What gave the baby name Sonja a boost in the 1930s?

Norwegian skater/actress Sonja Henie (1912-1969)
Sonja Henie

The curious name Sonjia was the most impressive debut name of 1938. It was given to 19 baby girls that year.

Where did Sonjia come from?

It’s a spelling variant of Sonja, which nearly doubled in usage the same year:

  • 1941: 567 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 268th]
  • 1940: 713 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 238th]
  • 1939: 861 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 203rd]
  • 1938: 1,116 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 180th]
  • 1937: 560 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 263rd]
  • 1936: 180 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 479th]
  • 1935: 92 baby girls named Sonja [rank: 704th]

Why the Sonja spike?

It was inspired by Norwegian Olympic figure skater Sonja Henie (pronounced SOHN-yah HEN-ee), whose first name is a diminutive of Sophia, meaning “wisdom” in Greek.

In the late 1930s, after dominating the world of figure skating for many years, Sonja decided to give Hollywood a shot. She boldly told a New York Times reporter: “I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing.”

And you know what? That’s exactly what she did.

She starred in a string of box-office hits, including One in a Million (1936), Thin Ice (1937) with Tyrone Power (father of Romina and Taryn), and My Lucky Star (1938).

Her films and touring ice shows made her very wealthy and very famous — “the first international athlete-actress-superstar of modern times.” Today she’s credited with inspiring an entire generation of figure skaters.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Sonja?


5 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Sonja a boost in the 1930s?

  1. And what’s interesting is that if you see a video of her skating on YouTube and compare it to Olympic skating today, she would never have been able to compete! Our standards are wildly different now.

  2. I like watching old clips of sports games, competitions, etc., for that very reason. Fascinating how much standards can change over a couple of generations, isn’t it?

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