What popularized the baby name Donna in 1959?

The Ritchie Valens single "Donna" (1958)
Ritchie Valens single

From 1955 to 1965, Donna was a top-ten baby name in the United States. But, in 1959, it saw a steep rise in usage that boosted it all the way up to 5th place:

  • 1961: 28,668 baby girls named Donna [ranked 7th]
  • 1960: 34,132 baby girls named Donna [ranked 5th]
  • 1959: 36,465 baby girls named Donna [ranked 5th] – peak usage
  • 1958: 26,949 baby girls named Donna [ranked 10th]
  • 1957: 28,039 baby girls named Donna [ranked 10th]

Why the rise?

I think the primary reason was the song “Donna” by California teenager Ritchie Valens. It was released in December of 1958 and became Valens’ highest-charting single, reaching #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in February of 1959.

Sadly, Valens died in the same plane crash that killed The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly (“Peggy Sue“) several weeks before “Donna” reached peak popularity.

Valens was born Richard Steven Valenzuela in Pacoima, California, in 1941. He’d written “Donna” as a tribute to his high school sweetheart, Donna Ludwig. (They’d stopped dating about year before the song was released.)

Donna Reed show

A secondary influence on the name Donna might have been The Donna Reed Show, which began airing in September of 1958 — though the show didn’t achieve peak popularity until the early 1960s. It featured already-famous actress Donna Reed as fictional middle-class housewife Donna Stone.

Do you like the name Donna? Would you use it for a modern-day baby?

Source: Ritchie Valens – Billboard, Ritchie Valens – Wikipedia

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