How did “Poldark” influence U.S. baby names in the late 1970s?

The characters Ross Poldark and Demelza Carne from the British TV series "Poldark" (1975-1977).
Ross and Demelza from “Poldark

The curious name Demelza first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1978:

  • 1980: unlisted
  • 1979: 6 baby girls named Demelza
  • 1978: 6 baby girls named Demelza [debut]
  • 1977: unlisted
  • 1976: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The character Demelza Carne from the BBC television series Poldark, which aired in the U.S. — as part of Masterpiece Theater, on PBS — from 1977 to 1978. (It was originally broadcast in the UK from 1975 to 1977.)

The 29-episode series, based on the Poldark novels by author Winston Graham, was set in Cornwall during the last two decades of the 1700s.

The protagonist was Ross Poldark (played by Robin Ellis), who, at the start of the story, had just returned to Cornwall after fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War.

The character Demelza Carne from the British TV series "Poldark" (1975-1977).
Demelza Carne from “Poldark

In the second episode, Ross impulsively hired 13-year-old Demelza Carne (played by actress Angharad Rees) as a housemaid.

Over the next several episodes (which cover several years), Demelza grew to become a “smart and vivacious and charming” young woman. She and Ross eventually got married.

Demelza’s name is not a traditional Cornish personal name. Instead, it’s a Cornish place name. The meaning isn’t known for certain, but one theory holds that it refers to an “eel house” (which would be a fitting definition, given the history of the fishing industry in Cornwall).

Other Poldark characters also influenced U.S. baby names. Thanks to Ross Poldark, for instance, the baby name Ross started rising again in 1977. And Ross’s cousin, the good-natured Verity Poldark, boosted the virtue name Verity to then-peak usage the same year.

Boys named RossGirls named Verity
19791,002 [rank: 227th]17
1978919 [rank: 229th]13
1977823 [rank: 250th]20
1976680 [rank: 279th]7
1975678 [rank: 283rd].

During the second half of the 2010s, the BBC released a brand new, five-season adaptation of Poldark.

The name Demelza re-emerged in the U.S. data (after a absence of nearly four decades) in 2018. The same year, the name Verity, which was already on the rise, saw a higher-than-expected increase in usage.

And in 2020, the traditional Cornish name Morwenna, which is based on an Old Cornish word meaning “maiden,” made its first appearance in the U.S. data:

  • 2022: unlisted
  • 2021: 8 baby girls named Morwenna
  • 2020: 16 baby girls named Morwenna [debut]
  • 2019: unlisted
  • 2018: unlisted

Character Morwenna Chynoweth, introduced at the start of the third season, was the governess of one of Ross Poldark’s young relatives.

What are your thoughts on these Poldarkian names? Would you use any of them?

P.S. An earlier BBC show, The Forsyte Saga, also had an influence on U.S. baby names…


Images: Screenshots of Poldark

One thought on “How did “Poldark” influence U.S. baby names in the late 1970s?

  1. I haven’t watched the original, but loved the remake and watched it all twice. I love the name Demelza and always liked Ross. If I had a child I wouldn’t actually use these or other Poldark names, but I’ll probably use them for cat names someday.

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