She’s literary, playful – and hopelessly out of fashion. Until, that is, indie actor Maggie Gyllenhaal bestowed the name on her baby girl.
Thanks to Julie for suggesting Ramona as Name of the Day.
Maybe Ramona’s rebound shouldn’t be a surprise. Jack Nicholson chose Raymond for his son back in 1992. And Ray is certainly among the up-and-comers.
Ramona sounds romantic, but her meaning is smart – the Germanic element ragin or regin means wisdom or advice. The second part – mund – means protector. As Raymond, the name has been worn by saints and kings. Variants abound; the original masculine moniker was probably Reginmund or Raginmund.
But no one is channeling the Visigoths when they name their daughter Ramona. Instead, Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel popularized the name, though it was in use previously.
Jackson told the tale of a part-Scottish, part-Native American orphan and her life in southern California. Ramona was a smash hit. It also boosted California as a tourist destination – just a few years after travelers could first ride the Southern Pacific railroad to Los Angeles. (Once upon a time, a stretch of road was even called the Ramona Freeway.)
Ramona the novel inspired four movie adaptations between 1910 and 1936 and a 2000 telenovela. The name gained steadily in use, peaking after the 1928 movie version starring the lovely Dolores del Rio. (Imagine Salma Hayek in silent films.)
The same year as the Del Rio movie, Ramona peaked at #117. Her popularity was probably helped along by the movie’s title track, also named Ramona and performed by Ramona herself – Dolores Del Rio. It hit #1 in the US.
Children of the 1950s grew up with another fictional Ramona – Ramona Quimby. Intially a bit player in Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins series, by 1955 she was headlining her own adventures on Klickitat Street in Portland. (The street and the neighborhood are real.) The books inspired a television series in the 1980s. She and big sister Beatrice were slated to hit the big screen in 2010, but plans are currently on hold.
The movie might’ve given her a boost. After all, other kids in the series – Henry, Daisy and Willa are among Cleary’s characters – would be right at home on any Park Slope playground.
Instead, Ramona remains obscure, but references are many:
- Bob Dylan sang “To Ramona” back in the 1960s;
- In the 1930s, Ramona Davies performed with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in the 1930s. She sang and played the piano;
- Michigan was home to an amusement park called Ramona Park from the late nineteenth century through the 1950s;
- In more modern references, Ramona is the middle name of both angsty Canadian-born pop singer Avril Lavigne and Southern-fried actress Delta Burke;
- One of the Real Housewives of New York City is the rather unbelievably blonde Ramona Singer, mom to Avery.
The name sparked interest with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard chose it for their daughter in 2006, but hasn’t been back in the US Top 1000 since 1988.
That could change. Ramona sounds like a romantic choice from a bygone era – something like Loretta, also recently chosen by celeb parents. If you love the idea of calling your little girl by the boyish Ray, this is the perfect formal name to put on her birth certificate.