How popular is the baby name Eileen in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Eileen and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Eileen.
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Years ago I posted about Livonia, a baby both born on and named after a Pullman car. Recently I wondered: What other Pullman car names would have made good baby names?
So I downloaded a big spreadsheet of over 12,000 Pullman car names from The Pullman Project and was slightly surprised to see that thousands of them could have been baby names, if we allow for the splitting of compound car names (like Fort Miley, Glen Norman, Meredith College, and West Willow).
Here are a handful of examples. On the left are relatively common/familiar names, and on the right are some unexpected choices.
Marion and Charlotte “Lottie” Story of Bakersfield, California, had at least 22 children — including five sets of twins — from 1922 to 1946. Seventeen of their kids are listed on the 1940 U.S. Census (at right).
I don’t know the names of all the Story children, but here are 20 of them: Jean, Jane, Jack, Jacqueline, June, Eileen, Clyde, Robert, James, Jeannette, Steve, Jerry, Terry (sometimes “Terrytown”), Charlotte, Scotty, Sherrie, Garry, Joanne, Frances (called Lidwina), and Monica (called Sandy).
Charlotte Story herself was one of a dozen children, born from 1899 to 1919. Her 11 siblings were named Pearl, George, Rhea, Hazel, Fern, Ira, Myrtle, Dorothy, Helen, Russell, and Viola.
And Charlotte’s mother Elsie was one of 13 children, born from 1865 to 1892. Her 12 siblings were named Edward, Levi, William, Frank, Rosa, Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret, Archibald, Gertrude, and Emma.
So here’s the question: If you had to choose all of your own children’s names from just one of the sibsets above, which set would you pick? Why?
A set of quadruplets was delivered via Caesarean section for the first time ever on November 1, 1944. The quads — 3 girls and 1 boy — were born to Kathleen and Joseph Cirmnello of Philadelphia. TIME magazine noted several weeks later that the quadruple C-section was “a feat unique in medical history.”
The foursome had been known as A, B, C and D. However, Cirminello named the boy Michael on Saturday and the mother picked Kathleen for girl B’s name. The other two Monday were named Maureen and Eileen.
Kathleen, Maureen, Eileen, and…Michael. Do you think Michael ever felt left out because his name didn’t rhyme with his sisters’ names?
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.
“Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners is the official winner of the Ultimate ’80s Name-Song Tournament!
It beat “Rock Me Amadeus” (1986) by Falco in the final round of voting.
The name Eileen has a complicated etymology. It’s an Anglicized form of the Irish name Eibhlín, which is a form of the Norman French name Aveline, which is a form of the Germanic name Avelina, which is ultimately based on either the Germanic root avi, which might mean “desired, wished for,” or the Germanic root aval, which means “strength.”
The related name Evelyn is the 20th most popular baby girl name in the country right now, but not-as-stylish Eileen is down in 748th place. Eileen was most popular in the U.S. during the 1940s, peaking at 70th in 1945.
And how about the band — where did they get the name Dexys Midnight Runners? “Dexys” (no apostrophe) comes from the club drug Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine sulfate) and “Midnight Runners” refers to the extra energy the stimulant gives users.
Thanks for playing along, everyone! I threw the Ultimate ’80s Name-Song Tournament together last-minute, so there wasn’t much time to research songs. I ended up overlooking a few good ones, such as:
“All for Leyna” (1980) by Billy Joel
“Romeo and Juliet” (1980) by Dire Straits
“Luanne” (1981) by Foreigner
“Baby Jane” (1983) by Rod Stewart
“Jane Says” (1987) by Jane’s Addiction
“Sweet Jane” (1988) by Cowboy Junkies (Velvet Underground cover)
Do you think any of these would have had a chance against “Come on Eileen”?
Finally, if I hold another name-related tournament next March, should it be songs again? If so, songs from what decade? If not, what would you like the theme to be?