How popular is the baby name Francelia in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, check out all the blog posts that mention the name Francelia.
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Uniquely named female film stars were inspiring debuts on the baby name charts as early as the 1910s, starting with Francelia in 1912.
But the first male film star to inspire a baby name debut didn’t come along until the 1930s.
That film star was actor Franchot Tone. He shot to fame in 1933, the year he appeared in seven films — including one with Jean Harlow, another with Loretta Young, and two with Joan Crawford (his future wife).
The name Franchot debuted on the SSA’s baby name list the very next year:
The usage of Franchot peaked in 1936, the year Tone appeared in the very successful 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty. (Movita, Marlon Brando’s future wife, was also in the film.)
Franchot Tone’s birth name was Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone. Franchot, pronounced fran-show, was his mother’s maiden name. It’s one of the many names (and surnames) that can be traced back to the Late Latin Franciscus, meaning “Frankish” or “Frenchman.”
Ziegfeld Follies, which appeared on Broadway almost every year from 1907 until 1931, was an extravagant production that included music, dance and comedy.
The biggest draw, though, was the bevy of beautiful showgirls.
It became a popular sport to guess which one would break out and become the next big star, like onetime showgirls Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Gypsy Rose Lee, Josephine Baker, and of course, Marilyn Miller.
Several Follies girls went on to enjoy successful careers in entertainment, but only two — Allyn King and Avonne Taylor — inspired baby name debuts.
In fact, Allyn and Avonne are the 4th- and 5th-earliest actor-inspired baby name debuts that I know of (after Francelia, Ormi and Seena).
Allyn King was born in North Carolina in February of 1899. It looks as though she was named after her father, Allen. (Her sister, Phoebe, was named after their mother.)
Allyn was a Follies girl from 1916 until 1920, and the name Allyn — which was already showing up regularly on the SSA’s list as a boy name — debuted as a girl name in 1918:
1926: 5 baby girls named Allyn
1925: 11 baby girls named Allyn
1924: 5 baby girls named Allyn
1923: 7 baby girls named Allyn
1921: 5 baby girls named Allyn
1918: 7 baby girls named Allyn [debut]
(I can’t include SSDI data for unisex names like this one because the SSDI doesn’t code for gender, making it impossible to know for sure which people are male and which are female.)
Allyn King continued to appear in Broadway shows during the 1920s, and she was in one silent film in 1923.
But the pressure to achieve the skinny, boyish figure that was fashionable during the ’20s proved too much for her. Extreme dieting nearly killed her in 1927, and, after spending almost two years recovering in a sanatorium, she was still so depressed in early 1930 that she jumped out of a 5th story window in New York City. She died two days later.
Avonne Taylor was born in Ohio, also in February of 1899, to parents Clifford and Diana. Her birth name was Evangeline, but she joined the Follies under the name Avonne. (I’m not sure how she came up with it.)
Avonne was a Follies girl from 1920 to 1922, and the name Avonne debuted on the SSA’s list in 1923:
1928: 9 baby girls named Avonne
1927: 12 baby girls named Avonne
1926: 6 baby girls named Avonne
1925: 12 baby girls named Avonne
1924: 17 baby girls named Avonne
1923: 11 baby girls named Avonne [debut]
Though the name was in use before 1923, it was too rare to appear in the publicly available SSA data. Here’s SSDI data from the same time period, for comparison:
1928: 3 people named Avonne
1927: 6 people named Avonne
1926: 2 people named Avonne
1925: 9 people named Avonne
1924: 11 people named Avonne
1923: 13 people named Avonne
1922: 4 people named Avonne
1920: 1 person named Avonne
1919: 2 people named Avonne
(For the SSDI numbers, I only counted people who had Avonne as a first name, not as a middle.)
Avonne Taylor went on to appear in a couple of films — one in 1927, the other in 1931 — and then left the entertainment industry altogether after marrying asbestos heir Tommy Manville. (The marriage lasted about a month.) She died in 1992.
First there was Francelia. Then there was Ormi. And today we have Seena — the third name (I know of) to debut on the U.S. baby name charts thanks to the influence of a silent film actress.
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)
51 baby girls
52 baby girls
42 baby girls
67 baby girls [peak usage]
45 baby girls
46 baby girls
43 baby girls
(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)
6 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]
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.
Back in the 1910s, when the film industry was just getting off the ground, several early film actors (or “players,” as they were called back then) managed to influence the baby name charts.
The very first actor-inspired baby name to debut on the charts seems to be Francelia, which appeared in 1912.
And the second? Ormi, which came along four years later.
Silent film actress Ormetta Grace “Ormi” Hawley was born in Massachusetts in 1889. “Opulent Ormi” appeared in hundreds of silent films (mostly shorts) from 1911 to 1919, primarily for the Lubin Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Her name appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for one year only (1916), but SSDI data reveals that other baby girls were named Ormi during the decade:
5 Ormis [debut]
Ormi Hawley retired from acting in the 1920s and passed away in 1942. Unfortunately, very little of her film work has survived. (In fact, 70% of all films from the silent era are “completely lost to history,” according to the Library of Congress.)
Here’s a rare, old-fashioned name that’s been given two distinct pop culture boosts over the years — one from the movies, one from the weather.
The movie connection is especially interesting because, as far as I can tell, this is probably the first name to debut on the charts thanks to an actress.
Usage of the name Francelia (pronounced fran-SEE-lee-ah) goes back to at least the 1700s. The name was most popular in the mid-1800s, especially in the Northeastern U.S. (New York state in particular). It seems to be an elaborated form of Frances (“Frenchman”) influenced by either Celia (“sky, heaven”) or Cecilia (“blind”), or both.
Francelia debuted on the SSA’s baby name list in 1912, probably thanks to early silent film actress Francelia Billington, who was born in Texas in 1895 and appeared in silent films from 1912 until the mid-1920s (and in a single talkie in 1930).
Francelia Billington wasn’t the first silent film actress to become famous, but she was the first whose name debuted on the national baby name list while she was famous. Several other silent film actresses of the 1910s also had distinctive names (e.g., Alla Nazimova, Theda Bara, Kathlyn Williams) but their names had all been listed since the late 1800s.
The SSA data from the 1910s isn’t super-reliable, so I’ve put both the SSA and the Social Security Death Index numbers side-by-side below. For the SSDI numbers, I only counted people who had Francelia as a first name, not as a middle.
Francelia usage (SSA)
Francelia usage (SSDI)
6 baby girls
10 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]
One of the Francelias above was children’s literature scholar/writer Francelia Butler (née McWilliams) who was born in Ohio in 1913.
The name Francelia has remained rare in the U.S. ever since, though it did see a spike in usage in 1969 thanks to the news of Hurricane Francelia, which hit Central America in early September.
1971: 5 baby girls named Francelia
1970: 10 baby girls named Francelia
1969: 23 baby girls named Francelia (and 8 more named Francellia)
1967: 7 baby girls named Francelia
Francelia’s last appearance on the SSA’s list was in 1998, with just 7 baby girls. (To be included on the list, a name needs to be given to at least 5 babies.)
Do you like the name Francelia? Would you consider using it for a baby girl?
Sources: SSA, SSDI