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The most popular girls names of the 1950s were Susan, Jennifer, Christine, and Margaret, but what were the least popular names? Here are ten names which were only chosen once in any year between 1950 and 1959 in South Australia, making them unique names for their time and place. They continue to be rare, and some parents will still find them appealing.
Anglicised form of Adélie, a variant or pet form of the French name Adèle. The name came into common use in the 19th century, and has a strong connection with Antarctica. Adélie Land borders the Australian Antarctic Territory, and has been claimed by France, although most countries do not recognise their sovereignty. The coast of Adélie Land was discovered in 1840 by the French explorer Jules D’Urville, and named after his wife Adèle. Since 1956 there has been a French research station here, and perhaps it helped to give the name some publicity in this decade. Adélie penguins get their name from Adélie Land, and the location has another penguin connection, as this is where the award-winning French documentary March of the Penguins was filmed. Names such as Adeline and Adele are on trend, and Adelie has a strong local association. Usually pronounced AD-uh-lee by English-speakers; Addie is the obvious nickname.
Feminine form of the Roman family name Drusus. The first of the line was Livius Drusus, who gained his name by killing a Gallic chieftain named Drausus in one-on-one combat. Although the meaning of Drausus is unknown, one theory is that it comes from the Celtic for “strong”. Drusilla was the name of one of King Herod’s great-granddaughters, and she briefly appears in the New Testament as the wife of the Roman governor Felix Antonius; mention is made of her beauty, and that Felix used great cunning to persuade the Jewish – and already married – Drusilla to wed him, a pagan (later she perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius). Drusilla has been used as an English name since at least the 17th century; presumably the loveliness of the biblical namesake was a drawcard. A famous namesake of the decade was British actress Drusilla Wills, who passed away in 1951. In Australia this name has an intellectual image, due to novelist and literary critic Drusilla Modjeska; however Drusilla often has a Gothic connection in popular culture. Dru makes a cool nickname.
Greek version of the Egyptian goddess Aset, whose name means “throne”, and represents the power of the pharaoh. Worshipped as the ideal wife and mother, Isis was a patron of nature and magic; she was the protector of the poor and downtrodden, but also heeded the prayers of the wealthy and aristocratic. She was popular throughout Egypt, and later her cult spread through the Greco-Roman world, where she came to represent wisdom. She even influenced Christianity, for the popular image of the Virgin Mary nursing the baby Jesus was taken directly from Isis suckling her son Horus. Worship of Isis continues today in both pagan and interfaith contexts, and she has become important to occult, esoteric and New Age movements. A famous namesake from this decade was Isis Finlay, the Miss Cuba of 1954. The British astronomer Isis Pogson, who used her middle name, was probably named after the River Isis, part of the Thames, and this is the inspiration for the name of the Isis Rivers in Australia. A lovely ancient name which has suffered from the coincidence of the terrorist group popularly called ISIS, although Islamic State is the more usual way of referring to it.
Hebrew name meaning “incense”, probably with spiritual overtones rather than simply describing a pleasant aroma. In the Old Testament, Keturah was the second wife of the patriarch Abraham; he married her after the death of Sarah, and she is implied to be a lower-status wife. Keturah bore Abraham six sons, and Abraham settled them in colonies at some distance away, presumably so that they wouldn’t trouble his son Isaac. They are said to represent the Arab tribes who lived south and east of Palestine, although the youngest ended up in Syria. Despite being one of the most ignored characters in the Bible, Keturah has been used as an English name since the 17th century, but has never gained popularity. Keturah fit in with popular names of the 1950s such as Kathleen, Kathryn, Karen and Kerry, and even today underrated Keturah is surprisingly stylish. You could use Kitty as the nickname.
Can be used as a short form of any name starting with a K, ending in -iki, or with a strong K sound, or as a true nickname with no relation to the birth name. The name was well known by the 1950s due to the French artist’s model and cabaret singer Alice Prin, who worked under the professional name Kiki, and was known as The Queen of Montparnasse. The companion of American photographer Man Ray for several years, she is the subject of many of his most famous works. An artist in her own right, her autobiography was reprinted in the 1950s under the title The Education of a Young Model. Kiki died in 1953, but she remained a bohemian symbol of feminine freedom and audacity. Another inspiration was Norwegian-born fashion designer Kiki Byrne (born Olaug Grinaker), who was Mary Quant’s rival in the trendy London scene of the late 1950s and 1960s. Kiki was also a celebrity baby name in this decade, the nickname of Chiara, daughter of American artist Tony Smith, and his opera singer wife, Jane Lawrence (Kiki Smith is now a highly successful artist herself). Kiki is a vintage nickname which still seems daring, chic, and sexy.
