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Famous Namesake
The blog will look at a few musical names in May, and this week the focus is on jazz singer Georgia Lee. She was born Dulcie Pitt in Cairns, and her ancestry was an exotic blend of Jamaican, Indian, Australian Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Scottish. She and her sisters Sophie and Heather formed The Harmony Sisters, and they toured Queensland to entertain the troops during World War II, meeting other performers such as Hollywood star John Wayne.

After the war she took the stage name Georgia Lee and became a cabaret singer in the jazz and blues clubs of 1950s Sydney and Melbourne. She was part of the bohemian world that included famous artists like Donald Friend, Margaret Olley, and Russell Drysdale, and together with Indigenous opera star Harold Blair, took part in the first Moomba Festival in Melbourne in 1951.

Georgia made her mark overseas when she went to London to sing in the West End, which was recorded on BBC radio. Homesickness cut short her international career, but back in Australia she toured with Nat “King” Cole, and appeared on popular TV shows such as Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight and Bandstand.

She apparently suffered some sort of nervous breakdown in the late 1950s, but recovered enough to record her 1962 album Georgia Lee Sings the Blues Down Under, which was done all in one take. This was the first album ever recorded by someone with Indigenous Australian ancestry, and was also the first album in Australia recorded in stereo. The album was reissued in 2009, a year before Georgia’s death.

Georgia Lee was our Queen of Jazz, with a distinctly Australian identity and style. She was also a trailblazer for other Indigenous performers. Interviewed in her late seventies she said, “I had a fantastic life and met so many wonderful people”.

Name Information
Georgia is a feminine form of George, a name of Greek origin meaning “farmer”, which became well known because of the dragon-slaying St George. There is a St Georgia as well, a 6th century French nun, who doesn’t get nearly as much publicity, due to the paucity of dragons in her area.

As with its masculine counterpart, the name Georgia was rarely used in Britain until the 18th century, when the Hanoverian dynasty gained the throne; before this, the name Georgia was better known on the Continent, from the Italian Giorgia. However, an early British example is said to be a god child of Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I.

King George II gave his name to the American state of Georgia, which was first administered as a British colony. The name became more popular in the United States, and was a particular favourite in the south. A famous Georgia from Georgia was Georgia Brown, the daughter of politician Dr George Brown, who named her after their home state (although surely after himself too). Her story is said to have inspired the jazz standard Sweet Georgia Brown, whose lyrics explain that Georgia named her, Georgia claimed her.

Another geographical namesake is the country Georgia, once part of the Russian Empire. The origin of its name is not certain: it may be after St George, or from the Greek for “tiller of the soil”, as ancient Greeks called agricultural tribes Georgi. Another theory is that it comes from the Persian word gurg, meaning “wolf”, to indicate “land of wolves”. Its possible all these theories are true, with the different origins conflated.

The name Georgia first entered the charts in the 1940s, debuting at #442. A famous namesake for the era was American singer Georgia Carroll, who was part of the Big Band sound of the 1940s. Previously a model, the attractive songstress was known as “Gorgeous Georgia”. Another was the American artist Georgia O’Keefe, whose reputation grew substantially during the 1940s.

The name Georgia began increasing in popularity in the 1960s, making #228. This was the decade that Ray Charles released his hit version of the song Georgia on My Mind, which was written about the American state Georgia, although the lyrics are ambiguously written so that a girl can also be pictured. The composer Hoagy Carmichael did know a girl named Georgia – his sister – although he said that was a coincidence.

Georgia joined the Top 100 in 1989 at #98. It quickly leaped into the Top 50, making #42 by 1991, and was in the Top 10 by 1996, and the Top 5 by 1997. It peaked at #3 in 2001. It is currently #26 nationally, #25 in New South Wales, #26 in Victoria, #23 in Queensland, #31 in South Australia, #24 in Western Australia, #85 in Tasmania, and #21 in the Australian Capital Territory.

In the UK, Georgia’s popularity has been similar to that in Australia. It was a Top 100 name by the 1990s, peaking at #10 in 1997, and is now #48. Georgia is also popular in New Zealand, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. In the US, Georgia has never left the Top 1000. It was popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but got as low as the 700s in 1990. It has been generally trending upward since then, and is now #230, so Georgia’s popularity has been quite different there.

The variant Jorja made the Top 100 in both Australia and New Zealand during the early to mid 2000s. It has never been popular in any other country, and in the US only made the Top 1000 once, in 2006 when it was #976 (the year after heavy metal singer Bret Michaels welcomed a daughter named Jorja). This is a common variant spelling of Georgia in Australia, which I suspect parents think will be more intuitive to pronounce, and be free of geographical associations. Like other spelling variants, it’s generally frowned upon by those who furrow their brows over names.

Georgia is a modern classic which has been Top 100 for almost thirty years, and is now very stable in the Top 30. It peaked higher in Australia than anywhere else, and has become one of our popular standards. Georgie is the usual nickname, but Gigi is now more fashionable. If this sweet peach of a name that’s been celebrated in dozens of songs has been on your mind, then you might keep going back to Georgia.

POLL RESULTS

The name Georgia received an approval rating of 79%, making it one of the highest-rated names of 2016. People saw the name Georgia as pretty or beautiful (17%), suitable for all ages (17%), warm and sunny (16%), and sweet and spunky (15%). However 9% thought it was too common and boring. Only one person thought the name Georgia had too many spelling and pronunciation issues.

(Photo of Georgia Lee from ABC radio)

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