How did “Card Sharks” influence baby names in 1979?

Contestant Dilanjan on "Card Sharks" in January of 1979.
Dilanjan on “Card Sharks

Does anyone remember the NBC game show Card Sharks?

The original version — which involved a pair of contestants guessing survey results (à la Family Feud) and then playing the card game High Low for prize money — ran from 1978 to 1981. During that period, two uniquely named contestants influenced U.S. baby names.

Dilanjan

A contestant named Dilanjan (pronounced dee-lahn-jahn) was on the show for five episodes in January of 1979. That year, the baby name Dilanjan debuted in the SSA’s baby name data with 13 baby boys. It was never on the list again, though, making it a one-hit wonder.

  • 1981: unlisted
  • 1980: unlisted
  • 1979: 13 baby boys named Dilanjan [debut]
  • 1978: unlisted
  • 1977: unlisted

Dilanjan noted that he was from Sri Lanka. The name is apparently Sinhalese (the Sinhalese people make up 75% of the population of Sri Lanka) but so far I can’t figure out the meaning.

Contestant Risha on "Card Sharks" in July of 1979.
Risha on “Card Sharks

Risha

A contestant named Risha (pronounced REE-sha) was on the show for six episodes in July of 1979. The baby name Risha had already been in the U.S. baby name data for several decades by then, but in 1979 usage of the name more than tripled:

  • 1981: 17 baby girls named Risha
  • 1980: 24 baby girls named Risha
  • 1979: 56 baby girls named Risha (peak usage)
  • 1978: 17 baby girls named Risha
  • 1977: 17 baby girls named Risha

I have a feeling that repeat contestants on other long-gone game shows have also affected the charts…but it’s hard to do research on this sort of thing, as there isn’t some master-list of game show contestant names I can refer to. (I wish!)

For all the game show junkies out there: What memorable contestant names have you spotted over the years?

Update, Apr. 2024: I recently discovered that Risha Golby made several mid-1987 appearances on a later iteration of Card Sharks (1986-1989). Her second stint on the show likely caused the 1987 uptick in the usage of Risha:

  • 1988: 7 baby girls named Risha
  • 1987: 16 baby girls named Risha
  • 1986: 6 baby girls named Risha

On the June 5th episode [vid], she mentioned that Risha was her real name. She also explained that it was Persian, and had belonged to “a princess in the court of Nebuchadnezzar.”

Sources: Card Sharks – Wikipedia, SSA

Images: Screenshots of Card Sharks

5 thoughts on “How did “Card Sharks” influence baby names in 1979?

  1. Recently on Jeopardy there was a woman named Pidge…other unusual names this season have been Georjean, Wren, Hobie, Sala, and Dorcas. The “J! Archive” looks like it has all the contestants listed going back 20 years, and some before that: http://j-archive.com/listseasons.php

  2. Dilanjan mentioned on one of his episodes of Card Sharks that his parents made up the name. So you’re not likely to find an etymology behind it. :-)

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for the comment!

    I haven’t seen all the Dilanjan episodes, but in this one [vid] he gives his full name (Dilanjan Soysa) and says that he’s originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

    I’ve found several other Sri Lankan men with the name via the internet — like this filmmaker — so Dilanjan’s parents didn’t make it up. (If that’s what he said, maybe it was just a way to avoid having to give a detailed explanation on a game show…?)

    So far I still haven’t had any luck tracking down an etymology, but I’m pretty sure one exists. :)

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