More “Year of the Dragon” baby names

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon

Chinese New Year is coming up! We will soon be transitioning out of the Year of the Tiger and into the Year of the Rabbit.

And, while I don’t have anything to say about tigers or rabbits, I do I have something to say about dragons.

I wrote about Dragon year baby names (like Long and Ryu) a few years ago. Since then, though, I’ve discovered a whole new set of dragon-names that I missed the first time around — probably because I was too focused on data from the second half of the 20th century.

These new-to-me names all feature the element tatsu, which, like ryu, is a Japanese word for “dragon.” Interestingly, both of these words are represented by the same kanji:

Kanji for "dragon" (simplified form)

Ryu is the on’yomi (Sino-Japanese) reading of the ideogram, while tatsu is the kun’yomi (native Japanese) reading.

Turns out that, during the Dragon years of the early 20th century, names with the element tatsu saw higher-than-expected usage in places with large numbers of Japanese-Americans, particularly the territory of Hawaii:

of Hawaii
Japanese population
of Hawaii
1950499,794184,598 (36.9%)
1940422,770157,905 (37.4%)
1930368,300139,631 (37.9%)
1920255,881109,274 (42.7%)
1910191,87479,675 (41.5%)
1900154,00161,111 (39.7%)

So, what names are we talking about?


The tatsu-name that emerged first in the U.S. baby name data — and the one that was the most popular overall — was the male name Tatsuo, which saw discernible spikes in usage during the Dragon years of 1916, 1928, and 1940:

Graph of the usage of the baby  name Tatsuo in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Tatsuo

Here’s the data on Tatsuo for those specific years:

  • In 1916, 57 U.S. baby boys were named Tatsuo.
    • 41 [72%] were born in Hawaii, 12 in California.
  • In 1928, 39 U.S. baby boys were named Tatsuo.
    • 20 [51%] were born in Hawaii, 14 in California.
  • In 1940, 6 U.S. baby boys were named Tatsuo.

Tatsuo saw its highest-ever usage in 1916 — the one and only year it managed to rank inside the U.S. top 1,000.

Tatsumi, Tatsuro, Tatsuko, Tatsue

Tatsuo wasn’t the only tatsu-name seeing usage during the first decades of the 1900s.

In 1916, Tatsuo was joined in the data by the girl names Tatsuko and Tatsue and the boy names Tatsumi and Tatsuro:

*Debut, †Peak usage

Many of the babies named Tatsuko (which was one of the top debut names of 1916) and Tatsumi were born in Hawaii. This is probably true for Tatsue and Tatsuro as well, but their usage was too low to register in the SSA’s state-by-state data.

Tatsuro was a one-hit wonder, but the other three were back in the data in 1928:


Other tatsu-names were also being bestowed during these years. In the Social Security Death Index, for instance, I found dozens of people — many born in either 1916 or 1928 — with names like Tatsuharu, Tatsuhiko, Tatsuichi, Tatsuji, Tatsukichi, Tatsunobu, Tatsunori, Tatsushi, Tatsuwo, and Tatsuyuki.

For the next three Dragon years (1952, 1964, and 1976), tatsu-names were absent from the data.

Mid-century anti-Japanese sentiment following the late 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor may have had something to do with this. It’s likely that, during this period, many Japanese-Americans did not give their babies conspicuously Japanese first names — reasoning that this would help their children assimilate and/or reduce the risk of discrimination.

Tatsuya, Tatsu, Tatsuki

Starting in the late 1980s, we see three new tatsu-names emerge in the U.S. baby name data. Each one debuted during a Dragon year:

  • The male name Tatsuya first appeared in 1988.
  • The male name Tatsu first appeared in 2000.
  • The male name Tatsuki first appeared in 2012.

Tatsuya remained in the data for several decades (though, curiously, it did not see a spike in usage in 2000). The other two, on the other hand, were one-hit wonders.


The Year of the Dragon comes around again early next year, on February 10.

Which dragon names, if any, do you think we’ll see in the data in 2024?


Image by sherisetj from Pixabay

Mystery baby names: Romayne & Romaine


Writing about Amish names a few weeks ago reminded me of Romaine and Romayne, which saw relatively high usage in the state of Pennsylvania (as girl names) during the early-to-mid 20th century.

