he does—but he also might not. It should be his choice and not mine. If my dad had named me after some of his hobbies, you’d be calling me Carl Yastrzemski Lund or Rapala Lure Lund, and then I’d have to live with that.

From Nelson Mandela’s 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom:

Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be “troublemaker.” I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered.

From an Irish newspaper article about the CSO disregarding fadas in Irish baby names:

The CSO recently unveiled its Baby Names of Ireland visualisation tool recently published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) tool allowing users to check the popularity of names officially registered in Ireland. However, it does not allow for names with the síneadh fada or other diacritical marks that denote pronunciation or meaning.

[…]

“Our language, while having a special status afforded it in the Constitution has been progressively marginalised to the fringes of bureaucracy.

“It behoves the Central Statistics Office above all other institutions to be correct in all matters it reports. This is where historians will first go to research,” [author Rossa Ó Snodaigh] said.

From an essay by Donna Vickroy about the difficulty of being named Donna in 2018:

[L]ately people ask “Vonna”? or “Dana?” or “What?” Maybe the whole language movement has taken a toll.

Still, with its solid D beginning, short O solidified by double Ns and that ubiquitous feminine A at the end, Donna is — and should continue to be — easy to understand, pronounce, spell.

And yet, the struggle is real. Donna appears to be aging out.

From an Atlas Obscura article about a disgruntled former 7-Eleven owner:

The owner, Abu Musa, named his new convenience store “6-Twelve,” a one-up of the 7-Eleven name, which references the chain’s original operating hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Musa’s store operates from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m.

For lots more name quotes, click that link.

Five Name Friday: Boy Name for Curtis & Alistair’s Brother

five-name friday, boy name

It’s another Five-Name Friday! Here’s today’s baby name request:

Looking for a boy’s name that complements brothers Curtis and Alistair.

Can you come up with five solid baby name suggestions for this person?

Here are the rules:

  • Be independent. Choose your five names before looking at anyone else’s five names.
  • Be sincere. Stick to legit recommendations you might offer a real-life friend or acquaintance.
  • Five names total in your comment. Seriously. If you go over, I will delete the extras.

Which five baby names are you going to suggest?

[You can also send me your own 2-sentence baby name request using the contact form. Here are all the previous Five-Name Friday posts.]

Unusual Baby Name: Bluejean

While doing research on old-fashioned double names recently, I spotted the unexpected-but-real name Bluejean on the 1930 U.S. Census:

unusual baby name bluejean
Bluejean Campbell (U.S. Census, 1930)

It belonged to an 8-year-old girl in Colorado, and it made me curious…was this Bluejean the only one? Were there others?

So I did some searching, and I ended up finding about a dozen people, mainly females, named Bluejean or something similar (Blue Jean, Bluejeans, Bluejeana, Bluegene). The most recent was born in the late 1980s.

unusual baby name bluegene
Richard Bluegene Garl (Indiana marriage record, 1952)

What do you think of Bluejean as a baby name? Would you ever consider using it?