A baby girl born in Baltimore on September 5, 1995 — just after Baltimore Orioles baseball player Calvin “Cal” Ripken tied the 2,130 consecutive-game record set by Lou Gehrig in 1939 — was named Cali, in honor of Cal.
(Cali’s mother, Kimberly Drouillard, mentioned that the name was her husband idea, and that the baby was originally going to be named Alexia.)
And Cali wasn’t the only baby named with Cal Ripken in mind around that time. Usage of the name Cal spiked in the mid-1990s…
1999: 69 baby boys named Cal
1998: 72 baby boys named Cal
1997: 93 baby boys named Cal
1996: 112 baby boys named Cal
1995: 84 baby boys named Cal
1994: 47 baby boys named Cal
1993: 52 baby boys named Cal
…and the name Ripken first appeared in the data in 1997.
Lou Gehrig was the talented first baseman who played his entire career (1923-1939) for the New York Yankees. He was a seven-time All-Star and set several major league records during his career, including most grand slams and most consecutive games played.
He retired days after being diagnosed with ALS (now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S.). He died in mid-1941.
So the the baby name Gehrig surpassing that 5-baby threshold and debuting in the U.S. baby name data in the year 1944 — years after Gehrig was gone — didn’t make much sense to me at first.
1944: 5 baby boys named Gehrig
It made more sense after I learned about the movie The Pride of the Yankees, a fictionalized account of Lou Gehrig’s life. It was first released in New York for one night only in the summer 1942, but didn’t see nationwide release until the spring of 1943. The film “was awash in honest sentiment and became a sizable box-office hit.” It was also nominated for 11 Academy Awards, though it won only one.
Where does the surname Gehrig come from? It’s German — a variant of Gehring, which is based on the Germanic element gar or ger, meaning “spear.”
What are your thoughts on using Gehrig as a baby name?
I’d figured out the causes of similar spikes for similar names (Kaleena, Kaelin, Katina), but hadn’t gotten around to Kalene yet.
So I did some research. And I didn’t come up with anything useful until I found myself on the Kalene page of a random baby name site where several people happened to mention the same Hooked on Phonics commercial:
“…I seen a Hooked on Phonics Commercial…”
“…my mom got it off of the hooked on phonics commercial…”
“…I too saw the name on the Hooked On Phonics commercial…”
“…My mom got it off the commercial in the 1990’s…”
…”My mom named me Kalene because she saw it on tv…”
“…my name was originally Christie but my mom saw a ‘hooked on phonics’ commercial about a month after i was born and she changed my name…”
One of my favorite things ever is discovering cheesy pop culture enshrined in the baby name data (excellent example: Kebrina), so finding out that a Hooked on Phonics commercial influenced U.S. baby names was pretty epic for me.
Since that point, I’ve been searching for that specific Hooked on Phonics commercial featuring Kalene.
On YouTube I found a segment of a Hooked on Phonics commercial with a Cindy Brady-esque little girl (at right). She seemed promising…but the segment didn’t include her name on-screen.
That said, I did find a discussion thread from the 1990s — a cool piece of internet history in and of itself — that independently verified the existence of a Hooked on Phonics commercial featuring a girl named Kalene. So that was helpful.
(The search for a decades-old commercial is reminding me of our adventures with Deneen.)
So I’m not sure whether or not we’ve found Kalene yet, but one of the other Hooked on Phonics commercials I saw spotlighted a girl named Kia:
And, like Kalene, the name Kia saw its highest-ever usage in 1993, reaching 648th place in the national rankings. (The first Kia cars that were sold in the U.S. weren’t available until early 1994.)
1995: 211 baby girls named Kia
1994: 229 baby girls named Kia
1993: 344 baby girls named Kia
1992: 247 baby girls named Kia
1991: 253 baby girls named Kia
…So now we have two Hooked on Phonics-influenced baby names. Amazing.
Question of the Day: Do you remember any other names from old Hooked on Phonics commercials? The company was advertising heavily on TV back in the 1990s — that much I remember — but I can’t recall any specific names from the commercials. Please leave a comment if you can think of any!
It’s another Five-Name Friday! Here’s today’s request:
I’m having a boy, baby brother to Oliver and Henry, but this time around nothing is really catching our eye. Our top choices right now are Calvin, Felix, Thomas, and Alexander (but we’re not in love with any of them).
Can you come up with five great baby name suggestions for this person?
Here are the rules:
Be independent. Choose your five names before checking out anybody else’s five names.
Be sincere. These should be names you’d have no problem recommending to someone in real life.
Five names only. If your comment includes more than five names, I will delete the extras. (This includes nickname ideas!)