The more popular spelling, Romaine, appeared in the national data from the 1880s to the 1990s. For most of that period, it saw its highest usage in Pennsylvania.

Here’s a look at the data for Romaine from the 1920s, for instance:

Girls named Romaine, U.S.Girls named Romaine, PA
19298739 (45%)
192891*45 (49%)
19278046 (58%)
19266436 (56%)
19257135 (49%)
19247439 (53%)
19236832 (47%)
19228854* (61%)
19217843 (55%)
19207341 (56%)
*Peak usage

The less popular spelling, Romayne, appeared in the national data from the early 1900s to the 1960s. From at least the 1910s until the 1940s, the majority of Romayne’s usage was in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the data for Romayne from the 1920s:

Girls named Romayne, U.S.Girls named Romayne, PA
19294523 (51%)
192847*30* (64%)
19273622 (61%)
19262518 (72%)
19253825 (66%)
19243818 (47%)
19232819 (68%)
19222717 (63%)
19213219 (59%)
19203325 (76%)
*Peak usage

My initial guess was that either the Amish or the Mennonites were behind the heavy Pennsylvania usage. Reading through obituaries and online memorials, though, I’ve found women named Romaine/Romayne who were members of various religious groups: Mennonite, Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian, Methodist, etc. So I’m not sure if that theory holds water.

My next guess was that it represented transferred usage of the surname Romaine (a form of the Dutch surname Romein), perhaps due to the influence of the French name Germaine. But I don’t know why this would have been any more likely to happen in Pennsylvania than in, say, New Jersey or New York (both of which also saw a lot of Dutch settlement during the 1600s).

What are your thoughts on this?

Source: Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

P.S. A similar name, Rolayne, saw a bit of usage among Mormons decades ago…

Mystery baby name: Derl

Today’s mystery name, Derl, is one I’ve been trying to figure out for years.

It debuted modestly in the SSA data in 1929, then skyrocketed in usage the very next year. In fact, Derl was the fastest-rising baby name of 1930.

  • 1933: 19 baby boys named Derl
  • 1932: 27 baby boys named Derl
  • 1931: 36 baby boys named Derl
    • 5 born in TX, 5 in VA
  • 1930: 58 baby boys named Derl [peak usage]
    • 7 born in TX, 7 in OK, 5 in NC
  • 1929: 5 baby boys named Derl [debut]
  • 1928: unlisted
  • 1927: unlisted
Derl, baby name popularity graph, spike in 1930

The spelling Derle both debuted and saw peak usage in 1930 as well.

Despite my best efforts, I still don’t have any theories about this one. But I can offer a couple of clues:

  • The state-by-state SSA data suggests that Derl was used most often in the South.
  • The 1929 debut might mean that the event we’re looking for occurred in the later months of 1929 instead of in 1930.

Have any ideas about Derl?

P.S. Just for context, the somewhat similar names Dale and Darrell were both on the rise during the ’20s and ’30s.

Update, 11/5/2020: Just noticed that the fastest-rising girl name of 1930, Dorla, is strangely similar to Derl. Could this be a clue…?

Mystery baby name: Dameron

Dameron in Ironside, early 1969

The baby name Dameron has been used sparingly for both genders. It’s only a one-hit wonder so far on the girls’ list, but, notably, it was the highest-hitting one-hit wonder the year it showed up:

  • 1971: unlisted
  • 1970: unlisted
  • 1969: 15 baby girls named Dameron [debut]
  • 1968: unlisted
  • 1967: unlisted

So, what’s behind that spike?

I don’t know for sure. My only theory so far makes sense in some ways, but not in others.

In February of 1969, an episode of the TV crime drama Ironside featured a bad-guy character named Dameron (played by Skip Homeier). Ironside was a popular show, and the timing was just right, but…this was a male character, and he was only featured in the last 15 minutes of the episode.

Could the character be the cause, or is this just a strange coincidence?

Do you have any theories about the sudden appearance of Dameron in the data?

(Here are two facts that could potentially be clues: Cameron saw slightly higher usage as a girl name in 1969, and the rarity Tameron popped up on the girls’ side of the list the same year.)

Source: Moonlight Means Money (TV episode) – Ironside – IMDb, Ironside – Wikipedia