Black History Names: Cinema greats– Canada, Cicely and Rex
Nina Mae McKinney played the lead in the 1929 film Hallelujah, creating a sensation with her “Swanee Shuffle” dance. In Europe she was dubbed the “Black Garbo.” Nina is an appealing multi-cultural staple, with references as varied as a Spanish word name, an Incan goddess, a Chekhov character and jazz great Nina Simone.
- Nina Mae McKinney played the lead in the 1929 film Hallelujah, creating a sensation with her “Swanee Shuffle” dance. In Europe she was dubbed the “Black Garbo.” Nina is an appealing multi-cultural staple, with references as varied as a Spanish word name, an Incan goddess, a Chekhov character and jazz great Nina Simone." >
- Canada Lee is remembered for his passionate performance in Hitchcock’s classic, Lifeboat, in which he refused to speak in stereotypic black dialect. He was a vocal civil-rights activist who suffered from the Hollywood blacklist. His name at birth was Leonard Lionel Cornelius Vandgata, but stage name Canada makes an intriguing place-name possibility!" >
- Ethel Waters went from a career as a sexy blues singer to playing the beloved, maternal Berenice in The Member of the Wedding. Names like Ethel and Elsie are showing signs of making a return that’s a big surprise to the grandma generation. Lily Allen gave it some starbaby cred when she chose it for her daughter." >
- Rex Ingram (1895-1969) was discovered on a street corner, then debuted in the first (1918) Tarzan film. He had memorable roles in such later movies as The Green Pastures and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Rex is a regal name, re-appreciated these days especially for his x-ending and possibly even for his role in Toy Story." >
- Hattie McDaniel is well remembered for her Oscar-winning Mammy role in Gone With the Wind—the first African American to earn an Academy Award. Hattie is one of the vintage nickname names making a comeback, especially after Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott chose it for their third child." >
- Lorenzo Tucker, (1907-1986) known as the “Black Valentino” was a stage and screen actor who played the romantic lead in the early black films of Oscar Micheaux. (Trivia note: Much later he became an autopsy technician whose subjects included Malcolm X and the above-mentioned Nina Mae McKinney.) This rhythmic Latin version of Lawrence is one of the traditional Italian names entering the mainstream full force, now at Number 307." >
- Juanita Moore, a one-time Cotton Club chorus girl, went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role in Imitation of Life. Juanita is a standard classic in Spanish cultures; it reached as high here as Number 48 in 1923, but began a precipitous drop from that point on." >
- Born in Miami to Bahamian parents, Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, which was for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1963; more recently he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Before Sidney, as Sydney, was coopted by the girls in the 1990s, it was a solid—if declining--male name with aristocratic British roots, a Top 100 name until 1920. This particular patient is showing no signs of recovery." >
- Oscar-nominated actress for her role in Sounder, the distinguished Cicely Tyson was a popular fashion model; she later was married to jazz great Miles Davis. Delicate name Cicely, along with twin Cecily, is beginning to attract some namers’ attention, after being neglected since the 1970’s." >
- Morgan Freeman won in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. He inherited his first name from his father, at a time when it was primarily a boys’ name. At present, Morgan is Number 587 for boys and 82 for girls." >
- Ruby Dee, who often worked with her husband Ossie Davis, is not only an actress, but a poet, playwright, screenwriter and activist, and has won Grammy, Emmy, Obie and SAG Lifetime Achievement Awards. The vibrant gem name Ruby has been a big hit across the English-speaking world in recent years, and is now Number 106 in the US, 13 in England." >
- Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr., winner of two Academy Awards, started in TV on St. Elsewhere, then became a superstar after the 1987 Cry Freedom. Denzel is an old Cornish name that was rarely heard in this country before the ascent of Mr. Washington." >
- Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker has been acclaimed most recently for his fine character portrayal in the film Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Yet another Junior with an interesting name, he was actually the third generation to bear his arboreal appellation-- a family word-name tradition he has carried on with children Sonnet, True and Ocean." >
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on February 7th, 2014 at 1:31 am
I love Ruby and Sidney.
To me, Sidney is a boy name, due to a man I know as Papa Sid 🙂
Ruby is a name I always come back to, but due to a common circumstance, it is unusable.
on February 7th, 2014 at 8:02 am
Outstanding list! I know a family that named their daughter Mavis to honor Mavis Staples. I would never have believed it, but Mavis is absolutely adorable on their now 2-year-old daughter. I used to think of Mavis as terribly outdated — I don’t any more!
on February 7th, 2014 at 9:47 am
I really like some of these names. Nina, Ruby and Forest are favorites. I prefer the Spanish version of Rex (Rey). We’ve had dogs named Rex so when I hear that name I think of dogs. I’m LOVING Morgan for a boy right now. I remember it being popular when I was growing up but I don’t hear it anywhere anymore and I actually miss it. I’m actually surprised Ethel is coming back but I have to admit that I kind of like it. I used to think of Ethel Mertz when I heard it but I think I can shake that image.
on February 7th, 2014 at 10:22 am
I was just nanny to two girls named Zaria and De-lay-sha. Not sure how it’s spelled, except I know there’s a j in there. Made up as most are.
on February 7th, 2014 at 12:58 pm
“Before Sidney, as Sydney, was coopted by the girls in the 1990s, it was a solid—if declining–male name with aristocratic British roots, a Top 100 name until 1920. This particular patient is showing no signs of recovery.”
No mention of the fact that Sidney Poitier named his own daughter, who was born in 1973, Sydney? I know that “boys names going to the girls” is sort of a pet topic/cardinal sin on this site, but I actually think the tone there is a bit inappropriate, given that Sidney thought it was a good name to give his own daughter.
Not that it really matters, but I actually have more than one female ancestor born in the 1600s named Sidney, that spelling. I’m guessing it was used as a variant of Sidonie/Sidony.
Great job overall, though! I think this is a great list.
on February 8th, 2014 at 3:24 am
This was a great read! So many wonderful names and namesakes!
shelly68– I don’t think your last comment was necessary at all.
on February 9th, 2014 at 2:07 pm
@shelly68- Well, that was racist. Please keep your unnecessary comments to yourself.
I actually quite like these names – Forest will be added to my boys list! I also enjoy Ruby, Nina, Sidney, and Mavis.
on February 9th, 2014 at 3:03 pm
Such an interesting!
Loving so many of these choices especially Nina reminds me of a ballerina name.
on February 10th, 2014 at 8:29 am
Sojourner (For Sojourner Truth)
Araminta (Harriet Tubman)
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