Where did the baby name Sunya come from in 1927?

Lobby Card for "The Love of Sunya" (1927).
The Love of Sunya” lobby card

The baby name Sunya first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1927:

  • 1929: 7 baby girls named Sunya
  • 1928: 5 baby girls named Sunya
  • 1927: 14 baby girls named Sunya [debut]
  • 1926: unlisted
  • 1925: unlisted

In was one of the top baby name debuts of 1927, in fact.

Where did it come from?

A silent film called The Love of Sunya, which was released in March of that year.

The movie starred Gloria Swanson as Sunya Ashling, a young singing student who — with the help of a guru from India and a crystal ball — is able to see different versions of her future with various suitors.

Sunya, having promised to marry Paul [Judson] and go to South America on his first engineering assignment, is courted also by millionaire Robert Goring; by De Salvo, an opera impresario; and by Louis Anthony, a young bank cashier. She learns that her father is in financial straits, and the yogi reveals […] that disaster and unhappiness will result regardless of whether she goes with De Salvo to become a singer or marries the millionaire to save her father.

In the end, Sunya “decides to follow her heart and marry Paul.”

The film was based on the play The Eyes of Youth (1917), in which the protagonist was called Gina Ashling. The filmmakers may have changed the character’s first name in order to emphasize the mystical nature of the plot. One contemporary writer defined the Sanskrit word sunya as “illusion,” but it actually means “empty” or “void.”

The Love of Sunya — Gloria Swanson’s first independent production — wasn’t a commercial success, but it was still influential enough to impact the baby name charts. (It was also the very first picture shown at the once-famous Roxy Theatre in New York City, incidentally.)

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