In September of 1957, the classic rock and roll song “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly came out. (This was just a few months after the doo wop song “Deserie” was released.)
“Peggy Sue” was on the Billboard Top 100 for 22 weeks in late 1957 and early 1958, reaching as high as the #3 spot.
Right on cue, the compound baby name Peggysue debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1958:
1959: 6 baby girls named Peggysue
1958: 7 baby girls named Peggysue [debut]
The name Peggy by itself also saw a significant increase in usage that year:
1960: 6,434 baby girls named Peggy [rank: 69th]
1959: 7,408 baby girls named Peggy [rank: 57th]
1958: 10,072 baby girls named Peggy [rank: 42nd] (peak)
1957: 7,379 baby girls named Peggy [rank: 62nd]
1956: 7,487 baby girls named Peggy [rank: 63rd]
No doubt many of these Peggys had the middle name Sue.
So how did Buddy Holly chose the name “Peggy Sue” for the song? He didn’t — he wrote a song called “Cindy Lou,” taking the names from his newborn baby niece, Cindy Carol, and Cindy’s mom (Buddy’s sister) Patricia Lou.
But the original song wasn’t working out, so the band experimented with it in the summer of ’57. One of the changes they made was to the name. The rhythmically identical “Peggy Sue” was suggested by drummer Jerry Allison, who was dating a girl named Peggy Sue at the time.
At the end of 1958, Buddy Holly started working on “Peggy Sue Got Married,” one of rock and roll’s first sequel songs. Sadly he didn’t finish the song before February 3, 1959 — the day that he, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa.
If you were having a baby girl, and you had to name her either Peggy Sue or Cindy Lou, which combination would you choose?
In 2008, psychologists Jesse Chandler, Tiffany M. Griffin, and Nicholas Sorensen published a study showing that people who shared an initial with a hurricane name were over-represented among hurricane relief donors. So, for instance, people with R-names donated significantly more than other people to Hurricane Rita relief efforts. (This is an offshoot of the name-letter effect.)
A few years later, marketing professor Adam Alter came up with an interesting idea: Why not use this knowledge to try to maximize donations to hurricane relief efforts? He explained:
In the United States, for example, more than 10% of all males have names that begin with the letter J-names like James and John (the two most common male names), Joseph and Jose, Jason, and Jeffrey. Instead of beginning just one hurricane name with the letter J each year (in 2013, that name will be Jerry), the World Meteorological Organization could introduce several J names each year. Similarly, more American female names begin with M than any other letter–most of them Marys, Marias, Margarets, Michelles, and Melissas–so the Organization could introduce several more M names to each list.
I think his idea is a good one overall. It wouldn’t cost much to implement, but could potentially benefit many hurricane victims.
I would go about choosing the names differently, though.
Repeating initials multiple times within a single hurricane season would be unwise, for instance. It would cause confusion, which would undermine the reason we started naming hurricanes in the first place (“for people easily to understand and remember” them, according to the WMO).
But optimizing the name lists using data on real-life usage? That would be smart.
The baby boomers were born from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, so here are the top initials for babies born in 1956 (60 years ago):
Here are two possible lists of hurricane names using the above letters. I stuck with the WMO’s conventions: 21 names total, alternating genders, and no retired names.
And here’s another point: we wouldn’t want to assign these names in order. While the official hurricane season lasts a full six months — June to November — most hurricane activity happens in August, September and October:
To really optimize, we’d want to reserve the top initials/names for the stronger mid-season hurricanes, which tend to do the most damage. So we could start the season using mid-list names, then jump to the top of the list when August comes around and go in order from that point forward (skipping over any mid-list names that had already been used).
What are your thoughts on assigning hurricane names with disaster relief in mind? Do you think it could work? What strategy/formula would you use to select relief-optimized hurricane names?
Which girl names increased and decreased the most in popularity from 2014 to 2015?
Here are two ways to look at it. The SSA’s way looks at ranking differences and covers the top 1,000 girl names (roughly). My way looks at raw number differences and takes all girl names on the SSA’s list into account.
Hazel, Taya and Adeline were influenced by films: Hazel by The Fault in Our Stars (2014), Taya by American Sniper (2014), and Adaline by The Age of Adaline (2015).
Meilani and Aitana were boosted by celebrity babies. Meilani is the daughter of Jenni “JWoww” Farley, originally of “Jersey Shore” fame, and Aitana is the daughter of Mexican actors Alessandra Rosaldo and Eugenio Derbez. (Both babies were born in 2014.)
Adley was popularized by county singer Adley Stump.
A couple of months ago, Cindy Chang wrote about her family’s interesting baby name tradition in the LA Times. Her Taiwanese family (now in the U.S.) has been naming all baby boys using the words in a special couplet, “probably part of a larger poem lost during the Cultural Revolution,” for at least 6 generations now.
Here’s the couplet (and the translation):
Hu guang xuan bei dou
Light from the lake reflects the north dipper (big dipper)
Shi dai le yong xi
Generations delight at the golden age
And here are the names in Cindy’s family that correspond to each word:
Her great-great-grandfather was named Hu-zao, “fertile lake.”
Her great-grandfather was named Guang-xin, “shining prosperity.”
Xuan, “reflects, announces”
Her grandfather was named Xuan-yao, “announcing brilliance.”
Her father is named Bei-dwo, “northern bell,” and her uncle is named Bei-jiann, “northern key.”
Dou, “dipper,” changed by her grandfather to Tian, “sky, heavens”
Her brother is named Tian-shu, “heavenly axis,” and her male cousins are named Tian-chuan, “heavenly authority,” and Tian-dong, “heavenly pillar.”
Her nephews are named Christian Shi-jun, “world #1 talented, smart, handsome man,” and Julian Shi-xia, “world knight.”
But, like I said, this tradition only pertains to male names. So what’s Cindy’s Chinese name?
It’s Shin-tzer [pron. sheen-dzuh]. Shin means “heart,” and tzer means “swamp,” literally, though by extension it also means “glossy, radiant, enriching.” She says:
My name isn’t full of flowers, fragrance or delicacy like most Chinese girls’ names. My grandfather wanted me to have strength of character, not mere physical beauty.
Linda is clearly the winner here. Linda’s spike in 1947 is like the perfect storm of spikes — the name was already on the rise, and then the song “Linda” became a huge hit right at the beginning of the post–WWII baby boom.
(If the song had been released just one year earlier — which is theoretically possible, as it was written in 1942 — the Linda spike might have been even bigger, as the largest one-year increase in births in U.S. history happened between 1945 and 1946.)
The song “Linda” was created by songwriter Jack Lawrence at the request of his attorney, Lee Eastman, who wanted a song written for his 5-year-old daughter.
Being a good friend, I obliged and wrote a song for five-year-old Linda. When I made the rounds of publishers I met with frustration. Most of them like everything about the song but the name Linda. “Why Linda?” they would ask. “That’s not a popular name”. One guy said: “Call it Ida — after my mother-in-law and I’ll publish it”. I had to remind him there already was an “Ida — Sweet as Apple Cider!” Another maven suggested the name Mandy. He felt that had a more musical ring than Linda.
But Jack stuck with Linda, and the song made musical (and baby name) history.
And 5-year-old Linda Eastman also made musical history, in a sense, by marrying Beatle Paul McCartney in the late 1960s.
Trivia question of the day: Only one girl name ever decreased in popularity by more than 10,000 baby girls over a one-year period. Can you guess the name?