It does sound like a place name that is waiting to be discovered and used as a baby name by the wider masses, but with thanks to two particular females, this name ended up being used on baby girls earlier than you would expect.
The etymology of this place name is as simple as it gets, being a combination of port, which refers otherwise to a harbour – a place where ships can shelter or dock¹, and land (‘port’ was used in Old English, borrowed from Latin portus¹). Thus, this gives the impression of a land that is surrounding a harbour².
The city of Portland in Oregon got its name from the city of the same in Maine, located on the east coast of the United States. The name was settled in a coin toss over whose hometowns’ names should be picked in which Portland won 2 out of 3 over Boston (the Maine city being the hometown of Francis W. Pettygrove, who bought half of the 640-acre site known as “The Clearing” from William Overton, and the city of Boston in Massachusetts being the hometown of Asa Lovejoy, who shared the other half of the site with Overton and, later, Pettygrove)³.
The city in Maine was, in turn, named for the Isle of Portland in the county of Dorset in England².
HOFFA: COMEDIAN, ACTRESS AND DANCER
Portland Hoffa, who was so named for her birthplace in the Oregon city⁴, took part in several Broadway productions in the 1920s, dancing in the choruses⁵. In one of those shows, “The Passing Show,” she met what would be her future husband, Fred Allen, whom she later married and assisted while he was a juggler in vaudeville⁵. By 1932, they made a switch to radio⁵ and eventually became stars in the field⁴ with her character being a young girl of indeterminable age (most guessed 13)⁶ owing to her high-pitched voice⁵.
HOW POPULAR IS PORTLAND?
No matter where you are in the English-speaking world, chances are that you didn’t and you wouldn’t be able to come across a female Portland because it is rarely used.
In the United States, based on SSA data, the estimated number is likely just over 100 with its first debut on the SSA list in 1958⁷ (the 1940 US Census⁸ puts the number of Portlands recorded as female at 5, which includes Hoffa).
In England and Wales, based on examination of marriage records, the year that the first female Portland was registered in the births index was 1949 with the total number of female Portlands from 1949 up to 2006 being around 33⁸.
Now, I’m not even sure if Hoffa was heard of in Britain, but it does seem like another Portland led to the increase in usage, that being Portland Schuyler (née Mason) (born in 1948 in Los Angeles⁹ and named for Hoffa⁴⁹), daughter to English actors James and Pamela Mason⁴, who lived a highly publicised, bohemian life and appeared in films and television programmes as a child actress⁹.
As of 2016, this name was given to 7 girls in the United States⁷ and less than 3 girls (likely none) in England and Wales.
What do you think of the name? Do you think there is any appeal for this name to be used along the likes of Brooklyn, Kensington and Berlin? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below the sources.
¹Wiktionary – https://en.wiktionary.org/
²Online Etymology Dictionary – https://www.etymonline.com/
³National Association of Scientific Materials Managers – http://www.naosmm.org/confer/port-or/history.html
⁴Nancy’s Baby Names – How Did Portland Hoffa Get Her Name?
⁵The New York Times Staff Writer, 1990. Portland Hoffa Dies; Fred Allen’s Partner. The New York Times. 30 December 1990. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/30/obituaries/portland-hoffa-dies-fred-allen-s-partner.html [Accessed 15 February 2018]
⁶Fred Allen – FRED ALLEN’S WIFE: Portland Hoffa
⁷Social Security Administration – http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/index.html
⁸Find My Past – 1940 US Census and England and Wales Birth Index
⁹Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, 2004. Portland Schuyler, 55; Child Actress, Writer. Los Angeles Times. 24 May 2004. [ONLINE] Available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2004/may/24/local/me-mason24 [Accessed 15 February 2018]