Double Whammy Baby Names: Cyd & Charisse

cyd charisse, movie, dancer, 1940s, baby name, cyd, charisse

As far as I can tell, the very first person to boost both a first name and a last name into the baby name data was dancer and movie star Cyd Charisse. Charisse debuted in 1946, and Cyd followed a year later:

Year # Cyds # Charisses
1950
1949
1948
1947
1946
1945
14 baby girls
20 baby girls
6 baby girls
8 baby girls [debut]
x
x
17 baby girls
14 baby girls
19 baby girls
10 baby girls
5 baby girls [debut]
x

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) was what propelled Charisse to stardom, but in the late ’40s she had minor dancing parts in various musicals, and these appearances must have given her name enough exposure to influence expectant parents.

But she wasn’t born with the name Cyd Charisse. Her birth name was Tula Ellice (ee-leese) Finklea. Here’s how one name morphed into the other:

My real name was Tula Ellice, it was not Cyd. But my brother was only a year older than myself and he couldn’t pronounce Tula Ellice, so he started calling me Sid as a nickname, for sister. And it stuck with me and all my life I’ve been called Sid. But when I went to MGM, Arthur Freed did not like the spelling of S-i-d, which is a boys’ name. And he changed the spelling to C-y-d — a little more glamorous.

And of course Charisse was my first husband’s name, Nico Charisse. So actually Cyd Charisse you could say is my real name.

But there’s actually more to the story, as she went through several stage names before settling on “Cyd Charisse”:

Before I went to MGM, I had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. And, of course, joining a Russian ballet company in those days, you were supposed to have a Russian name. So Colonel de Basil, who was the regisseur of the ballet at that time, he first named me Felia Siderova. And after a couple of months he decided he would change it to Maria Istomana. Two names.

Then when I wound up back in California, before I went to MGM, I met another Russian director. And he decided that my name should be Lily Norwood.

So finally, when I got to MGM, and Arthur Freed said “We have to change your name,” I said “No please, I’ve had my name changed so many times. Let me just be Sid Charisse.” And that’s when he changed the spelling to C-y-d. And finally I had my own name.

These days, American parents still bestow the name Charisse occasionally, but they rarely go for Cyd. Which name do you prefer?

Which name do you prefer for a baby girl, Cyd or Charisse?

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Sources: SSA, Cyd Charisse Interview [vid]
Image from Singin’ in the Rain (1952).


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