During the ’60s and ’70s, a slew of Africa-inspired baby names debuted in the U.S. baby name data. These included traditional African names (e.g., Abayomi, Ayanna), names taken from African and African-American public figures (e.g., Lumumba, Levar), and — the focus of today’s post — African place names, particularly country names.
Here are all the African country/region/kingdom names I’ve spotted in the SSA data so far. (I didn’t omit Chad, even though it coincides with the English name Chad.)
The compound French name Jeanluc first appeared in the U.S baby name data in 1987:
1993: 63 baby boys named Jean-Luc
1992: 65 baby boys named Jean-Luc [peak usage]
1991: 46 baby boys named Jean-Luc
1990: 26 baby boys named Jean-Luc
1989: 21 baby boys named Jean-Luc
1988: 14 baby boys named Jean-Luc
1987: 8 baby boys named Jean-Luc [debut]
Where did it come from?
Captain Jean-Luc (pronounced zhon look) Picard of the starship Enterprise.
Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, was the central character of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which premiered in late 1987 and ran until mid-1994.
The character, though born and raised in 24th-century France, was a native English speaker. How? According to the show, French had become an obscure language by the 2300s. And yet, interestingly, the people of English-speaking future-France were still getting very traditional French names. Picard’s parents were named Maurice and Yvette, for instance. (Do you think this is a believable scenario?)
The names Geordi and Riker also debuted during the years TNG was on the air. They were likely influence by the characters Will Riker (the first officer) and Geordi La Forge (the chief engineer, played by LeVar Burton).
The only other Star Trek name I’ve blogged about so far is Uhura, but there are more on the way…
In the meanwhile, what do you think of the name Jean-Luc?
In late 1976, Alex Haley’s best-selling novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family was published.
The book — which tells a sweeping, multi-generational tale that lasts from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800 — begins with the story of Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka teenager who was captured in Africa, transported via slave ship to North America, and sold to a Virginia plantation owner.
In January of 1977, an 8-episode miniseries based on the novel aired on television for 8 consecutive nights (on ABC).
The televised version of Roots was wildly popular, earning 9 Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, a Peabody, and some of the highest Nielsen ratings of all time.
More importantly, though, it had an unprecedented influence on baby names, inspiring thousands African-American parents to name their babies after Roots characters and actors. Below are some examples.
Kizzy, Levar, Kunta & Kinte
According to the U.S. baby name data, the top debut names of 1977 were Kizzy and Levar.
Kizzy came from the character Kizzy, daughter of Kunta Kinte, who was featured during the middle episodes of the series.
1979: 269 baby girls named Kizzy [rank: 648th]
1978: 456 baby girls named Kizzy [rank: 439th]
1977: 1,115 baby girls named Kizzy [rank: 223rd] [debut]
So far, Kizzy’s 1977 debut is the highest baby name debut ever.
During the scene in which the newborn Kizzy is named, Kunta Kinte says, “Girl, your name is Kizzy. […] Your name means ‘stay put,’ but it don’t mean ‘stay a slave.’ It will never mean that!”
Here’s how one Florida couple, who welcomed a baby girl in early 1977, decided to name their daughter Kizzy:
“I identified with Kunta Kinte, and I thought the name Kizzy was a way I could express that,” said Willie Parker of Carol City, a Miami suburb.
His wife, Carrie, initially wanted to name their new daughter Nicole. But Parker said he was especially moved by the scene from the television series in which Kinte names his child and then raises her to the stars and tells her to behold the only thing greater than herself. So, he persuaded his wife to name their child Kizzy.
Kunta not only debuted in 1977, but it popped into the top 1,000 for the first and only time that year as well.
1979: 16 baby boys named Kunta
1978: 52 baby boys named named Kunta
1977: 215 baby boys named Kunta [rank: 572nd] [debut]
Kinte also reached the top 1,000 for the first and only time in 1977, after debuting the year before.
1979: 6 baby boys named Kinte
1978: 38 baby boys named Kinte
1977: 104 baby boys named Kinte [rank: 839th]
1976: 5 baby boys named Kinte [debut]
The New York Times reported in March of 1977 that a young couple from Harlem, John and Nefhertiti Reid, had welcomed a baby boy on February 18 and named him Kunta Kinte Reid. He was “one of 20 newborn black boys and girls in New York City last month who were given the names Kunta Kinte or Kizzy.”
Officials in the health departments of several cities reported that 15 babies last month had been named Kunta Kinte or Kizzy in Los Angeles, 10 in Detroit and eight in Atlanta. In Cleveland, male and female twins were named after the two characters.
Though it did not return to the data when Roots aired, “[o]ne family in Detroit named their child Vereen, apparently for actor Ben Vereen, who in the television show portrayed Kizzy’s son, Chicken George.”
Here’s the format: “Girl name(s), number of baby girls; Boy name(s), number of baby boys.” Keep in mind that the raw numbers aren’t too trustworthy for about the first six decades, though. (More on that in a minute.)
I’ve already written about some of the names above, and I plan to write about all the others as well…eventually. In the meanwhile, if you want to beat me to it and leave a comment about why Maverick hit in 1957, or why Moesha hit in 1996, feel free!