The name Damita first appeared in the SSA’s baby name dataset in 1950, and it saw peak usage in the early 1960s:
1963: 74 baby girls named Damita
1962: 102 baby girls named Damita
1961: 117 baby girls named Damita [peak*]
1960: 49 baby girls named Damita
1959: 20 baby girls named Damita
1952: 7 baby girls named Damita
1951: 18 baby girls named Damita
1950: 5 baby girls named Damita [debut]
Also in the early ’60s, the variant names Demita and Domita debuted.
What was the influence?
Singer Damita Jo DeBlanc, born in Texas in 1930 and known simply as “Damita Jo” for most of her decades-long career.
Though she was most successful during the early ’60s — her highest-charting songs were 1960’s “I’ll Save the Last Dance for You” and 1961’s “I’ll Be There” — her first solo singles (like “Believe Me” and “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere”) were released in 1950 and 1951, and she spent the rest of the ’50s performing and recording with the R&B group Steve Gibson & the Red Caps. She also appeared on, and won, an episode of the TV talent show Chance of a Lifetime in 1952.
In 1960, Jet magazine defined Damita Jo DeBlanc’s name as meaning “little lady of white” in “French and Spanish.”
My wild guess is that she was named after French-born movie star Lili Damita, whose Hollywood career began in the late ’20s. The Spanish word damita does indeed mean “little lady,” but Lili Damita’s claim that it was a nickname given to her by King Alfonso XIII of Spain is harder to prove.
Speaking of namesakes…several of Damita Jo’s namesakes became famous in their own right. There’s Damita Jo Freeman (b. 1953), the memorable Soul Train dancer. There’s Damita Jo Nicholson (b. 1953), “Miss Miami Beach 1972.” And, most notable of all, there’s singer/actress Janet Damita Jo Jackson (b. 1966) – yes, Michael’s sister. Janet even put out an album called “Damita Jo” in 2004 — the year of her infamous wardrobe malfunction.
*The name Damita would have entered the top 1,000 in 1961 if the six-way tie between Barrie, Callie, Damita, Freida, Staci, and Tonda — ranked 1,000th through 1,005th — hadn’t included a B-name and a C-name. As it happened, only Barrie made the cut and Damita technically ended up in 1,002nd place.
What’s My Line? (1950-1967) was one of the longest-running game shows on television — not to mention one of the earliest.
The word “line” in the title didn’t refer to a line of script, but to a line of work. Essentially, the show consisted of four celebrity panelists trying to guess a contestant’s occupation — typically something unexpected, e.g., “lipstick demonstrator,” “makes kilts,” “vaccinates chickens.”
Given the popularity of the show, and the fact that contestants’ names were emphasized (each one signed in on a chalkboard at the start of his/her segment), it’s not surprising that some of the more unusual contestant names ended up influencing U.S. baby names. For example…
Rondi Contestant Rondi Stratton, whose job was demonstrating mattresses in store windows, was on the show in October of 1952. The baby name Rondi saw increased usage in 1952-1953.
Barbi Contestant Barbi Nierenberg, who was a maternity dress buyer, was on the show in November of 1952. The baby name Barbi debuted in the data in 1953. (Barbie dolls weren’t launched until 1959.)
Wynelle Contestant Wynelle Davis, who was a fireworks seller, was on the show in June of 1953. The baby name Wynelle saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Sunee Contestant Sunee Parker, who was a men’s barber, was on the show in October of 1953. The baby name Sunee debuted in the data the same year.
Rozana Contestant Rozana Ruehrmund, who was a bill collector, was on the show in August of 1954. The baby name Rozana debuted in the data the same year.
Zana Contestant Zana Stanley, who handled bad checks at a District Attorney’s office, was on the show in November of 1954. The baby name Zana saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Lili Contestant Lili Lisande Wieland, who was a Christmas shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue, was on the show in December of 1954. The baby name Lili saw increased usage the same year.
Thor Contestant Thor Thors, who was the Icelandic ambassador to the United States, was on the show in November of 1955. The baby name Thor saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Evonne Contestant Evonne Gaines, who owned a dog grooming salon, was on the show in March of 1957. The baby name Evonne saw increased usage the same year.
Bunny Contestant Bunny Yeager, who was a “cheesecake photographer,” was on the show in July of 1957. The baby name Bunny saw increased usage the same year. (Bunny, born Linnea Eleanor Yeager, was a former pin-up model herself.)
Darris Contestant Darris Miller (f), who made one-piece pajamas for dogs, was on the show in August of 1959. The baby name Darris saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Perian Contestant Perian Conerly, who wrote a football column for newspapers, was on the show in December of 1959. The baby name Perian debuted in the data the next year. (Her growing visibility as a columnist may have been an influence here as well.)
Sherrylyn Contestant Sherrylyn Patecell, who was a Rockette — not to mention the recently elected Miss New York City — was on the show in July of 1960. The baby name Sherrylyn debuted in the data the same year. (Her pageant win may be a confounding factor here.)
LaVelda Contestant LaVelda Rowe and her identical twin sister LaVona Rowe, both news photographers, were on the show in July of 1960. The baby name LaVelda was a one-hit wonder in the data the same year.
Sita Contestant Sita Arora, who was a high school English teacher originally from Bombay, was on the show in September of 1960. The baby name Sita debuted in the data the same year.
Dorinda Contestant Dorinda Nicholson, who taught hula dancing, was on the show in August of 1962. The baby name Dorinda saw an uptick in usage the same year.
Candi Contestant Candi Brasovan, who was a salami seller, was on the show in January of 1963. The baby name Candi saw increased usage the same year.
Sheva Contestant Sheva Rapoport, who was a dentist, was on the show in February of 1966. The baby name Sheva debuted in the data the same year.
…And here are some other interesting What’s My Line? contestant names. These didn’t influence the data, but they caught my eye nonetheless.
Boy Names 1. Bence, 1,800 baby boys – Bence is a form of Vincent. 2. Máté, 1,321 3. Levente, 1,280 – Levente might be based on the Hungarian verb lesz, meaning “will be.” 4. Dominik, 1,173 5. Marcell, 1,146 6. Dávid, 1,123 7. Ádám, 1,117 8. Noel, 1,071 9. Dániel, 1,054 10. Milán, 1,037
In the girls’ top 10, Léna replaced Nóra.
In the boys’ top 10, Noel replaced Áron.
(Interestingly, the two “replaced” names — if we ignore diacritical marks — are anagrams of one another. They’re palindromic, in fact.)
And how is the name Attila faring in Hungary these days? Here’s the data for the last few years: