What popularized the baby name Theda in the 1910s?

Actress Theda Bara in "Salome" (1918).
Theda Bara in “Salome

The name Theda became trendy in during the second half of the 1910s, according to the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1921: 293 baby girls named Theda [rank: 395th]
  • 1920: 290 baby girls named Theda [rank: 385th]
  • 1919: 356 baby girls named Theda [rank: 337th] (peak usage)
  • 1918: 354 baby girls named Theda [rank: 351st]
  • 1917: 334 baby girls named Theda [rank: 343rd]
  • 1916: 315 baby girls named Theda [rank: 350th]
  • 1915: 124 baby girls named Theda [rank: 585th]
  • 1914: 33 baby girls named Theda
  • 1913: 17 baby girls named Theda

Here’s a visual:

Graph of the usage of the baby name Theda in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Theda

What accounts for this trendiness?

Silent film star Theda Bara (pronounced thee-da bare-a), one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols.

She was born in Ohio in 1885 with the full name Theodosia Burr Goodman. Her parents named her after Theodosia Burr (1783-1813), the ill-fated daughter of third U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr. (Theodosia Burr was lost at sea at the age of 29.)

Theda Bara was the first film star to rise overnight from anonymity into superstardom. In the fall of 1914, she was an unknown actress. Four months later she was the world’s most famous star.

The movie that launched her career, A Fool There Was, was released in January of 1915 “with an intense publicity campaign.” It featured Bara as a vampire seductress, or vamp.

Bara ended up becoming Fox studio’s biggest star during the second half of the 1910s. During this period she made dozens of films, including Cleopatra (1917), one of her biggest hits. Her characters were often femme fatales.

She married in 1921, and, several years later, retired from acting altogether.

Nowadays, few baby girls are named Theda. Do you think the name could make a comeback someday?


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