Halloween is almost here, so it’s time to take a look at the curious name Vulnavia, which was a one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data in the mid-1970s:
- 1978: unlisted
- 1977: unlisted
- 1976: 6 baby girls named Vulnavia [debut]
- 1975: unlisted
- 1974: unlisted
Where did it come from?
A pair of campy British horror movies: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again! (1972).
In the movies, Vulnavia was the beautiful, mute assistant of Dr. Anton Phibes (played by Vincent Price).
The spectator never learns anything about Vulnavia; she exists to serve her master (as both murderous assistant and dancing-partner), but also to look fabulous, strike poses, and wear a string of outlandish designer gowns that might make Cleopatra Jones green with envy.
At the end of the first film, Vulnavia (played by Virginia North) was burned to death in an acid shower. The second film was going to feature a different assistant, but the production company “wanted to retain the name of Vulnavia,” so Vulnavia (this time played by Valli Kemp) was resurrected, unharmed, for the sequel.
The origin of Vulnavia’s name was never explained, but it was reminiscent of the name of Dr. Phibes’s deceased wife, Victoria.
So…if the movies came out in 1971 and 1972, why did the name show up in 1976?
By the mid-1970s, both movies were out of the theaters and playing on late-night television. This brought enough attention to the name Vulnavia for usage to creep up over the SSA’s five-baby threshold. (A few babies born earlier in the ’70s did get the name as well, though, according to records.)
What are your thoughts on the name Vulnavia?
- Benshoff, Harry M. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997.
- Hallenbeck, Bruce G. Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914–2008. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.