Where did the baby name Acquanetta come from?

Burnu Acquanetta

Back in the 1940s and early 1950s, an actress called Burnu Acquanetta — sometimes billed simply as “Acquanetta” — starred in a string of campy B-movies. She played an ape-woman in Captive Wild Woman (1943) and Jungle Woman (1944), a leopard-woman in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), and a native girl in Lost Continent (1951).

As a result, the rare name Acquanetta began popping up in the U.S. baby name data in the mid-1940s:

  • 1948: 12 baby girls named Acquanetta
  • 1947: 5 baby girls named Acquanetta
  • 1946: 13 baby girls named Acquanetta
  • 1945: 6 baby girls named Acquanetta
  • 1944: 6 baby girls named Acquanetta [debut]
  • 1943: unlisted
  • 1942: unlisted

At the height of the name’s popularity in the early 1950s, the variants Aquanetta and Acquanette popped up. Later the same decade, we see the very Aqua Net-like Aquanette.

So what’s the origin of “Acquanetta”?

A LIFE article from 1942 stated that both of Acquanetta’s parents were Native American and that her surname meant “laughing water.” Her 2004 obituary in The Independent says she claimed to be “part-Arapaho Indian and part-English aristocrat” and that her name means “burning fire, deep water.”

But a Jet article from the early ’50s tells us the truth: Burnu Acquanetta’s legal name was Mildred Davenport. Census records show that she was born in South Carolina and raised in Pennsylvania. (So was her brother, Horace Davenport, who became the first African-American judge in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.)

The stage names “Burnu” and “Acquanetta” aren’t genuine Native American names at all, then, but fanciful creations based on the words burn and aqua. They must have sounded exotic enough to pass as Native American back in the 1940s, though.

What are your thoughts on the name Acquanetta?

Sources:

  • Acquanetta.” Independent 19 Aug. 2004.
  • “Hollywood Jungle Girl.” Jet 14 Feb. 1952: 58-62.
  • “Venezuelan Volcano.” Life 24 Aug. 1942: 57.

Image: © 1952 Jet

7 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Acquanetta come from?

  1. My name is Acquinetta. My aunt had a student in her class 1961 with that name, spelled that way. So, my mom loved it and 52 years later, here I am.

  2. I am loving the journey of my name’s origin. My aunt who is 77 now can’t seem to remember how she came about this name but shared it with my mother who loved it so that she pledged to name her next girl that; that was in 1964 and in 1965′ came yours truly, Acquinette Marie,

    I have “grown” to love my name and its uniqueness…smile

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