About Names: Dr. Evans on “Sandra”

Sandra Day O’Connor (Image: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 26th column, he discusses the name “Sandra”.

Are you observing Women’s History Month? If so, you should celebrate today as Sandra Day O’Connor’s 93rd birthday.

O’Connor became the first woman Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States Sept. 25, 1981. She left the court Jan. 31, 2006.

Sandra is originally a short form of other names. Most name dictionaries state it was introduced to English speakers by George Meredith’s 1887 novel “Sandra Belloni.” The full name of the heroine is Emilia Alessandra Belloni. Alessandra is the Italian form of Alexandra, Greek “defending men.”

Sandra’s history is actually more complicated. In 1860, the first two Sandras in the United States census, 28-year-old Sandra Nason of Massachusetts and 32-year-old Sandra Adams of Ohio, were both “Cassandra” (Greek “shining upon men”) in other records found on Ancestry.com.

Italians weren’t the only ones to shorten Alexandra. Sandra was also used where it was spelled Aleksandra, including most of eastern Europe. In 1900, 46 of the 211 Sandras in the census were born in Finland. Another 10 were from Sweden or Norway. Only two were born in Italy.

Meredith’s novel was first published in 1864 as “Emilia in England.” The heroine, a professional singer deciding between two suitors, is called “Sandra” by her father. Everyone else calls her “Emilia.” “Sandra” only occurs 22 times in the story, while there are 880 examples of “Emilia.”

Publishers in 1887 probably thought the novel would sell better if the then more exotic name became the title. They were right; “Sandra Belloni” stayed in print for decades. However, the use of Sandra as an American name owes as much to Cassandra and Finnish immigrants as it does to Meredith’s Italian heroine.

Sandra first was a top thousand baby name in 1913. It got a boost in 1924 from the film “Sandra.” Sandra, who has a dual personality, abandons her husband for adventurous affairs in Europe, returning home to be redeemed by his forgiveness. Barbara LaMarr, called “The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful” by fan magazines, played Sandra.

When Sandra Day O’Connor was born in 1930, Sandra ranked 392nd. Sandra’s stock soared during the Great Depression. It 1939 it ranked 13th. It fit in with other booming fashions like Linda, Barbara, Nancy and Sharon. Sandra peaked at 5th in 1947.