That actress was Seena Owen, and she’s a special case, as she’s the first actress on my list to become popular under a stage name.
Signe Auen was born in Washington state in 1894. Her parents were immigrants from Denmark, and she had older siblings named Lillie (who became a screenwriter) and Audun.
The Scandinavian name Signe can be traced back to the Old Norse name Signý, which is made up on the elements sigr, meaning “victory,” and ný, meaning “new.”
Signe Auen began appearing in films in late 1914.
In 1915, there was an uptick in the number of babies named Signe according to the U.S. baby name data:
|Usage of Signe (SSA)||Usage of Signe (SSDI)|
|1918||51 baby girls||55 people|
|1917||52 baby girls||50 people|
|1916||42 baby girls||55 people|
|1915||67 baby girls [peak usage]||73 people|
|1914||45 baby girls||70 people|
|1913||46 baby girls||76 people|
|1912||43 baby girls||92 people|
(I added data from the Social Security Death Index as well. For the SSDI numbers — which were declining during the 1910s, after peaking in the 1890s and 1900s — I only counted people who had Signe as a first name, not as a middle.)
Sometime during the last half of 1915 Signe Auen changed her name to “Seena Owen” — the phonetic spelling of her Danish name.
And in 1917, the baby name Seena debuted on the SSA’s baby name list:
|Usage of Seena (SSA)||Usage of Seena (SSDI)|
|1919||6 baby girls||4 people|
|1917||5 baby girls [debut]||4 people|
Numbers from both the SSA and the SSDI show that usage of the name Seena, which has always been relatively low, was at its highest during the 1920s.
This matches up pretty well with Seena Owen’s film career, which lasted from the late 1910s until the early 1930s, when Owen retired from acting due to the advent of talkies.
Which name do you like more, Signe or Seena?
P.S. Did you know that Seena Owen was the first person to wear false eyelashes? Director David Llewelyn “D. W.” Griffith had a wig maker invent the first set of eyelash extensions for Owen to wear in his 1916 epic film Intolerance.