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Babies Named Corona Are No Joke

March 28, 2020 Katherine Morna Towne
baby name corona

There have been a lot of jokes going around about pandemic babies named Corona, but given the grim statistics on the novel coronavirus – over 600,000 global cases and 28,000 deaths as of March 28 — it’s difficult to believe that anyone would really name a baby after this deadly disease.

But don’t be so sure.

A handful of babies (and one tiger) have already been named Covid, the latest in the long history of names inspired by disasters. After World War I, more babies in England were named after devastating battles like Verdun than after war heroes like Cavell or wartime ideals such as Victory.

The name Pearl got an unexpected boost from the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which launched the US into World War II. The bombing temporarily reversed the decades-long downward slide of the name, with 250 more baby girls named Pearl in 1942, the year after the attack, than had been in 1941. 

And, though the name Katrina took a huge dip after the deadly, life-altering hurricane of 2005, its popularity rose in Louisiana and Mississippi in the months following the storm.

Why would anyone choose a name inspired by a tragic event? There are several reasons:

To connect a child’s identity with historic events

The name Zeppelina was given to a baby born in the UK the night two zeppelins crashed, killing all the passengers on one. Little Zeppelina’s name was suggested to her parents by the doctor who helped deliver her as a way to “mark the extraordinary circumstances of the night of her birth.”

Another of the battle names inspired by World War I is Passchendaele, which continues to be handed down through at least one family. A contemporary member of that family noted, “It’s difficult now for modern people to understand the effects that it must have had on a generation, the cataclysm of World War One must have changed the way people saw things … I can understand that creating a memorial with a name like Passchendaele is something that would have seemed perfectly normal.”

It’s not a stretch to replace “World War One” with “the coronavirus” and “Passchendaele” with “Corona” and make the same argument.

To honor the time and place of the baby’s conception and/or birth

With some experts predicting that the Shelter at Home orders and condom shortage might spark a corona baby boom, parents might follow the lead of such celebrities as Ron Howard or Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall who named their babies after their places of conception.

As with Katrina, that practice can extend to world events, as it did for little Tadashi Dorian Davis, born during — and named after — Hurricane Dorian.

To use a new name discovered via media coverage   

 Especially in our time of instant news and viral social media, parents become aware of names and may start to like them through through repeated and extensive exposure. Name expert Cleveland K. Evans noted that “publicity around a name — positive or negative — will cause its popularity to spike.”

Sometimes, it’s not a single name but a wider range of names from a disaster-stricken country or culture that rise in global popularity. Russian names such as Nadia, Tatiana, Natasha, and Ivan all took an upward turn in the US following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

To honor heroes or commemorate those who died

 World War I’s battle babies were often given the names of the battles (or other associated names) during which great acts of courage and heroism were exhibited, and/or during which their relatives died: “a form of living commemoration.”

One man who lost a leg in the battle of Zeebrugge in 1918 named his daughter Iris after the ship he’d served on, “in memory of his strength in surviving the battle.”

I don’t think it’s inappropriate to compare the global fight against the coronavirus to the battles of a worldwide war, and I’m sure there are many who have or will also battle the virus themselves and/or lose loved ones to the virus and want to commemorate those experiences with a baby name.

To remember the “blessings in disguise” that rise from a disaster

While social distancing is difficult in large and critical as well as small ways, many are finding the unexpected benefits of this time in family bonding and slower daily rhythms. Naming a baby Corona might be a way to honor the positives inherent in any tragedy and the triumph over adversity.

To give new life to a name with deep history and considerable beauty

The name Corona has been on my radar for a while: I included Corona (and the related Incoronata) in my book of Marian names, published two years ago, since corona is Latin for “crown” and the Virgin Mary has many royal titles (e.g., Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the World, Queen of Peace). It can render the appealing nicknames Cora, Cori, Nora, Noni, Rona, and perhaps even Rory, which can make Corona seem even more doable as a given name.

More recently, I’ve become aware of St. Corona — a fourth century woman who was martyred for her faith and ironically is revered as a patron saint of epidemics in Austria and Bavaria. I know many people who are invoking her intercession for an end to the pandemic, so the name Corona has already taken on a more positive meaning in some circles.

If you feel like a name chosen with the coronavirus in mind might be appropriate for your baby conceived or born during this time, but aren’t sold on the name Corona itself, there are other ways of commemorating the events and people of this time:

To honor the heroes of the crisis

There are already heroes emerging from this crisis, such as Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first tried to warn his country and the world about the virus, and then died from it.

Another is Don Giuseppe Berardelli, an Italian priest in Bergamo who contracted COVID-19 and gave the ventilator his parishioners had bought for him to a younger patient. He died not long after.

Perhaps there will be one person particularly associated with the lifesaving medicines and/or vaccine, like Dr. Jonas Salk is to polio, or one person particularly associated with it in other heroic ways, like Dr. Frances Kelsey was to thalidomide.

In my state of New York, Governor Cuomo has named the law requiring the vulnerable populations to stay home  after his mother: Matilda’s Law. Maybe someone whose parents or grandparents were saved by Matilda’s Law will name their daughter Matilda in thanks.

About the author

Katherine Morna Towne

Katherine Morna Towne is a writer, Catholic baby name blogger and consultant at Sanctanomina, and author of Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018). She lives in the northeast with her husband and seven sons (ages 1 to 15).

View all of Katherine Morna Towne's articles

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