The Baby Name Tirrell

television, actress, tirrell barbery, soap opera
9-year-old Tirrell Barbery in 1956

The name Tirrell has been used regularly for baby boys since the ’70s — no doubt thanks to the popularity of the similar name Terrell — but it first appeared in the baby name data as a girl name in the 1950s:

  • 1957: unlisted
  • 1956: 13 baby girls named Tirrell [debut]
  • 1955: unlisted

While it only ever charted once for girls, the spike in usage that year was high enough to make Tirrell the top one-hit wonder girl name of 1956.

So where did the name come from?

Looks like the inspiration was child actress Tirrell Barbery. She’s best remembered for playing the role of Carol on the TV soap opera Love of Life for four years in the mid-1950s. Various adults on the show vied for custody of Carol, who was actually went mute for a time after witnessing a murder. (She began speaking again after the murderer confessed.)

chris barbery, 1952
Chris Barbery in LIFE
I can’t pinpoint the reason why usage of the name Tirrell suddenly spiked in 1956, though. Perhaps the character had more airtime in 1955 or 1956?

Regardless, I can tell you that Tirrell, who went by the nickname Terry, was born in the mid-1940s to Aldo and Elizabeth Barbieri. She and her older brother Christopher, also a child actor, grew up in New Jersey. Both kids appeared on TV throughout the 1950s, and both used the Anglicized surname Barbery.

While I couldn’t find a good photo of young Tirrell, I did find a shot of her brother Chris trying out for the role of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island in 1952. (He didn’t get the part.)

[Update: Managed to find a photo! Came from the October 1956 issue of Radio-TV Mirror.]

Tirrell’s first name appears to be based on the English/Irish surname Tirrell, a variant of Tyrrell, which may have been derived from a Norman nickname for a stubborn person. Another theory is that it was derived from the personal name Thurold (Thor + “rule” in Old Norse).

Tirrell Barbieri went on to graduate from Vassar College, get married, and move to California. While she never returned to acting, evidence of her brief acting career will always be preserved on the baby name charts…

Sources:

  • Hanks, Patrick, Kate Hardcastle and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of First Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • “Shore Area Engagements Told.” Asbury Park Press 19 Jul. 1967: 26.
  • “Speaking of Pictures…” Life 19 May 1952: 22.
  • Tirrell B. “Terry” Graham bio (1998) – Smart Voter

P.S. Did you know about the Norwegian name Tiril?


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