When Italian actress Virna Lisi started appearing in American films in the mid-1960s, American audiences took notice.
How do we know? Well, the baby name Lisi appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first time in 1965, and, the same year, the baby name Virna re-emerged in the data (after a decades-long absence) with its highest-ever usage.
|Girls named Virna||Girls named Lisi|
(It should be noted, of course, that Lisa was the #1 baby name in the nation from 1962 to 1969. No doubt this made the similar — but much rarer — name Lisi sound rather stylish during that decade.)
Virna Lisi was born Virna Lisa Pieralisi in Ancona, Italy, in 1936.
Her father had wanted to call her Siria (“Syria”), but that country’s colonial ruler, France, was at loggerheads with Mussolini and the births registrar accordingly refused to accept the name. The exasperated Pieralisi then made up Virna on the spot.
She started acting as a teenager in Italy, and her success in Italian films eventually led to a brief Hollywood career. She appeared in How to Murder Your Wife (1965) with Jack Lemmon, Not With My Wife You Don’t (1966) with Tony Curtis, and Assault on a Queen (1966) with Frank Sinatra.
But Lisi disliked her “sex symbol” image in America. So she decided to leave. She turned down the lead role in Barbarella, terminated her Hollywood contract, and returned to Europe to play a wider range of characters.
What are your thoughts on the names Virna and Lisi? Which one would you be more likely to use on a modern-day baby?
P.S. Italian actress Anna Maria Pierangeli — better known as Pier Angeli — also had a surname that began with “Pier,” the Italian form of Peter.