How did Albanian immigration influence U.S. baby names in the early 1990s?

Flag of Albania
Flag of Albania

The collapse of communism (and the economy) in Albania in 1991-1992 triggered a mass exodus.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees fled to other countries — primarily nearby countries like Italy and Greece. But some refugees ended up in entirely different parts of the world, such as the United States.

Evidence of this 1991-1992 wave of Albanian immigration can be see in the sudden appearance of several rather patriotic Albanian baby names to the U.S. baby name data:

Girls named LiridonaBoys named LiridonGirls named Ilirida
19939 (5 in NY)11 (5 in NY).
199221 (12 in NY)10 (5 in NY)5*
199129* (18 in NY)13* (8 in NY).

The Albanian names Liridon, Liridona and Ilirida are all based on the Albanian word liri, which means “freedom, liberty.” The one-hit wonder name Ilirida refers specifically to the “Republic of Ilirida,” a theoretical secessionist state of Macedonia proposed/declared in early 1992 by Macedonian politician Nevzat Halili (who is an ethnic Albanian).

While I think it’s most likely that these names were bestowed by recent Albanian immigrants, it’s also possible that they were used within Albanian-American families. (New York City has the largest Albanian population in the country.)

And no doubt these names became even more popular in countries that absorbed larger numbers of Albanians. In Switzerland, for instance, both Liridon and Liridona and broke into the national top 100 (!) in 1991:

Girls named Liridona
Boys named Liridon
Girls named Ilirida
1992114 (rank: 77th)8419*
1991181 (rank: 47th)125 (rank: 79th).

The variants Liridone and Liridonë also show up in the Switzerland data — Liridone over 40 times in the ’80s and ’90s, Liridonë a handful of times in the ’90s.

Sources: Albanian Diaspora – Wikipedia, The most popular first names – Swiss Statistics

Image: Adapted from Flag of Albania (public domain)

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