Where did the baby name Itasca come from in 1919?

Lake Itasca (Minnesota)
Lake Itasca

The rare name Itasca was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in 1919:

  • 1921: unlisted
  • 1920: unlisted
  • 1919: 5 baby girls named Itasca [debut]
  • 1918: unlisted
  • 1917: unlisted

Interestingly, all five of those babies were born in Texas.

What boosted the name into the data that year?

Well, if there is a reason (and it’s not something specific to Texas), my theory is the educational short film Itasca Makes Her Bow (1919) by Outing-Chester Pictures. It was a documentary about Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, the primary source of the Mississippi River.

Back in those days, short films were played in movie theaters ahead of main features. They were even reviewed in the newspapers. The New York Times, for instance, said Itasca Makes Her Bow was “one of the most interesting numbers on the program” at Manhattan’s opulent Strand Theatre while it was playing there in May of 1919.

I think advertising for the film — plus the fact that the film’s title makes the place name sound like a personal name — could be behind the debut.

So, where does the word Itasca come from?

It was coined by 19th-century geographer Henry Schoolcraft, who wished to signify the “true head” of the Mississippi River with a combination of the Latin words veritas (meaning “truth”) and caput (meaning “head”).

What are your thoughts on Itasca as a baby name?


Image: Adapted from Lake Itasca Mississippi Source by Christine Karim under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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