Celebrity Baby Names: Vintage trendsetters from Old Hollywood

Celebrity Baby Names: Vintage trendsetters from Old Hollywood

This week, Appellation Mountain’s Abby Sandel flashes back to the Golden Age of Hollywood to look at some cool  celebrity baby names of the past.

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman and husband Benjamin Millepied have yet to officially release the name of their newborn son.  Could it be a new trend with celebrity baby names?  Fellow celeb parents Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem never announced their son’s name, and neither did Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen, though in both cases, the news leaked out.  Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon dropped hints about their twins’ names for days before we all learned that their little ones were called Monroe and Moroccan.

Can you blame them?  Whether the parents opt for something as traditional as James or as unusual as Pilot, their choice is discussed, rated, and thoroughly dissected, along with their choice of stroller, nursery décor, and baby clothes.

Things were a little different in Hollywood’s Golden Age.  Studios reportedly wrote clauses into their stars’ contracts, penalizing them for becoming pregnant.  While the pressure was greater for women, some men also feared that fatherhood could have a negative impact on their ability to land roles as a leading man.

Actors Loretta Young and Clark Gable had a daughter together in 1935 – but Gable was married to someone else.  Young hid her pregnancy with a hiatus in Europe, then stage-managed an “adoption” of her daughter months later.

When Ingrid Bergman – Oscar-nominated for roles as a nun and a saint – started an affair with director Roberto Rossellini, the scandal was epic. Ed Sullivan declined to have her on his show.

And yet, whether we were barely tolerant of celebrities’ roles as parents or interested in them beyond reason, one thing remains the same: actors tend to choose interesting names for their children.  This list of names, most representing children born from the 1930s into the 1960s, would be perfectly acceptable for starbabies born today.

Their power as trendsetters was no less powerful.  Both Errol Flynn and Audrey Hepburn had sons called SeanSean entered the US Top 1000 two years after Flynn’s son was born in 1941, and took another big leap after Hepburn’s Sean debuted in 1960.  The pattern repeats for many of these names.

If we do ever learn the name Natalie and Benjamin picked for their bouncing baby boy, chances are it will continue the long-standing pattern of influencing at least some parents looking to name a son of their own.


Aissa – One of the John Wayne’s seven kids

Allegra – A nicely named daughter of Tony Curtis, though her half-sister Jamie Lee is better known

AvaFred Astaire’s youngest child and only daughter, born decades before Ava became the hottest name in Hollywood

Beatrice – Youngest child of Orson Welles

CaseyJames Cagney’s daughter Cathleen was known by this nickname years before boyish names for girls were stylish

CeciliaGregory Peck’s youngest child and only daughter, and maybe something of a name nerd herself – her kids are Harper Daniel and Ondine Alexandra

CleaBorn Claire Olivia, Clea is the nickname of one of Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward’s three daughters

Elinor TeresaClea’s big sister, though she’s better known as Nell

Francesca – The first woman to win back-to-back Best Actress Oscars was Austrian-born Luise Rainer.  Her only child received this very Italian name.

Giselle – Daughter of Olivia de Haviland.

Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanna – daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini

Isotta Ingrid Frieda GiulianaIsabella’s twin

Josephine Hannah – One of Charlie Chaplin’s dozen children by four wives, and my favorite name of the bunch

KellyJimmy Stewart’s twin daughters were born in 1951.  One sister was called Judy, a popular pick for the era.  Sister Kelly’s name wasn’t common for girls, but leapt almost 200 places for girls in US the following year

Lark – Daughter of Yul Brynner

LeslieHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s daughter, named after fellow actor Leslie Howard

Liza MayJudy Garland’s daughter, the legendary Liza Minelli

LolaLinda Darnell put Charlotte Mildred on her daughter’s birth certificate, but Charlotte was always called Lola

LornaLiza’s sister

Lucie Désirée – Firstborn child of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Michael BridgetGloria Swanson gave this traditional boy’s name to her daughter, thought the little girl mostly answered to her middle name

NatashaNatalie Wood used a spin on her own name for her daughter

Romina FrancescaTyrone Power’s older daughter

RoryErrol Flynn’s daughter

SachiShirley Maclaine and her businessman husband gave their daughter the name Stephanie Sachiko, and Sachi spent much of her childhood in Japan with her dad

SighleBurt Lancaster’s youngest daughter, pronounced Sheila

Tamsin Agnes Margaret – Daughter of Laurence Olivier

Taryn Stephanie – Younger daughter of Tyrone Power

YasminRita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan’s daughter, making her both Hollywood royalty and a real princess, too


AsaAl Jolson was born Asa Yoelson, so his son became Asa, JrPlenty of parents have a namesake, but Jolson also named his only daughter Alicia

Desiderio Alberto IV – Better known as Desi Arnaz, Jr., or Little RickyLucille Ball’s pregnancy and Desi’s birth were incorporated into Ball’s hit show – perhaps marking a turning point in our attitude towards Hollywood moms

Dion AnthonyBarbara Stanwyk’s son

John Ethan – son of John Wayne, named after one of dad’s characters, and known by his middle name back when Ethan was rarely heard

ElvisSon of Anthony Perkins

GabrielSon of Rosemary Clooney and José Ferrer

Gareth – Veteran British actress Glynis Johns chose a very English name for her son

IgorPeter Ustinov’s son

LanceRosalind Russell’s son

Luca –  Decades before it was a hot name in Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn and Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti used the name

MaximillianSon of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft

RobinBorn Renato Roberto Giusto Giuseppe, he’s the son of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini

Robin – A second Robin is the son of Janet Gaynor and costume designer Adrian

Rodion – You might think of Basil Rathbone as the actor who played Sherlock Holmes, but to Rodion Rathbone, he was just dad

TarquinSon of Laurence Olivier

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.