Where did the baby name Moonyeen come from?

Actress Norma Talmage in the silent film "Smilin' Through" (1922)
Norma Talmadge in “Smilin’ Through

I wasn’t sure what to make of the names Moonyeen and Moonyean when I first spotted them in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 9 baby girls named Moonyeen
  • 1935: unlisted
  • 1934: 5 baby girls named Moonyean [debut]
  • 1933: 14 baby girls named Moonyeen
  • 1932: unlisted
  • […]
  • 1923: unlisted
  • 1922: 7 baby girls named Moonyeen [debut]
  • 1921: unlisted

Each appeared in the data exactly twice.

Where did the names come from, and why were they on the radar during the 1920s and ’30s?

Looks like they can be traced back to the Broadway play Smilin’ Through (1919), which featured a character named Moonyeen. The story was popularized by several film adaptations, including Smilin’ Through (1922), starring Norma Talmadge, and Smilin’ Through (1932), starring Norma Shearer. The 1932 version was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In the story, Moonyeen was killed on her wedding day. Her fiancé John, now alone, harbored an all-consuming hatred of Moonyeen’s killer. But this came to a head many years later when Moonyeen’s niece (who John had adopted and raised as his own) happened to fall in love with the killer’s son.

I’m not entirely sure how the writers of the original Smilin’ Through came up with the name. My guess is that they based it on the Irish word muirnín, which means “darling” or “sweetheart.” It’s a term of endearment very similar to mo mhúirnín, “my darling,” which gave rise to the name Mavourneen.

Source: SSA

Image: Lobby card for Smilin’ Through (1922)

15 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Moonyeen come from?

  1. Moonyeen Kyne.
    My Father is Irish and Mother English…I was named in 1935 after my Mother saw Smiling through in 1933. (London England).
    I have never met another myself…it is a rare name. To my know;edge it means “daughter Dearest”…wasnt Moonyeen in the film the ghost of some-ones daughter?

  2. @moonyeen kine: For most of the story Moonyeen is in spirit-form, so yes she’s a ghost, but she isn’t the daughter — that’s Kathleen (Moonyeen’s niece/John’s adopted daughter).

  3. I saw the 1932 film in about 1946 when I was about 8 years old. I pined for the couple in that movie for most of my life. There was a Th song too called “Smilin Through”. It is a lovely song that says “Those two eyes of blue, come smiling through, Still think of it fondly and I am now eighty years old. They dont make them like this one any more. June

  4. My name is Moonyeen. I was named after my Grandma Moonyeen McAfee. She was named after the movie Smilin Through. I love that movie. It’s pretty much the only time I ever see my name on print unless it’s specially made. I’m lucky though, I never felt like I’m the only one with my name because I always had my Grandma until last year. It is a blessing to have the name Moonyeen. People always want to get to know me because my name is so different. And I am half Irish/Italian so I get many surprised glances when people meet me. They don’t expect me to be Irish. I truly love my name, and am so glad I was named after and extraordinary woman, my grandma.

  5. My red-haired wife Moonyeen, was born in 1937 in Durban, South Africa. Her mother (thankfully) dropped the name Sarah Jane after she saw “Smiling Through” with its red-haired ghost, Moonyeen. We have run across three other Moonyeens in South Africa.

  6. Moonyeen Leonard I have three of the movies “Smilin Through”. My father was 100%Irish ,his father was from County Cork and mother from County Mayo. They met in the US when she was working at a Irish tea restaurant in Scranton Pa. The third movie was a musical with Janette McDonell I think 1940. I love the name. People remember the name.

  7. my mothers first name is Jeanette and her middle name is Moonyean (or monica for short). My grandmother tells me she named my mum after the 1940’s american actress jeanette mcdonald – whose middle name was Moonyean.

  8. I am one of three named Moonyeen in my family. My mother born in 1927 was named after the character in “Smilin Through”. I was born in 1945, and my daughter, Moonyeen, was born in 1969. While mother and I enjoyed having the name, my daughter never cared for it and always said she would like some other name. When she was around 19 years old she decided to go by Nena, and only uses Moonyeen as her legal name. With her first pregnancy, she warned me not to expect any granddaughters to be named Moonyeen. God has a sense of humor, as he gave her four sons.

  9. @moonyeen bongaards: That’s so funny about your daughter having four sons. :) It’s interesting that the name was passed down twice in your family!

  10. Stunning childhood crush, 20 years older than me…Moonyean Fiorelli. 1970s Teenage wasteland ?

  11. My mom s name is Lillian MOONYEEN and always went by Moonyeen because she didn’t like Lillian lol. She all said her mother got the name from a radio Soap Opera and at the beginning the guy was calling Moonyeen. I haven’t been able to find anything about that though.

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