What gave the baby name Ileana a boost in 1926?

Princess Ileana (1909-1991)
Princess Ileana

About ninety years ago, the baby name Ileana saw a sudden spike in usage:

  • 1928: 8 baby girls named Ileana
  • 1927: 31 baby girls named Ileana
  • 1926: 44 baby girls named Ileana
  • 1925: 6 baby girls named Ileana
  • 1924: 6 baby girls named Ileana

In fact, Ileana was the fastest-rising baby name of 1926.

What drew attention to the name that year?

Princess Ileana of Romania, the youngest surviving child in the Romanian royal family.

Toward the end of 1926, 17-year-old princess Ileana (pronounced ee-LYA-nah, roughly) accompanied her mother, Queen Marie, and one of her brothers, Nicolae, on a tour of the United States (and Canada). The three of them were fixtures in the U.S. news for a number of weeks.

Prince Nicholas, Princess Ileana and Queen Marie in October of 1926
The Romanian royals upon arrival in the USA (Oct. 1926)

They left France on the night of October 12 aboard the SS Leviathan. En route to America, Princess Ileana, “brimful of enthusiasm,” told reporters that “she was looking forward to the purchase of an American automobile, having learned to drive before leaving Bucharest.”

They were greeted with a ticker tape parade upon their arrival in New York on October 18. The next day, they dined with President Coolidge at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Soon after, the royals and their entourage began a transcontinental journey aboard a luxury train (the Royal Roumanian) that was described as a “traveling palace.”

The train will follow closely the trail of Lewis and Clark on their 1803-06 historic expedition of the Northwest through the Red River Valley, through the Yellowstone Valley, will cross the American Rockies into the Inland Empire, to Spokane and to the Columbia River and Cascade Mountains.

Along the way, they hit a slew of cities — usually just briefly. Americans followed their every move, day by day, via the newspapers.

Their many stops included:

  • Niagara Falls on Oct. 26
  • North Dakota (where they watched a rodeo) on Nov. 1
  • Washington state (where they toured a lumber camp) on Nov. 4
  • Colorado (where they visited Buffalo Bill’s grave) on Nov. 10
  • Indiana (where they toured a steel mill) on Nov. 16

The media focused on the queen, of course, but Ileana and Nicolae were mentioned in nearly every article as well. (Though Ileana did become the primary focus on November 17 — the day she got into a minor car accident in Grant Park, Illinois.)

The royals had planned to visit several southern states as well, but Queen Marie decided to cut the trip short in mid-November upon hearing that the health of her husband, King Ferdinand, was failing. So they sailed out of New York and back to Europe at the earliest opportunity (aboard the RMS Berengaria on November 24).

The Romanian name Ileana is thought to be a variant of Elena/Helena. Incidentally, the most famous Romanian Ileana isn’t the princess, but the mythological figure Ileana Cosânzeana.

What are your thoughts on the name Ileana? Do you like it?


Image: Photograph in San Pedro Daily News 1 Nov. 1926: 3.

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