Where did the baby name Choya come from in 1951?

The character Choya from the movie "Branded" (1950).
Choya from “Branded

The prickly name Choya first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1951:

  • 1953: 5 baby boys named Choya
  • 1952: 6 baby boys named Choya
  • 1951: 9 baby boys named Choya [debut]
  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The western movie Branded, which was released in late 1950. It starred actor Alan Ladd as a gunslinger and “morally ambiguous loner” named Choya. Here’s how the movie started:

Choya, who has shot a man in self-defense, is trapped inside a store as men gather outside, on rooftops and behind wagons, to capture him. His hostage asks if he has any friends. Choya responds, “My guns.” Any kinfolk? “My horse.” And that’s all you need to know about Choya. (The fact that “Choya” is an English spelling for the Spanish word for “cactus” is telling.)

The Spanish word cholla (pronounced choy-uh) doesn’t quite mean cactus, but it does refer to a particular type of cactus. The cholla cactus has spines with backward-facing barbs that are notoriously difficult (and painful) to extract if they become embedded in skin.

Branded was based on the book Montana Rides! (1933) by Evan Evans (a nom de plume of Frederick Schiller Faust, who also created Destry). In the book, the protagonist is called The Montana Kid. The name may have been changed to Choya for the film to help with characterization (as alluded to above) or to reflect the fact that the protagonist is slightly older in the movie (so, not a “kid” anymore).

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