What turned Bonanza into a baby name in 1960?

Title of the TV western "Bonanza" (1959-1973)

In mining, a bonanza (“prosperity” in Spanish) refers to a rich vein of ore. The word sometimes refers specifically to the Comstock Lode — a lode of silver ore discovered in western Utah Territory in 1859.

This “Comstock Lode” definition is where the TV western Bonanza got its name, as the show was set in the same place and time period (Utah Territory in the 1860s).

The series focused on the Cartwright family — father Ben and sons Adam, Eric, and Joseph — who lived on a ranch near the Virginia City (located in what is now the state of Nevada).

Bonanza started airing in 1959, and, one year later, enough baby boys in the U.S. were named Bonanza for the name to debut in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 7 baby boys named Bonanza [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted

Though Bonanza (1959-1973) was one of the longest-running westerns on television, that was the first and only time the name appeared in the data.

The series did have a strong influence on several other names, though.

Lorne Greene

One of those names is Lorne. Canadian actor Lorne Green played the show’s thrice-widowed patriarch, Ben Cartwright. Here’s what happened to the usage of the baby name Lorne during the early years of the show:

  • 1962: 171 baby boys named Lorne [rank: 595th]
  • 1961: 92 baby boys named Lorne [rank: 795th]
  • 1960: 49 baby boys named Lorne
  • 1959: 24 baby boys named Lorne
  • 1958: 25 baby boys named Lorne
Pernell Roberts

Another is Pernell. Actor Pernell Roberts played the eldest Cartwright son, Adam. Here’s how the usage of the name Pernell was affected:

  • 1962: 128 baby boys named Pernell [rank: 687th]
  • 1961: 68 baby boys named Pernell [rank: 930th]
  • 1960: 37 baby boys named Pernell
  • 1959: 23 baby boys named Pernell
  • 1958: 13 baby boys named Pernell

Both Lorne and Pernell entered the top 1,000 for the first time in 1961.

Later on in the series, there’s Jamie. Teenage orphan Jamie Hunter (played by Mitch Vogel) was introduced as a new character in mid-1970. He was adopted by Ben Cartwright during an episode that aired at the end of the next year.

Male usage of the name Jamie increased enough in 1971 that the name was boosted into the boys’ top 100 for the first time. (It remained there throughout the 1970s.)

  • 1972: 3,679 baby boys named Jamie [rank: 72nd]
  • 1971: 3,233 baby boys named Jamie [rank: 96th]
  • 1970: 2,642 baby boys named Jamie [rank: 125th]
  • 1969: 1,567 baby boys named Jamie [rank: 179th]
  • 1968: 1,224 baby boys named Jamie [rank: 193rd]

Have you ever watched Bonanza? Are there any other notable names I might be missing here? Please leave a comment!

Update, 5/31/2015: Usage of the baby name Tessa more than tripled from 1963 to 1964. Looks like the jump was caused by an episode of Bonanza called “Bullet for a Bride” (Feb. 1964) which featured a character named Tessa Caldwell.

Update, 3/17/2018: The name Petina debuted in 1965 thanks to a single-episode Bonanza character named Petina, an aerialist who appeared in “The Deadliest Game” (Feb. 1965).

Sources: Bonanza – Wikipedia, SSA

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