Where did the baby name Lalena come from in the late 1960s?

Donovan's single "Lalena" (1968)
Donovan single

The name Lalena debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1968. The following year, it saw a sizeable increase in usage.

  • 1971: 48 baby girls named Lalena
  • 1970: 49 baby girls named Lalena
  • 1969: 37 baby girls named Lalena
  • 1968: 5 baby girls named Lalena [debut]
  • 1967: unlisted
  • 1966: unlisted


Because of music!

In October of 1968, Scottish singer/songwriter Donovan released the song “Laléna.” It was about a prostitute whose name was Laléna, pronounced lah-LAY-nya — as if the “n” had a tilde (as in señor).

The song peaked at #33 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart in November of 1968.

Here’s what it sounds like:

Donovan said he was inspired to write the song after seeing the 1931 German film The Threepenny Opera, which featured actress/singer Lotte Lenya as a prostitute named Jenny. The character in his song — whose name was based on the actress’ surname — was “a composite character of women who are outcasts on the edge of society.”

The singer was born Donovan Philips Leitch in Glasgow in 1946. Thanks to his influence, usage of the name Donovan also increased in the late 1960s.

P.S. Two other songs with the names of prostitutes in the titles are “Roxanne” by The Police and “Fancy” by Bobbie Gentry (later covered by Reba McEntire).

Sources: Laleña – Donovan Unofficial, Donovan – Billboard, SSA

2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Lalena come from in the late 1960s?

  1. Donovan has some good songs, but the ones that annoy me really drive me crazy, and Lalena is one of the worst. I always thought Winona Ryder’s character in Reality Bites was named after it, but Wikipedia says that’s spelled Leleina. I am glad neither name caught on.

  2. You’re right, actually! But it’s not a direct connection. (The Reality Bites character was named after a real-life person who was named after the song.) I have a post about Lelaina coming up in a couple of weeks…

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