Created by William Shakespeare for a character in The Merchant of Venice. It is usually thought that he based it on the Nereids, the beautiful sea nymphs of Greek mythology who were the daughters of the sea god Nereus; his name and theirs comes from the Greek word for “water”. In the play, Nerissa is the handmaid of the heroine Portia, and the two of them team up to fool the boys and save the day with a clever plan. Although Nerissa is pretty, witty, and gets her man, her role as a servant and sidekick may not have helped the name’s fortunes. It doesn’t seem to have been used as a name until the 19th century, when Shakespeare became very fashionable, and has never been popular, like his other creations Jessica and Olivia. Nerissa was very on trend in the 1950s, when names like Nerida, Narelle, Nerine, and Nerys were all the rage. It perhaps sounds slightly dated now, but is still a very pretty name with an attractive fictional namesake.
In Greek mythology Pandora was the first woman created by the gods, designed not as a companion and helpmate for man but his punishment. Each of the gods bestowed upon Pandora the most seductive of gifts, such as beauty, grace, intelligence, and charm, but she was also given a jar which contained all diseases and miseries. Pandora almost immediately opened it, so that evil entered the world. Only Hope was left in the jar, but it is unclear whether this was a Bad Thing (hope was never released, giving us no expectation of improvement) or a Good Thing (at least we still have hope). For that matter, why did the gods regard Hope as an evil? Scholars have devoted many pages to these questions. At least Pandora’s name is straightforward: she was named by Hermes with the meaning “all gifts”, to indicate how well the gods endowed her. Pandora has been used as an English name since at least the 18th century, although the backstory is a mixed blessing. An inspiration from this decade was the 1951 romantic film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, with Ava Gardner as femme fatale Pandora Reynolds. An exotic spin on Eve, but the mistranslation of her jar makes Pandora’s Box something of an issue.
The pen name of Australian novelist Jessie Couvreur, who was of Dutch, French, and English descent. Jessie and her family arrived in Tasmania from London in 1852, and she was raised and given a liberal education in Hobart. Her pseudonym was inspired by the island state of Tasmania, and could be seen as a feminine form of Tasman. There is a Tasma Street in Hobart, apparently named in her honour. Jessie began publishing her work when she was sixteen, and she spent most of her career in Europe. An example of the New Woman, Jessie divorced her first husband, and was already financially independent through her work. She published eight novels between 1877 and 1897, lectured in French, and wrote for the Nouvelle Revue, receiving the Officier d’Académie from the French government; she was particularly interested in feminist issues. Later in life she became a correspondent for The Times in Brussels, proving herself an excellent journalist. A famous namesake is actress Tasma Walton, who is married to comedian Rove McManus, and has been a celebrity parent on the blog. Another celebrity mum, Yumi Stynes, has Tasma as her middle name. The name Tasma is particularly associated with Australia, and although it is found in other countries too, seemingly only after Jessie Couvreur began her international writing career, leaving open the possibility this is a genuine Australian original that’s both literary and patriotic.
Swedish form of Wiebke, feminine form of the Germanic name Wiebe, a medieval short form of names containing the name element wig, meaning “war”. The name is pronounced VIV-eh-kuh. In the 1950s, Viveka would have fitted in with fashionable Vivian and Vivienne, and still makes a good alternative to those names. By coincidence, viveka is also a Sanskrit word meaning “discrimination, discernment”. In Eastern philosophies, viveka is the ability to tell the difference between what is real (eternal) and unreal (changing), which is necessary for spiritual growth; the word is used in yoga and certain meditation techniques. It is sometimes used as a female name in India, which makes Viveka a cool multicultural choice.
Slavic name meaning “dawn”. A famous Australian with the name was the writer Zora Cross, who wrote several novels between the 1920s and 1940s but is primarily known for her poetry. Her private life was scandalous for the time, because she separated from her husband and lived with her partner, who she had two children with and “married” in a private commitment ceremony. Zora’s partner adopted another child she had with a previous lover, and in turn he and his wife were separated, she living with her own partner. These bohemian arrangements were frowned upon and caused some difficulties with employment, but Zora was able to support herself through acting and journalism. Despite this interesting namesake, the name Zora probably appeared in the 1950s data because of post-war immigration from the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina). Several other Slavic names appear in the data, including Zorica, a pet form of Zora. Very similar to popular Zara, this makes a good heritage choice and an alternative to Aurora.
People’s favourite names were Adelie, Zora and Viveka, and their least favourites were Pandora, Kiki and Drusilla.
(Photo shows the writer “Tasma” in Turkish dress in Istanbul; a favourite photo of hers since Turkish women’s clothing was unrestrictive compared to that in Europe)
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