The baby name Cherrelle became trendy in the ’80s thanks to R&B vocalist Cherrelle, born Cheryl Anne Norton.
She had a string of successful songs during the mid-to-late ’80s following the release of her debut album in 1984. This explains why the name re-appeared on the SSA’s list in 1984 (after popping up once in ’70s) and usage spiked in 1986 and 1989:
1990: 70 baby girls named Cherrelle
1989: 138 baby girls named Cherrelle
1988: 91 baby girls named Cherrelle
1987: 81 baby girls named Cherrelle
1986: 188 baby girls named Cherrelle
1985: 45 baby girls named Cherrelle
1984: 37 baby girls named Cherrelle
Nothing too earth-shattering about this one, really, but Cherrill and Cheryl have their own posts, so I thought Cherrelle ought to get a post as well.
Charmaine reminds me of Cheryl — both are relatively recent inventions with hazy origins, both saw increased usage thanks to popular culture, and both sound a bit dated these days.
Charmaine never became as popular as Cheryl did, but, interestingly, the two main pop culture boosts that it got — in 1928 and in 1952 — were caused by the very same thing.
What Price Glory? (1926) was a silent, black-and-white movie set in France during World War I. It followed two U.S. Marine sergeants as they fought for the affections of Charmaine, an innkeeper’s daughter.
The movie’s theme song, “Charmaine,” was used as a leitmotif throughout the film. It went on to become a huge hit in the late 1920s. The best-selling recording, by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra, spent seven weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts in 1927.
In response to the popular song, hundreds of American baby girls were named Charmaine:
1930: 124 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 622nd]
1929: 114 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 653rd]
1928: 264 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 419th]
1927: 74 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 856th]
1926: 8 baby girls named Charmaine
A generation later, the film was remade — this time with sound and color.
The song “Charmaine” was used again for this 1952 version of the film, and again it became a hit. Multiple versions landed on the U.S. Billboard charts, including an instrumental version by the Mantovani Orchestra that peaked at #10 in 1951 and a version by the Billy May Orchestra that reached #17 in 1952.
This time around, usage of the baby name Charmaine more than tripled:
1954: 351 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 475th]
1953: 428 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 417th]
1952: 620 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 331st]
1951: 192 baby girls named Charmaine [rank: 621st]
Usage has been decreasing ever since, though. In 2014, just 18 baby girls were named Charmaine.
So where does the name Charmaine come from?
Sources suggest that it’s based on either the English word “charm” or the name Charmian. Charmian is a variant of Charmion, based on the ancient Greek word kharma, meaning “delight.” (One of Cleopatra’s servants was named Charmion.) The second syllable may have been influenced by the name Lorraine, which was fashionable in the early 1900s.
It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the name Cheryl (Cherie + Beryl? Cherry + Beryl?) but it’s clear that the name saw a drastic rise in popularity during the first half of 20th century. Cheryl went from a rarity in the early 1900s to one of the most popular girl names in the U.S. by the mid-1950s.
I doubt Cheryl could have achieved this kind of popularity without a series of pop culture boosts — two caused by the same person, interestingly.
The first (and smallest) boost happened in 1938:
1940: 285 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 408th] – 42 in CA
1939: 289 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 390th] – 49 in CA
1938: 397 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 312th] – 76 in CA
1937: 145 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 563rd] – 16 in CA
1936: 94 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 688th] – 10 in CA
Many of these babies were born in California specifically.
A 19-year-old from Pasadena named Cheryl Walker. In late 1937, she was selected as the 1938 Queen of the Tournament of Roses. Local newspapers (including the Los Angeles Times) talked about Cheryl quite a bit during the last month of 1937 and the first few months of 1938.
She signed a film contract with Paramount around that time, but didn’t have much success in the entertainment industry until five years later.
That’s when she played the romantic lead in the wartime hit Stage Door Canteen, released in the middle of 1943. Dozens of major celebrities — including Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, George Jessel, Gertrude Lawrence, Gypsy Rose Lee, Ethel Merman, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Mary Pickford, and Johnny Weissmuller — had cameos in the film, which was one of the highest-grossing of the year.
(Notably, several months before Stage Door Canteen came out, LIFE magazine published a series of photos of the actress along with a short article subtitled “Cheryl Walker rises from stand-in for Veronica Lake to stardom.”)
In both 1943 and 1944, the number of babies named Cheryl increased significantly:
1945: 8,150 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 32nd]
1944: 7,970 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 36th]
1943: 2,878 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 102nd]
1942: 590 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 280th]
1941: 439 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 311th]
The name of Cheryl’s character, Eileen, also saw increased usage, as did many variants of Cheryl (asterisks denote debuts):
[EDIT, 6/10 – Diana reminded me about Mouseketeer Cheryl, who was on The Mickey Mouse Club from 1956 to 1958. No doubt she contributed to the name’s popularity as well in the mid-to-late ’50s!]
Cheryl became one of the top 20 baby names in the country in 1955, and it remained in the top 20 until 1961, peaking at 13th in 1958.
After that, usage began to decline. Cheryl fell out of the top 50 in 1972, then out of the top 100 in 1980. (This despite a late-1970s uptick inspired by actress Cheryl Ladd, singer Cheryl Lynn, and/or model Cheryl Tiegs.)
[EDIT, 7/7 – Cheryl M. reminded me to include Cheryl Ladd.]
And in 1998, exactly 40 years after nearly reaching the top 10, Cheryl fell out of the top 1,000 entirely.
I had to follow yesterday’s post about Nydia with a post about Cherrill. Why? Because both names were inspired by fictional blind girls selling flowers. How random is that?
While Nydia came from a 19th-century book, Cherrill comes from a 20th-century film. But not just any film — one of the best romantic comedies of all time, according to those in the know.
The baby name Cherrill popped up on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time in 1931. (This was more than a decade before the similar-sounding name Cheryl started becoming popular.)
1935: 10 baby girls named Cherrill
1934: 6 baby girls named Cherrill
1933: 8 baby girls named Cherrill
1932: 6 baby girls named Cherrill
1931: 9 baby girls named Cherrill [debut]
The reason? Charlie Chaplin’s silent film City Lights, which was released in early 1931 and featured Hollywood newcomer Virginia Cherrill as a blind flower-seller (the romantic interest of Chaplin’s famous “Little Tramp” character).
Chaplin had auditioned many young actresses before he noticed twenty-year-old Virginia Cherrill when they both sat ringside at a boxing match at the Hollywood Legion Stadium. Although a beautiful blonde, it was the manner in which she coped with her near-sightedness that earned her the role.
Despite the fact that talkies had largely replaced silent films by 1931, City Lights did extremely well at the box office.
And the film has stood the test of time. In 1991, the Library of Congress inducted City Lights into the National Film Registry. In 2008, the American Film Institute ranked City Lights the #1 romantic comedy of all time.
Virginia Cherrill, who was born in Illinois in 1908, never aspired to be a film star. (She was only visiting California when she was spotted by Chaplin.) She appeared in several more films after City Lights, but stopped acting after marrying actor Cary Grant in 1934. (They divorced the next year. Grant went on to marry Barbara Hutton and become a father figure to Barbara’s son Lance.)
I only recently noticed that Behind the Name, one of my favorite websites for baby name definitions, has a page called United States Popularity Analysis — a “computer-created analysis of the United States top 1000 names for the period 1880 to 2012.”
The page has some interesting top ten lists. Here are three of them: