Where did the baby name Esai come from in 1987?

Esai Morales as Bob Morales in La Bamba (1987)
Esai Morales as Bob Morales in “La Bamba”

The uncommon name Esai debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1987:

  • 1990: 22 baby boys named Esai
  • 1989: 34 baby boys named Esai
  • 1988: 33 baby boys named Esai
  • 1987: 14 baby boys named Esai [debut]
  • 1986: unlisted
  • 1985: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Actor Esai (pronounced ee-sie) Morales, who was one of the stars of the 1987 movie La Bamba.

The movie was a biopic of rock and roll pioneer Richard Valenzuela, popularly known as Ritchie Valens (played by Lou Diamond Phillips). Esai played Ritchie’s brash older brother, Bob Morales. (The characters had different fathers, which accounts for the different surnames.)

Esai Morales, born in New York and of Puerto Rican descent, inherited his first name from his own father. The name is thought to be based on Esaias, which is a form of the Biblical name Isaiah (meaning “Yahweh is salvation” in Hebrew).

Interestingly, the character’s surname being “Morales” like his own was a factor in Esai’s decision to take the part. At the time, he was trying to choose between the role in La Bamba and a role in the Steven Spielberg movie Batteries Not Included, which he assumed would be an “instant hit.”

And I just thought to myself, there’s the commercial-looking success thing, but then there’s this thing that tugs at my heart. It made me cry. I read the story and, like, I had tears streaming down my face. […] And I saw a character with my name on it. Literally, it had my name on it. You don’t see great roles oftentime with Latino names, much less your own. You know, so I was like, you know, I’m gonna roll the dice with this one. And I think I made the right decision.

What do you think of the name Esai?

Sources: Esai Morales – Wikipedia, Esai Morales on his decades-long career in Hollywood – BEONDTV

P.S. Despite having a very short recording career, Ritchie Valens scored several hit singles, including “Donna.”

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