How did the movie “Exodus” influence baby names in the early 1960s?

The characters Ari, Jordana and Kitty from the movie "Exodus" (1960).
Ari, Jordana, and Kitty from “Exodus

The 1960 movie Exodus, which was based on the bestselling book of the same name by Leon Uris, was set in the late 1940s at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel.

The title of this “Zionist epic” may signify departure but, on the baby name charts, the film triggered at least two new arrivals.

Before we get to the debuts, though, let’s look at the name Ari.

The film’s main character was young Israeli activist Ari Ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman). The year after the film came out, the baby name Ari — which was already appearing regularly in the U.S. baby name data — saw a rise in usage:

  • 1963: 32 baby boys named Ari
  • 1962: 35 baby boys named Ari
  • 1961: 52 baby boys named Ari
  • 1960: 32 baby boys named Ari
  • 1959: 13 baby boys named Ari

Ari means “lion” in Hebrew.

The same year, the baby name Akiva debuted thanks to the character Akiva (played by David Opatoshu), who was the leader of a radical resistance group and also Ari’s uncle.

  • 1963: unlisted
  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: 5 baby boys named Akiva [debut]
  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: unlisted

Akiva, like Jacob, is a form of the Hebrew name Yaakov, which is often defined as “supplanter.”

Finally there’s the baby name Jordana, which corresponds to the “gun-toting, makeup-scorning” character Jordana Ben Canaan (played by Alexandra Stewart), who was Ari’s sister. Despite the film’s relatively late release in mid-December, this name popped up impressively in 1960, possibly due to the early press coverage of the film.

  • 1962: 12 baby girls named Jordana
  • 1961: 24 baby girls named Jordana
  • 1960: 19 baby girls named Jordana [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted

Jordana is not a traditional Hebrew name. Jeffrey Goldberg, journalist and editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, notes that the movie “introduced the name ‘Jordana’ to the list of Jewish baby-name possibilities, which was a good thing.” Jordana is a feminized form of the name of the River Jordan.

Sources: Exodus (1960 film) – Wikipedia, The ‘Exodus’ Effect: The Monumentally Fictional Israel That Remade American Jewry

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