What gave the baby name Zena a boost in 1980?

Commercial for Zena Jeans
Commercial for Zena Jeans

If you look at the popularity graph for the baby name Zena, you’ll see two conspicuous increases in usage: the first in the 1960s (thanks to an actress named Zina), the second in the 1990s (thanks to a warrior princess named Xena).

It’s slightly harder to see that Zena doubled in usage from 1979 to 1980, and sustained that elevated usage for several years:

  • 1983: 47 baby girls named Zena
  • 1982: 58 baby girls named Zena
  • 1981: 54 baby girls named Zena
  • 1980: 51 baby girls named Zena
  • 1979: 24 baby girls named Zena
  • 1978: 28 baby girls named Zena
  • 1977: 24 baby girls named Zena


I think it has to do with advertisements for Zena Jeans — one of the many jeans brands that emerged during the designer jeans craze of the late ’70s and early ’80s. (Other brands included Jordache, Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt by Murjani, Sergio Valente, Chardon, Sasson, and Brittania.)

Zena’s sexy TV commercials featured good-looking young ladies and the tagline: “If you’re a woman, Zena is you!”

New York-based Zena Jeans was named after co-founder Zena Gilbert, who launched the company in 1978 with her husband Richard.

Zena Gilbert, who had four children (with Richard), hadn’t been able to find reasonably priced jeans with the right fit (i.e., “smaller in the waist and roomier in the hips”). So Richard, who worked in the apparel industry, suggested that they design and manufacture their own line of jeans.

“They turned a modest investment into a $22 million business in two years.”

For Zena Gilbert, “Zena” was a nickname. She was born Zenaida Gromoff on the remote island of St. Paul, which lies several hundred miles off the coast of mainland Alaska. Her father was a Russian Orthodox priest named Elary, and her mother was an Aleut woman named Elisaveta (Elizabeth).

What are your thoughts on the name Zena?


Image: Screenshot of Zena Jeans commercial

2 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Zena a boost in 1980?

  1. Whoa, that woman in the Zena jeans screenshot looks like she just escaped from an island prison where she was fed once a week. So skinny. (She’s probably 12, to be fair — 80s models often were.)

    I like the sound of Zena, but I don’t really like the way any of the spellings look. Maybe Zeena would be ok. I think that looks prettier than Zena, Zina, or Xena.

  2. She does look quite young. (I think Brooke Shields was 15 when she was featured in that controversial Calvin Klein jeans commercial.)

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