Usage of the unisex name Terry was rising fast for both genders during the ’40s and ’50s, but I think the debuts of Terrea and Terria in the early ’50s had a more specific explanation than the trendiness of Terry.
|Terrea usage||Terria usage|
|1956||10 baby girls [peak]|
…9 born in Calif.
|18 baby girls|
|1955||.||10 baby girls|
|1954||9 baby girls||15 baby girls|
|1953||6 baby girls||16 baby girls|
|1952||.||17 baby girls [debut]|
|1951||6 baby girls||.|
|1950||5 baby girls [debut]|
…all 5 born in Calif.
I think the influence was Missouri-born folksinger Terrea Lea, who was closely associated with the Southern California folk scene starting in the early ’50s — long before folk music became trendy in the U.S. in the mid-’60s.
Terrea Lea was born Bette June Nutz in Liberty, Missouri, in 1922. I’m not sure how she chose her stage name or when she started using it, but she was being mentioned as “Terrea Lea” in Billboard magazine by mid-1950 and was appearing on television, performing on radio, and putting out singles by 1951. In April of 1951, Billboard described her as “local TV folk chirper billed as the fem[inine] Burl Ives.”
Her own Terrea Lea Show could be heard on the East Coast radio by 1952, but the newspapers often misspelled her name (e.g., “Terria Lea,” “Terrea Lee”) in the broadcast schedules. Typos like these, combined with the fact that the shows were (of course) audio only, probably account for why the name Terria was the top debut name of 1952.
In 1956 and 1957, Terrea Lea put out her first two full-length albums. In late 1958, she and some friends opened a coffee house in West Hollywood called The Garret. (The name was inspired by Puccini’s La bohème.) She regularly performed there, and it was frequented by popular folk singers of the day, including Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. The Garret existed until 1971.
There’s a website dedicated to The Garret, and the guest book includes six comments from people named after Terrea Lea. They are: Terra Lea, Terrea Lee, Terrea Lea (b. 1954, Calif.), Terrea Lea (b. 1951, Oregon), and Terria Leigh. Another comment is from someone whose son has the middle name Garret.
What are your thoughts on the name Terrea?
- 1940 U.S. Census
- “Aladdin Pacts 3 Folk Attractions.” Billboard 14 Apr. 1951: 16.
- This Is Terrea Lea – The Garret Coffee House
- How The Garret Came To Be – The Garret Coffee House