The prickly name Choya first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1951:
1953: 5 baby boys named Choya
1952: 6 baby boys named Choya
1951: 9 baby boys named Choya [debut]
Where did it come from?
The western movie Branded, which was released in late 1950. It starred actor Alan Ladd as a gunslinger and “morally ambiguous loner” named Choya. Here’s how the movie started:
Choya, who has shot a man in self-defense, is trapped inside a store as men gather outside, on rooftops and behind wagons, to capture him. His hostage asks if he has any friends. Choya responds, “My guns.” Any kinfolk? “My horse.” And that’s all you need to know about Choya. (The fact that “Choya” is an English spelling for the Spanish word for “cactus” is telling.)
The Spanish word cholla (pronounced choy-uh) doesn’t quite mean cactus, but it does refer to a particular type of cactus. The cholla cactus has spines with backward-facing barbs that are notoriously difficult (and painful) to extract if they become embedded in skin.
Branded was based on the book Montana Rides! (1933) by Evan Evans (a nom de plume of Frederick Schiller Faust, who also created Destry). In the book, the protagonist is called The Montana Kid. The name may have been changed to Choya for the film to help with characterization (as alluded to above) or to reflect the fact that the protagonist is slightly older in the movie (so, not a “kid” anymore).
The 1930 book Destry Rides Again by Max Brand* was set in Texas circa 1900. It followed main character Harrison Destry as he sought revenge against the jurors who wrongfully convicted him of robbery.
The book was adapted to film three times (1932, 1939, and 1954), made into a musical (1959), and turned into a short-lived television series (1964, February to May).
Both the third film and the TV show — neither of which were much like the original novel — had an impact on American baby names. Check out the usage of Destry during the ’50s and ’60s:
1967: 34 baby boys named Destry
1966: 43 baby boys named Destry
1965: 50 baby boys and 7 baby girls named Destry
1964: 149 baby boys and 5 baby girls named Destry [rank: 636th]
1958: 5 baby boys named Destry
1957: 6 baby boys named Destry
1956: 10 baby boys named Destry
1955: 8 baby boys named Destry [debut]
The third movie, starring Audie Murphy — who was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WWII before becoming an actor — is what put Destry on the map. (The name Audie was also on the rise during the early ’50s. Peak usage was in 1956.)
The TV show gave Destry such a big boost in 1964 that it reached the top 1,000 rather impressively that year. (The name Stormy also saw an uptick in usage, thanks to the Destry episode “Stormy Is a Lady,” which featured a young girl name Stormy.)
Some sources suggest the surname Destry is related to the medieval English word destrier, which referred to a war horse, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.
*Looks like Rurapenthe is based on “Rura Penthe,” the name of a planetoid used as a Klingon penal colony (!) in the Star Trek universe. Its name is a nod to Rorapandi, a penal colony island in the Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). Rorapandi was invented by Disney; it did not appear in the Jules Verne novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870).
But these names are special, because they are the highest-charting single-appearance names ever. Impressively, each of the names blow ranked at least 700th (or well above!) during the single year they placed in the top 1,000.
Rank & Year
241st in 1989
424th in 1997
The 1996 telenovela Te Sigo Amando featured a character named Yulissa played by Claudia Ramírez.
The first 3 seasons of the Mission: Impossible TV series (1966-1973) featured a character named Cinnamon Carter. (That’s what put Cinnamon on the map.) Early in 1969, “Cinnamon” by Derek (a.k.a. Johnny Cymbal) was an actual one-hit wonder that peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later the same year, “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young was released.
700th in 2001
Destiny’s Child (featuring Beyoncé Knowles) won two Grammy Awards in 2001.
I didn’t include single-appearance names from the 1880s (like Manerva, Zilpah, Worley, Ambers, Orilla, and Simona), and it’s too early to include names from the 2006 data (Addisyn, Krish, Yandel, Rihanna).