Where did the baby name Azaria come from in 1988?

Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain in the movie "A Cry in the Dark" (1988).
Meryl Streep in “A Cry in the Dark”

A coroner has recently decided that Azaria Chamberlain — the 2-month-old Australian baby girl who disappeared in August, 1980, while her family was camping near Uluru — was indeed killed by a dingo.

There are two name-related things I wanted to mention about this.

First, that the constant media coverage of the incident at the time resulted in “vicious and often ignorant outbursts from the Australian public,” and that one such “outburst” was that the name Azaria meant “sacrifice in the wilderness.”

The name doesn’t mean that, of course. Azaria’s mom, Lindy, had discovered the name Azaria in a baby name book that defined it as “blessed of God.” Behind the Name defines the original version — the male name Azariah — as “Yahweh has helped.”

But this and similar accusations may have played a part in Lindy Chamberlain being convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1982. Which is quite alarming, considering “there was no body, no evidence of motive and no incriminating eyewitness evidence.”

Second, that — while I can’t find Australian baby name data that goes back to 1980 online — I can tell you that the story of Azaria did influence U.S. baby names.

But not until the movie came out.

A Cry in the Dark, which was an Australian movie, starred American actress Meryl Streep as Lindy. It was released in the U.S. in late 1988, and that’s the year we see Azaria pop up for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1990: 61 baby girls named Azaria
  • 1989: 30 baby girls named Azaria
  • 1988: 6 baby girls named Azaria [debut]
  • 1987: unlisted
  • 1986: unlisted

For a more in-depth look at the name Azaria and the story of Azaria Chamberlain, check out Famous Name: Azaria over at Australian name blog Waltzing More Than Matilda.


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