Where did the baby name Dardanella come from in 1920?

Sheet music for the song "Dardanella" (1919)
“Dardanella” sheet music

In 1919 — years before radio broadcasting became a means of popularizing music — the song “Dardanella” was published as sheet music with lyrics. The song tells the tale of a “lonesome maid Armenian” named Dardanella. Here’s the chorus:

Oh sweet Dardanella, I love your harem eyes,
I’m a lucky fellow, to capture such a prize,
Oh Allah knows, my love for you,
And he tells you to be true,

Dardanella, oh hear my sigh, my Oriental,
Oh sweet Dardanella, prepare the wedding wine,
There’ll be one girl in my harem when you’re mine.
We’ll build a tent, just like the children of the Orient.

Oh, sweet Dardanella, my star of love divine.

“Dardanella” became so trendy that it inspired dozens of expectant parents to name their baby girls Dardanella in the early 1920s:

  • 1925: unlisted
  • 1924: 6 baby girls named Dardanella
  • 1923: unlisted
  • 1922: 6 baby girls named Dardanella
  • 1921: 15 baby girls named Dardanella
  • 1920: 23 baby girls named Dardanella [debut]
  • 1919: unlisted

In fact, Dardanella was the top debut name for baby girls in 1920. The spelling variants Dardenella (a one-hit wonder) and Darnella also surfaced on the list that year.

The name in the song is derived from the word Dardanelles, which is one of the Turkish Straits that separates European Turkey from Asian Turkey. The word Dardanelles can be traced back to the mythological figure Dardanus, son of Zeus and Electra.

It’s feasible that the Dardanelles Campaign of WWI was lyricist Fred Fisher’s direct inspiration. After all, several years earlier, in 1917, he’d helped create the song “Lorraine (My Beautiful Alsace Lorraine).” (And a few years before that, in 1910, he’d scored a big hit with “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine.”)

If you’d like to hear “Dardanella,” check out this 1920 recording by Gladys Rice and Vernon Dalhart [vid]. A version by Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra that was released in late 1919 became “the first pressing ever to sell more than a million copies.”

What do you think of the name Dardanella? Usable nowadays?

Source: “From ‘Dardanella’ On A Stroh To Stacked Tapes.” New York Times 13 Dec. 1964: 24.

3 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Dardanella come from in 1920?

  1. As you can see, my name is Dardanella.
    I never knew the meaning…and, after much research, I still don’t know. Also, I never liked my name in my youth. However, I did grow to appreciate it before my Mother died.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Dardanella!

    The ultimate meaning for this one is elusive. We can go back as far as Dardanus, but that’s a dead-end as no one knows for certain where Dardanus comes from. (One educated guess is the Ancient Greek word dardapto, meaning “devour.”)

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