What popularized the baby name Deanna in the 1930s?

Deanna Durbin in trailer for the movie "Three Smart Girls" (1936)
Deanna Durbin

During the latter half of the 1930s, the baby name Deanna saw an extreme rise in usage:

  • 1939: 1,805 baby girls named Deanna [rank: 133rd]
  • 1938: 2,254 baby girls named Deanna [rank: 115th]
  • 1937: 1,624 baby girls named Deanna [rank: 139th]
  • 1936: 77 baby girls named Deanna [rank: 770th]
  • 1935: 29 baby girls named Deanna
  • 1934: 15 baby girls named Deanna

A number of similar names also saw a spike in usage in 1937:


Deanna was the baby name that saw the highest relative rise in usage from 1936 to 1937, and Deanne was third on that list. (Second and fourth were Noretta and Noreta — check out the Norita post for the explanation.)

Also rising were the Di- variants, like Dianna, along with the simple name Dee.

Finally, the variant Deeann was the top debut name of 1937.

So…what kicked off this sudden trendiness of Deanna?

Singer and actress Deanna Durbin.

She became famous upon the late 1936 release of the musical comedy Three Smart Girls.

In the film, which was a box office success and received several Oscar nominations, she played the youngest of three sisters (named Joan, Kay and Penny).

A full-page advertisement for the film that ran in Life magazine described Durbin as the “greatest soprano since Jenny Lind.”

Deanna was born Edna Mae Durbin in Canada in 1921. She started out as a singer, but began appearing in films as a teenager. Universal Pictures gave her the stage name “Deanna” when she was about 14.

Louis B. Mayer himself directed her “renaming” process. Durbin was all right, but “Edna Mae” was too ordinary. She was sometimes called “Deedee” at home, and everyone thought matching initials would be attractive for an actress’s name. Edna Mae like the name “Diana,” but she pronounced it “Dee-anna” and a sharp-eared publicity man jumped on the difference. “Dee-anna” would be original and have cachet. So Edna Mae Durbin, renamed Deanna Durbin, was set to go into her first feature film.

The popularity of the name Deanna declined in the ’40s and ’50s, but reached new heights in the ’60s and ’70s, landing in the top 100 from 1969 to 1971. These days it’s still given to several hundred babies per year, but no longer ranks inside the top 1,000.

Do you like the name Deanna? Do you like it more or less than Diana?


P.S. The name Kizzy saw a similarly steep rise in usage exactly four decades later…

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