Where did the baby name Haile come from?

Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie (1892-1975)
Haile Selassie

Haile debuted as a boy name in the U.S. baby name data in 1935, showed up again the next year, then it dropped out of the data entirely until the 1970s.

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 7 baby boys named Haile
  • 1935: 11 baby boys named Haile [debut]
  • 1934: unlisted
  • 1933: unlisted

What put this name on the map in the 1930s?

Haile Selassie (pronounced HIE-lee suh-LAS-ee), the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to the mid-1970s.

He was born into a noble family in 1892 with the name Tafari Makonnen. In 1917, he was given the title Ras, meaning “head” or “chief” in Ge’ez (the ancient Semitic language used as the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church). When he ascended to the throne, he took the regnal name Haile Selassie — Haile meaning “power of” and Selassie meaning “trinity” in Ge’ez.

So what brought him to the attention of Americans in the mid-1930s?

War.

In October of 1935, following months of conflict between Fascist Italy and Ethiopia, Italian forces under Benito Mussolini finally invaded Ethiopia, triggering the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1937).

Several months later, Selassie was declared Time‘s latest “Man of the Year.” The magazine had this to say about Selassie:

In 1935 there was just one man who rose out of murky obscurity and carried his country with him up & up into brilliant focus before a pop-eyed world. But for the hidden astuteness of this man, there would not now be the possibility of another world war arising out of idealism generated around the League of Nations in behalf of Ethiopia. […] If by some unhappy chance the Italo-Ethiopian war should now spread into a world conflagration, [he] will have a place in history as secure as Woodrow Wilson’s. If it ends in the fall of Mussolini and the collapse of Fascism, his Majesty can plume himself on one of the greatest feats ever credited to blackamoors.

In May of 1936, Selassie was forced into exile. The next month, he appealed to the League of Nations for help, giving a memorable speech (“a magnificent but futile gesture” according to the NYT) that ominously ended: “It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.” He wasn’t able to return to his country until the early 1940s, when the world was embroiled in WWII.

The Rastafari religion, which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s after Selassie’s coronation, holds that “Haile Selassie is God, and that he will return to Africa members of the black community who are living in exile as the result of colonisation and the slave trade.”

What are your thoughts on the name Haile? (Do you think most people who see it would mistake it for a variant of Hailey?)

P.S. Both Tafari and Selassie have surfaced in the U.S. baby name data as well.

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