Where did the baby name Chonita come from in 1917?

The character Chonita (played by Edith Storey), and several other characters, from the movie "The Tarantula" (1916)
Chonita from “The Tarantula

The name Chonita first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1917:

  • 1919: 7 baby girls named Chonita
  • 1918: 5 baby girls named Chonita
  • 1917: 7 baby girls named Chonita [debut]
  • 1916: unlisted
  • 1915: unlisted


It could be a movie character…though it’s hard to say.

The 1916 silent film The Tarantula featured a main character named Chonita Alvarado (played by actress Edith Storey).

Chonita, a young Cuban woman, was seduced and then abandoned by a vacationing American. Her reputation ruined, she was kicked out of her father’s house and forced to support herself as a dancer. She saw unexpected success in her dance career, though, and was eventually given the chance to perform on Broadway. While in New York, she encountered the American man, and was able to seek her revenge…with the help of a poisonous tarantula.

The character’s name was often mentioned in newspaper advertisements for the movie. For example:

Part of an advertisement for the 1916 movie "The Tarantula"
Ad for “The Tarantula”

That said, the name Chonita — a double-diminutive of Spanish word-names such as Ascensión, Asunción, Concepción, and Encarnación — may have been ready to debut around that time anyway, thanks to usage among Spanish-speakers. (The diminutive upon which Chonita is based, Chona, first appeared in the data in 1915.)

Even if so, though, Chonita might not have debuted with as many as 7 babies if not for a nudge from the movie (and, more importantly, the associated advertising).

What are your thoughts on the name Chonita?

Sources: The Tarantula (1916) – TCM, SSA


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