Where did the baby name Samia come from?

Photograph of Egyptian bellydancer Samia Gamal dancing, from LIFE magazine (Mar. 24, 1952).
Samia, © 1952 LIFE

Here’s a debut name I almost missed because it’s so similar to names like Sammie and Samie. It’s Samia, which first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in the early 1950s:

  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: 7 baby girls named Samia
  • 1953: 14 baby girls named Samia
    • 6 in Texas specifically
  • 1952: 11 baby girls named Samia
  • 1951: 6 baby girls named Samia [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted

What was the inspiration?

An Egyptian belly-dancer!

She was born Zaynab Ibrahim Mahfuz in 1924, but early in her dancing career she started using the stage name Samia Gamal.

She became a film star in Egypt, but the U.S. press didn’t start mentioning her until 1950, when King Farouk of Egypt (who had divorced his first wife Farida a few years earlier) made it known that Samia was his favorite dancer.

What really caught America’s attention, though, was Samia’s whirlwind romance with oil heir Sheppard King III of Houston, Texas. They’d met in mid-1951 in a Paris nightclub and became engaged the same night. Within a few months he had converted to Islam, taken the name “Abdullah,” and married Samia in Cairo.

Photograph of Egyptian bellydancer Samia Gamal dancing, from LIFE magazine (Oct. 22, 1951).
Samia, © 1951 LIFE

“Naturally, the press, especially some of the Houston papers, ate it up.”

Over the next few months, the couple didn’t have to do much to end up in the newspaper. When not jet-setting around the world, mostly to satisfy Gamal’s dancing commitments, the two could be found in Houston. For instance, a proposed visit to Arrowhead Park Speedway in July 1952 merited a couple of paragraphs in the Chronicle.

And, of course, the press was also there to cover the couple’s separation and divorce in 1953.

Given the story’s Texas connection, it’s not surprising that many of the babies named Samia in 1953 (and in 1952, according to records) were born in Texas specifically.

The Arabic name Samia (also spelled Samiya) is derived from the male name Sami, which means “elevated” or “sublime.”

What are your thoughts on the name Samia?

Sources:

  • “Egyptian National Dancer Gets American King” Life 22 Oct. 1951: 46.
  • “Egypt’s new charmer.” Life 4 Sept. 1950: 28.
  • Gonzales, J. R. “A Lady Named Samia.” Houston Chronicle 13 Feb. 2009.
  • “Mazda Motion: In U.S., Samia and flashlight reveal secrets of ancient art.” Life 24 Mar. 1952: 45-46.
  • Samia Gamal – Wikipedia
  • Samiya – Behind the Name

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