Look out for the baby name Moana

Our first look at the characters Moana and Mauri from the upcoming Disney movie "Moana" (2016).
Maui and Moana from “Moana

I was doing some movie-related research last week when I happened to spot an article about the next official Disney princess: a 14-year-old Polynesian girl named Moana.

The article said Moana would be out in 2018, but Disney announced just a couple of days ago that the movie’s release date had been moved up to 2016.

Moana is set in the South Pacific about 2,000 years ago. Moana and her friend Maui “traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage in which they encounter enormous sea creatures, breathtaking underworlds, and ancient folklore.”

This isn’t the first time the name Moana has been featured in film. The documentary Moana (1926) focused on a young Samoan man named Moana, and the movie Rainbow Island (1944) included a minor female character named Moana. Neither of these match up with the 1941 debut of Moana in the U.S. baby name data, though. (Any guesses on that?)

The Polynesian word moana generally means “deep sea” or “ocean,” though the definition changes slightly from one language to the next:

moana meaning

While it’s traditionally a unisex name, it’s given more often to baby girls than to baby boys in the U.S.:

  • 2013: 19 baby girls named Moana (5 in California)
  • 2012: 10 baby girls named Moana
  • 2011: 12 baby girls named Moana (5 in California)
  • 2010: 9 baby girls named Moana (5 in California)
  • 2009: 11 baby girls named Moana
  • 2008: 19 baby girls named Moana (9 in California)
  • 2007: 10 baby girls named Moana
  • 2006: 16 baby girls named Moana (7 in California, 6 in Hawaii)
  • 2005: 8 baby girls named Moana
  • 2004: 5 baby girls named Moana

I think we can safely say that the baby name Moana will be seeing increased usage in 2016 thanks to the upcoming Disney movie. But do you think all the pre-release hype could affect the name’s popularity even earlier than that? Say, in 2015?

Update, Mar. 2021: As it turns out, the pre-movie hype didn’t matter much to expectant parents. Moana was released in November of 2016, and the baby names Moana and Maui both saw peak national usage the following year:

Girls named MoanaBoys named MauiGirls named Maui
†Peak usage


5 thoughts on “Look out for the baby name Moana

  1. Well…here in Italy Moana is a quite distinctive name because of Moana Pozzi (real name: Anna Moana Rosa Pozzi), the most famous and iconic pornographic actress (but also model, politician and much more) of our country, who died prematurely in 1994.

    According to Wikipedia, her parents chose her second name from a geographic map of Hawaii.
    The strange thing is that I personally know a woman named Moana, in her honor O_O

  2. You know, I think Moana may make a small mark on the charts but I bet not much of one. Merida didn’t make a huge splash. Of the big budget girl power type Disney movie names, I’m thinking Elsa will be the hands down winner. Merida and Moana sound lovely, and the meaning of Moana is beautiful, but for most people the movie tie in will be the only reference point for them. With Elsa there is enough familiarity with the name that it isn’t owned entirely by that one character.

  3. Moana is also a name in the book “Pippi in the South Seas”; shes a girl that often plays with Pippi, Annika and Thomas.

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