How did Myrna Loy get her name?

American actress Myrna Loy (1905-1993)
Myrna Loy

Popular film actress Myrna Loy made the baby name Myrna trendy during the 1930s:

  • 1939: 1,600 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 144th]
  • 1938: 1,801 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 134th] – peak usage
  • 1937: 1,652 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 137th]
  • 1936: 1,396 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 149th]
  • 1935: 1,059 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 176th]
  • 1934: 836 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 211th]
  • 1933: 571 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 254th]
  • 1932: 422 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 307th]
  • 1931: 415 baby girls named Myrna [rank: 315th]

Here’s a visual:

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

So, how did the actress — who was born Myrna Adele Williams in Montana in 1905 — come to be named “Myrna”?

Here’s how her father discovered the name:

One of my father’s duties was taking the cattle to market in Chicago, traveling in stock cars, sleeping in the caboose. I was on the way in 1905 when he happened to stop near Broken Bow, Nebraska, on the Burlington Railroad. It wasn’t a proper station, really, just a whistle-stop where you got water or fuel for the coal-burning engines. Sometimes they had classical names left by itinerant scholars, and this one was called “Myrna.” The expectant father decided then and there, if the child was a girl, that would be her name.

He had to fight for it, though:

When I was born, on August 2nd, there were great battles between him and my mother and grandmother. The ladies wanted Annabel, a composite of my grandmothers’ names, but for once my father held out against the strong women of the family. He gained considerable leverage from the appearance of my mother on the cover of Field and Stream. During his absence, while nearly seven months pregnant with me, she had become the first woman to pack through the highest point of the Tetons in the Southern Rockies. My father supposedly blew his stack when he saw it.

So they named me Myrna Adele Williams, because my father liked the sound of it. The Welsh in him probably thought Myrna was a pretty name. All Welshmen are like that, you know, they have a certain amount of poetry in them.

(Myrna’s mom sounds awesome, doesn’t she? I did my best to find that Field and Stream cover online, but no luck.)

So where does the name Myrna come from? Like Murna and Morna, it’s an Anglicized form of the Irish name Muirne (pronounced MUR-nah). Looks like you can define Muirne two different ways:

  • The mother of legendary Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool) was named Muirenn/Muireann, but is often called Muirne or Murna in English. Most sources agree that Muirenn/Muireann comes from the Gaelic words muir, meaning “sea,” and fionn, meaning “white, fair.”
  • Muirne also coincides with the (perhaps archaic?) Gaelic word mùirn/mùirne. Old dictionaries define the word various ways: “cheerfulness, joy”; “delicateness, tenderness”; “natural affection, love, regard”; “respect.”

Do you like the name Myrna?

Source: Kotsilibas-Davis, James, and Myrna Loy. Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming. New York: Knopf, 1987.

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