Avalon began as a legendary Arthurian island. It was first mentioned in the early 12th century by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who may have derived the name from the Welsh word afal, meaning “apple.”
By the late 1800s, Avalon was seeing regular (if rare) usage as a baby name in the U.S., probably thanks to Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King — a series of Arthurian poems published from 1859 to 1885.
These poems also influenced real estate developer George Shatto to use the name “Avalon” for the Catalina Island resort town he was building in the late 1880s.
California’s Avalon became a popular vacation destination for the Hollywood film community during the early 1900s, and in 1920 the town (and the name) were featured in a song called “Avalon,” written for entertainer Al Jolson.
Here’s the chorus:
I found my love in Avalon
Beside the bay
I left my love in Avalon
And sailed away
I dream of her and Avalon
From dusk ’til dawn
And so I think I’ll travel on
Al Jolson’s rendition of “Avalon” became one of the top songs in America in early 1921.
Not surprisingly, the baby name Avalon saw a spike in usage the same year:
- 1923: 22 baby girls named Avalon
- 1922: 23 baby girls named Avalon
- 1921: 43 baby girls named Avalon
- 1920: 11 baby girls named Avalon
- 1919: unlisted
You can see a similar spike in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) data:
- 1923: 17 people with the first name Avalon
- 1922: 17 people with the first name Avalon
- 1921: 36 people with the first name Avalon
- 1920: 10 people with the first name Avalon
- 1919: 3 people with the first name Avalon
After the 1920s, the usage of Avalon as a baby name tapered off. In fact, the name wasn’t in the SSA data at all during the ’60s and ’70s.
But it popped up again in 1982. The influence was probably the 1982 Roxy Music album Avalon, which included a song called “Avalon” (video). A slightly later influence was no doubt Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1983 fantasy novel The Mists of Avalon. (The name of the lead character, Morgaine, debuted in the data in 1984.)
The usage of Avalon has been steadily rising ever since, though the name has yet to hit the top 1,000.
What do you think of the baby name Avalon?
P.S. One of the pre-1921 Avalons was a baby girl born in late 1903 to Mr. and Mrs. Goslin of Maryland. She was born aboard the Chesapeake Bay paddle steamer Avalon. Sadly, Avalon Goslin died of pneumonia in 1918 — just a few years before the song “Avalon” became famous.
P.P.S. Another top song from around this time was Dardanella.