Mystery baby names: Open cases

I’m a baby name blogger, but sometimes I feel more like a baby name detective. Because so much of my blogging time is spent doing detective work: trying to figure out where a particular baby name comes from, or why a name saw a sudden jump (or drop) in usage during a particular year.

If a name itself doesn’t make the answer obvious (e.g., Lindbergh) and a simple Google search hasn’t helped, my first bit of detective work involves scanning the baby name charts. I’ve learned that many search-resistant baby names (like Deatra) are merely alternative spellings of more common names (Deirdre).

If that doesn’t do it, I go back to Google for some advanced-level ninja searching, to help me zero in on specific types of historical or pop culture events. This is how I traced Irmalee back to a character in a short story in a very old issue of the once-popular McCall’s Magazine.

But if I haven’t gotten anywhere after a few rounds of ninja searching, I officially give up and turn the mystery baby name over to you guys. Together we’ve cracked a couple of cases (yay!) but, unfortunately, most of the mystery baby names I’ve blogged about are still big fat mysteries.

Here’s the current list of open cases:

  • Wanza, girl name, debuted in 1915.
  • Nerine, girl name, debuted in 1917.
  • Laquita, girl name, debuted in 1930.
  • Norita, girl name, spiked (for the 2nd time) in 1937.
  • Delphine, girl name, spiked in 1958.
  • Leshia, girl name, debuted in 1960.
  • Lavoris, girl name, debuted in 1961.
  • Djuna, girl name, debuted in 1964.
  • Latrenda, girl name, debuted in 1965.
  • Ondina, girl name, debuted in 1968.
  • Khari, boy name, debuted in 1971.
  • Jelani, boy name, debuted in 1973.
  • Toshiba, girl name, debuted in 1974.
  • Brieanna, girl name, debuted in 1979.
  • Sumiko, girl name, spiked in 1980.
  • Tou, boy name, debuted in 1980.
  • Marquita, girl name, spiked in 1983.
  • Caelan, boy name, debuted in 1992.
  • Deyonta, boy name, debuted in 1993.
  • Trayvond, boy name, debuted in 1994.
  • Zeandre, boy name, debuted in 1997.
  • Yatzari, girl name, debuted in 2000.
  • Itzae, boy name, debuted in 2011.

If you enjoy sleuthing, please give some of the above a shot! I’d love to knock one or two off the list before I start adding more mystery names in the coming weeks…

Update, 7/13/16: More still-open cases from the Mystery Monday series last summer: Theta, Memory, Treasure, Clione, Trenace, Bisceglia, Genghis and Temujin.

12 thoughts on “Mystery baby names: Open cases

  1. Jelani – “Names from Africa” by Ogonna Chuks-Orji was originally published in 1972, and it seems like it may have caused the debut of a lot of Swahili and other African-language names.

  2. Djuna Barnes’ “Selected Works” was published in 1962, which included her novel “Nightwood” and her verse-play “The Antiphon”, which was performed in Stockholm the same year. The year before she had been elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in the US.

    This opened the door to a flood of critical works on Barnes, who had been suddenly rediscovered, and her works and life story attracted much feminist discussion.

    I’m guessing this is why Djuna debuted in 1964: I think it would have been an uber-hip intellectual name in the mid-1960s.

  3. @Becca – I bet that’s true! Thank you so much! I remember mentioning that book before (here) but I never thought to check for other debut names beyond Yohance. Duh. Gotta get my hands on a copy now. Or maybe (hopefully) it’s online somewhere…

  4. @Anna – Thanks for the guess! Several others have suggested Barnes as as well. I can’t discount her entirely, but…I just don’t think that’s it. Spikes are caused by things like soap operas and sports, not obscure feminist playwrights. There just isn’t any precedent for it.

  5. @Nancy Well you might be right, but Djuna Barnes is not obscure – she was hot property in the 1960s, along with other writers of her era, like Anais Nin. I’d imagine she would have been covered even in mainstream middle-brow media, and the dates fit. That’s not the same as a soap opera though.

    It just occurred to me – if Djuna Barnes was in the news in the mid-1960s, perhaps someone used her name in a popular novel or radio show, or something like that? It’s quite a quirky, romantic-sounding name that might have appealed.

  6. Anais Nin had a character named Djuna in one of her novels, although it’s considered pretty minor, and a short story. Again, I wonder if someone read the novel and used the name in something a bit less artsy/highbrow?

    There’s also a Djuna in Ellery Queen’s mystery novel “The King is Dead” (1952), but it’s a male character.

  7. You already mentioned on your blog a character named Djuna Phrayne in a 1963-64 drama series: you just can’t help feeling that it was Djuna’s time.

  8. That’s a very good point. Maybe it was a confluence of many things, and Djuna Barnes was the one who kicked it off. Thanks for all your help Anna. :)

  9. I would love to have more time for all of these, but I may have found the answer to one: Tou

    Looking at the names it was similar to on our site, like Mai and Xang, it seems that it is a very common Hmong name for boys.

    In 1976 and then in 1980 there was a large immigration wave, which may just explain the debut in 1980.

  10. That sounds like the answer, Rachel! Thanks!

    Apparently a large number of Hmong came after the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980.

    I’ll cross that one off the list…

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