The Debut of Sade (shah-day)

Nigerian-born British singer Sade Adu (born Helen Folasade Adu) formed her eponymous smooth jazz band Sade in the early 1980s.

The band went on to see massive success in the mid-1980s with its first two albums: Diamond Life (1984) and Promise (1985). These albums included the popular singles “Smooth Operator” [vid], “Your Love Is King,” “The Sweetest Taboo,” and “Never as Good as the First Time” — each of which reached the U.S. Hot 100 in either 1985 or 1986.

Notably, on the debut album, the band’s record label (Epic) decided to include a suggested pronunciation of the band’s name: shar-day. This pronunciation could be found on all formats of the album, from the vinyl record to the cassette tape to the CD:

“Diamond Life” CD

The problem? Shar-day is the British-English pronunciation of Sade. Brits often drop their R’s — they speak a non-rhotic version of English — so shar-day to a Brit is essentially shah-day to an American.

But the label forgot to account for this dialectical difference when they released the album overseas, and Americans were forced to conclude that Sade, despite not including the letter R, somehow featured an audible R-sound.

Even the Chicago Tribune emphasized this mispronunciation in a December 1985 article entitled, “The Name is Shar-Day“:

Not ”Sahd,” not ”Sayd,” not ”Say-dy.”

”Shar-day.”

The band’s success had a big impact on American baby names. The name Sade was the top debut name of 1985 (in fact, it was one of the top debut names of all time) and it saw peak popularity in 1986. Even more interesting, though, is the sheer number of variant spellings featuring that letter R.

Here are Sade and all the Sade-variants I could find in the mid-1980s U.S. baby name data, sorted by 1986 levels of usage:

Name1984198519861987
Sade393*
[rank: 513th]
1,245
[rank: 213th]
626
[rank: 373rd]
Shardae129*200
[rank: 836th]
99
Sharde124*190
[rank: 876th]
87
Sharday100*170
[rank: 938th]
80
Sharda7011165
Charde67*10544
Chardae50*8151
Shade336141
Shadae29*5841
Shada5264738
Shaday13*4022
Shardai33*3319
Charday24*3219
Charda12*2013
Chade6**185
Shardey5*17
Chadae5*12
Chardai10*1011
Shadai8*106
Folasade5*1011
Shardee11*9
Shadea7*10
Shardea11*610
Shardaye6*5
Chardee5*5
Shawday5*
Chardey5*
Chada5*
Sadea5*

*Debut. (The last 3 names were one-hit wonders.)
**Gender-specific debut only.

Finally, as a reward for making it to the end of the post, here’s a clip of young Sade Adu talking about her name. Be sure to listen to the end, where she laughs and says, “American people tend to go sharrr-day.”

What do think of the name Sade?

Sources: Sade – Wikipedia, Sade Chart History | Billboard

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