It’s a place name famously worn by a daring archeologist.
Thanks to Bertram Bergamot for suggesting Indiana as our Baby Name of the Day.
Indiana: On the Map
Back in 1800, Congress passed legislation to divide the Northwest Territory in half. The western section became the Indiana Territory. Sixteen years later, part of the territory began the journey to statehood.
Like many US states, Indiana’s name is a nod to its Native American roots – sort of.
The name means “land of the Indians.” It’s accurate. Native peoples inhabited the area as early as 8000 BC. When European settlers arrived, the Shawnee, Miami, and Illini were among the tribes in the area.
Using Native American names can be problematic. The state’s history is one of conflict and oppression, with native peoples losing their historic claims to land.
And yet, as a name, Indiana is pure American invention, a romantic imagining. Like any place, there’s potential for association with historical ugliness. But the meaning, strictly speaking, isn’t Native.
If you don’t think of the state, chances are you think of adventurous archeologist Dr. Henry Walton Jones, better known as Indiana – or just Indy. It’s one of Harrison Ford’s many famous roles.
He first appears on the big screen in 1981, with sequels in 1984, 1989, and 2008, plus Young Indiana Jones on television in the 1990s, to say nothing of video games and Disney resort attractions.
The character’s name had two inspirations: creator George Lucas had a dog by the name in the 1970s. (The fictional Dr. Jones borrowed his nickname from the family dog, too.) It’s also thought to be a nod to 1966 western Nevada Smith, starring Steve McQueen.
Indiana: Literary Girl Name
But is this name meant for a daughter or a son?
Let’s go back to the nineteenth century. French writer George Sand published her very first novel in 1832, not long after Indiana became a state.
The novel was titled Indiana.
Only it wasn’t set in the United States. It’s the story a of a young woman, born in the French colonies and trapped in a loveless marriage in France.
More fuel for the girl name argument? In Frances Burney’s 1796 novel Camilla – years before the name was given to the American place – there’s a character called Indiana. She’s cousin to Camilla, and while she’s a knockout, she’s rather shallow and superficial.
In Burney’s case, Indiana was probably inspired by India – an elaboration using the -ana ending. India had a good run as a given name in the British Empire, thanks to families with ties to the colony.
Edith Wharton makes it a literary trifecta: in her 1913 novel The Custom of the Country, there’s a minor character named Indiana Frusk – this time an American.
Indiana: Girl or Boy?
On sound alone, this name leans girl – somewhere between Isabella and Mariana.
And yet, the fictional archeologist keeps this one in play for boys, too.
Usage is split:
- In Australia, young actress Indiana Evans has boosted the popularity of the name.
- Actors Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck welcomed son Indiana August in 2004. (Summer’s later brother River once played the young Dr. Jones.)
- Ethan Hawke has a daughter named Indiana, born in 2011.
Until Raiders of the Lost Ark, this name was exclusively used for girls. But the numbers have changed over time. In 2013, 41 boys and 33 girls were named Indiana.
If you’re after a daring literary name for a daughter, or an adventurous choice for a son, Indiana might be a rarity worth considering.
What do you think of Indiana? Do you prefer this name for a boy or a girl?