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

Where did the baby name Tiki come from?

In the 1950s and ’60s, Tiki culture — including Tiki bars — were all the rage in the United States. Even Disneyland got in on the action, introducing the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963.

So it’s not terribly surprising the that the baby name Tiki emerged in the SSA data in the early 1960s:

  • 1964: 12 baby girls named Tiki
  • 1963: 9 baby girls named Tiki
  • 1962: 5 baby girls named Tiki
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 15 baby girls named Tiki [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted

But that rather impressive 1960 debut — and subsequent drop-off a year later– suggests that a specific event kicked off the initial usage of Tiki.

I’ve got two theories on this one.

First is the Hawaiian Eye episode “Fatal Cruise,” which aired in February of 1960 and featured actress Linda Lawson as a character named Tiki.

tiki, 1960s, baby name, television
The schooner Tiki

Second is the show Adventures in Paradise, in which the main character, Capt. Adam Troy, travels around the South Pacific on a schooner called the Tiki.

(Adventures in Paradise, which kicked off the names Sondi and Tiare, was created by writer James Michener, who was behind the debuts of Sayonara and Kerith.)

The first theory makes the most sense, because Hawaiian Eye associated the name with a (very pretty) human. But I don’t think we can discount the second theory, because Adventures in Paradise consistently presented “Tiki” as a name…even if it was just the name of a boat.

So where does the word tiki come from? It was used in the Marquesas and in New Zealand to refer to any carving with human features. (The equivalent word in Hawaiian is ki’i and in Tahitian is ti’i.) Originally, though, Tiki was a specific mythological figure: “the Polynesian Adam, the creator of man…sort of half-man and half-god.”

What are your thoughts on Tiki as a baby name?

Sources: Fatal Cruise, Hawaiian Eye – IMDb, Adventures in Paradise – Fifties Web, Tiki Hangover: Unearthing the False Idols of America’s South Seas Fantasy

Mystery baby name: Tyronda

Today’s mystery name? Tyronda, primarily.

From 1977 to 1978, Tyronda was the second-fastest rising girl name in the nation.

(The fastest-rising girl name, incidentally, was Aja.)

But we also have the similar names Tyronza and Tyrhonda, both of which saw marked increases in usage in 1978 as well.

All three names peaked in 1979:

198040 baby girls20 baby girls13 baby girls
197981 baby girls [peak]27 baby girls [peak]28 baby girls [peak]
197873 baby girls25 baby girls17 baby girls [debut]
19776 baby girls..
197610 baby girls..

I’ve searched high and low, but so far I can’t figure out what was drawing attention to these names in the late ’70s.

The variant spellings suggest the influence was audio as opposed to visual, and the state data reveals that usage was concentrated in the South (e.g., Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina), but those are the only two clues I can offer.

Do you have any thoughts on this one?