Where did the baby name Morella come from in 1923?

The characters Theodora and Hector (played by Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino) from the movie "Beyond the Rocks" (1922)
Theodora and Hector from “Beyond the Rocks

The rare name Morella has only appeared in the U.S. baby name data a handful of times, starting in 1923:

  • 1925: unlisted
  • 1924: unlisted
  • 1923: 5 baby girls named Morella [debut]
  • 1922: unlisted
  • 1921: unlisted

Data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) shows a similarly small spike in usage that year:

  • 1925: 2 people with the first name Morella
  • 1924: 0 people with the first name Morella
  • 1923: 5 people with the first name Morella
  • 1922: 0 people with the first name Morella
  • 1921: 1 people with the first name Morella

What was the influence?

A secondary character from the silent film Beyond the Rocks (1922), which happens to be the only movie that featured Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson together as co-stars.

The main character, Theodora (played by Swanson), was a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage to an middle-aged millionaire. She couldn’t help but fall in love with the dashing Hector, Lord Bracondale (played by Valentino) — especially after he rescued her twice (first from drowning, then from falling off a cliff in the Alps).

Morella Winmarleigh (played by Gertrude Astor), however, wished to have Hector all to herself. So, toward the end of the film, she tried to thwart their relationship by retrieving two of Theodora’s outgoing letters — one to Hector, the other to the millionaire husband — and switching the contents before returning them to the mailbox.

Though Morella wasn’t one of the good guys in the film, audiences would have seen her unusual name on-screen repeatedly, thanks to the intertitles. And that was enough to have a slight influence on U.S. baby names. (The names Hector and Theodora, both of which ranked well inside the top 1,000 in the early 1920s, were seemingly unaffected.)

The film was based on the romance novel Beyond the Rocks (1906) by Elinor Glyn.

What are your thoughts on the name Morella?

Sources: Beyond the Rocks (1922) – TCM, Beyond the Rocks (film) – Wikipedia, SSA

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