Influential Baby Names: Beauty Queens & Models

December 22, 2016 NancyMan

By Nancy Man, Nancy‘s Baby Names

Actors, musicians, athletes and politicians are particularly influential when it comes to U.S. baby names, but they aren’t the only public figures that hold sway over the charts. Name trends have also been shaped by other types of public figures such as authors, dancers, activists, astronauts, royals, military leaders, and more.

Below are more than a dozen female names that debuted in the data thanks to fashion models and beauty pageant winners. If all these names competed against one another in a name pageant, which one do you think would win the crown?


The winner of the 1965 Miss Universe pageant was 18-year-old Apasra Hongsakula of Thailand. Apasra was the first Thai woman to be named Miss Universe, and she was the second-ever Asian woman to win the pageant (after Akiko Kojima of Japan). Her name debuted on the U.S. baby name charts the same year, but never returned, making it a one-hit wonder.


Claudinette Fouchard won the title of Miss Haiti in 1960 and was subsequently featured on the cover of several U.S. magazines, including Jet and Ebony. The same year, her name popped up in the U.S. baby name data for the first and only time. The name Claudinette can be traced back to the Ancient Roman name Claudius, which likely comes from the Latin word claudus, meaning “crippled.”


In 1966, 20-year-old African-American model Donyale Luna (birth name Peggy Ann Freeman) became the very first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue (the British version, not the U.S). The same year, her name debuted on the U.S. baby name charts. If she coined the name Donyale with the more traditional name Danielle in mind, then the name is based on the Biblical name Daniel, which means “God is my judge” in Hebrew.

Edithmae & Garnelle

In 1921, about 7,000 young women from across the U.S. entered the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper’s beauty contest. The same year, two specific names appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data: Garnelle and Edithmae. Why? Because Garnelle Haley, a 17-year-old from Missouri, was one of the regional winners of the competition and Edith Mae Patterson, a 19-year-old from Arkansas, was the grand-prize winner.


Gordean Leilehua Lee of Hawaii won two state pageants: Miss Hawaii 1959 and Miss Hawaii 1960. She went on to compete in one of the national pageants – Miss America – and didn’t place, though she was voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants. A few years later, her name became a one-hit wonder on the U.S. baby name charts. Gordean Lee was likely named in honor of her father Gordon, whose name was ultimately derived from a Scottish locational name that means “spacious fort.”


Speaking of Hawaii…24-year-old Kaye Lani Rae Rafko won both the Miss Michigan pageant and the Miss America pageant in 1987, and her compound first name debuted on the U.S. baby name charts the same year. Rafko told reporters that her name meant “heavenly slopes” and was inspired by a family friend from Hawaii. I don’t know the intended origin of Kaye – it’s not a traditional Hawaiian word – but lani does indeed mean “heaven” or “sky” in Hawaiian.

Kimora & Kimoralee

The baby name Kimora appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first time in 1990, when 15-year-old model Kimora Perkins was a on the cusp of fame. But that’s not the only time she’s influenced the charts. Years later, in 2008 — under the name Kimora Lee Simmons, and in the middle of the second season of her reality TV show Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane – the baby name Kimoralee turned up in the data for the first and (so far) only time.


In August of 1980, Lencola Sullivan became the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss Arkansas. A month later, she became the first African-American woman to place in the top five at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. Her name was a one-hit wonder on the U.S. baby name charts the same year.


In late 1935, many U.S. newspapers ran photographs of 21-year-old model Mardee Hoff, who had recently been selected from a pool of 2,600 models by the American Society of Illustrators as the girl with “the most beautiful figure in America.” The next year, her name debuted on the U.S. baby name charts. Usage of the name Mardee peaked in 1941, not long after Hoff was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine.


After winning a runner-up spot at Miss Universe in 1964, Swedish-born Sivi Aberg moved to the U.S. to give acting a shot. In 1967 she won the title of Hollywood Star of Tomorrow on a pageant-like American TV show, and the same year her name popped up in the U.S. baby name data for the first time. Her birth name, Siv, is based on the Old Norse name Sif, which was the name of Thor’s wife according to Norse mythology.


English model Twiggy (birth name Lesley Hornby) took the United States by storm when she first visited in 1967. So it’s not surprising that Twiggy’s memorable nickname moniker appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first and only time that same year. Where did the nickname Twiggy come from? Her drawn-on lower lashes, which she called “twigs.”


Swedish model Vendela Kirsebom had become famous in the late 1980s, but her name didn’t show up on the U.S. baby name charts until a few years later, in 1993 – the year she appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The name Vendela can be traced all the way back to the Vandals, a Germanic tribe that lasted as a distinct ethnic group into the 6th century.

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