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Ebony at Babynameobsessed has a series called Names From My Childhood, and Abby recently had a post on girls names from 1980s television at Appellation Mountain. So I thought I would cover a 1980s name from my TV-watching childhood.
I was slightly hampered as a young television viewer, because I grew up in a rural area which only had one channel, and my family’s home was in some kind of TV black spot which meant we couldn’t get any television reception at all. However, I had friends and relatives within walking and cycling distance, so rather than get home from school and slump in front of the box, I got home from school, jumped on my bike, pedalled furiously, then slumped in front of the box.
Of course, I had to pretty much watch whatever other people had on, and my young cousins used to tune in to the long-running puppet show Mr Squiggle, where a cheery pencil-nosed man from the moon turned children’s squiggles into recognisable pictures. Mr Squiggle had a human assistant, and as it was on air for fifty years, you can tell someone’s age from the assistant they watched. Baby Boomers loved Miss Pat, Gen Xers were Miss Jane fans, while for my cousins it was Roxanne all the way.
Slightly embarrassing to admit, but while Abby was (apparently) watching Dallas and Dynasty, I was enjoying kiddie puppet shows!
Roxanne is a variant of Roxane, a French form of Roxana. Roxana is the Latinised form of the name Roshanak; a Bactrian name derived from the Avestan language of East Iran, meaning “bright, shining, radiant”. It can be understood as “luminous beauty”, “lovely flame”, or “shining star”, and this is one of the many names which have the meaning of “light” behind them. Roshanak is still a common girl’s name in Iran.
The name has become well known to us due to one woman – a Bactrian princess who became the wife of Alexander the Great. Roxana was from the ancient city of Balkh, now a small town in northern Afghanistan, and she met Alexander when he conquered the fort she was hiding in.
It is said that Alexander fell for Roxana on sight, and according to the Macedonians she was the one of the loveliest women they had seen in Asia. Despite strong opposition from his generals, Alexander married Roxana.
Instead of marrying purely for political ends, Alexander married for love, because he is said to have been infatuated with the beautiful Roxana. For her part, Roxana was pleased that her new husband didn’t force himself upon her at once, but actually made an effort to get to know her as a person (which tells you what marriage in the ancient world was generally like).
After Alexander died, Roxana bore him a posthumous son, also Alexander. To protect her position and that of her son, she murdered Alexander’s second wife Stateira, married for reasons of diplomacy, and probably his third wife as well, who was Stateira’s cousin. Roxana and her son were assassinated themselves in the power struggles following Alexander’s death.
Roxana’s romantic story was told in Nathaniel Lee’s 17th century tragedy, The Rival Queens, or the Death of Alexander the Great. The play was a huge hit right into the 19th century, and actresses who were jealous of each other were often cast in the lead roles, to add extra spice to the performance.
The name received a further boost from Daniel Defoe’s 18th century novel, Roxana, about a woman who falls into prostitution but gains freedom by marrying for money. Although a murderer and a prostitute/gold digger may not seem like appealing namesakes, they were strong, independent female characters, and Roxana became established as an English name in the 18th century.
The French form became well known through Edmond Rostand’s 19th century play Cyrano de Bergerac, where Roxane is the beautiful woman Cyrano longs for and woos for another, falsely believing she could never love an “ugly” man like himself.
Roxanne first ranked in the charts in the 1950s, after the 1950 film version of Cyrano de Bergerac, with Mala Powers in the role of Roxane; Roxanne debuted at #364 that decade. Roxanne was #282 in the 1960s, sank to #424 in the 1970s, and peaked in the 1980s at #272.
The 1980s put the focus on the name Roxanne for a few reasons. The hit song Roxanne was recorded by The Police in 1978 and re-released in 1979; Sting was inspired to write the song by the prostitutes around the band’s hotel in Paris. An old poster for Cyrano de Bergerac was hanging in the hotel’s foyer, which is where the name Roxanne came from. Not only popular in the charts of 1979-80, the pop classic Roxanne has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was remixed into El Tango de Roxanne in Moulin Rouge.
In the mid-1980s, the world of hip-hop went through The Roxanne Wars, where a series of “answer records” were released, inspired by UTFO’s Roxanne, Roxanne. Because of UTFO’s non-appearance at a show, teenager (Lolita) Roxanne Shante brought out Roxanne’s Revenge in answer. There were perhaps as many 100 answer records during the Roxanne Wars, and even a dance, as referenced in Do the Roxanne. So chances are you know at least one 1980s song with Roxanne in the title!
You might not think that a prostitute and a (rather silly and contrived) musical rivalry would be of much help to a name’s popularity, but as we’ve seen, a prostitute and a rather silly and contrived stage rivalry is exactly how Roxana became established in the 18th century. History repeats.
And keeps repeating. Towards the end of the 1980s, the movie Roxanne came out with Daryl Hannah in the title role: a clever rom-com remake of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, which gave the tragedy an upbeat ending. In the movie, Roxanne is a brainy astronomer.
After the 1980s, the name Roxanne plummeted, and left the charts completely in the early 2000s. You might say this name is dated, and could claim it as a trendy name, but as Roxanne never became popular, it still seems usable – in fact celebrity parents Toby Allen and Darren Weller chose it as their daughter’s name.
Roxanne has a fashionable X in it, while the -anne at the end makes it seem like one of the many Anne names. I have seen a couple of babies named Roxy, maybe influenced by celebrity mum Roxy Jacenko, and Rocky would make a cool tough-girl nickname.