In 1705, English astronomer Edmond Halley theorized that three historic comets (which had appeared in 1531, 1607, and 1682) were actually a single periodic comet that would return again in 1758.
He was correct–the comet returned in 1758, just as Halley had predicted. So it was named Comet Halley in his honor in 1759.
Since then, Halley’s Comet has flown through the inner Milky Way three times: in 1835, 1910 and 1986. How did these appearances affect the usage of the baby name Halley? Let’s take a look…
Halley’s Comet in 1835
It seems that people were well aware of the comet in 1835. Its appearance was even commemorated with a new type of jewelry — the comet brooch, which had a distinct head and a tail, just like the comet. Here’s an example:
But the SSA didn’t start collecting baby name data until 1880, and I haven’t had much luck with the census and other historical data, so I don’t know how many babies (if any) were named after Halley’s Comet this year.
Halley’s Comet in 1910
Halley appeared on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time, both for boys and for girls, in 1910. In fact, it was the top debut name for boys.
1913: 5 baby boys named Halley, unlisted for baby girls
1912: 6 baby boys named Halley, unlisted for baby girls
1911: 5 baby boys named Halley, unlisted for baby girls
1910: 11 baby girls and 12 baby boys named Halley [debut x2]
1909: unlisted for both genders
1908: unlisted for both genders
But the SSA data didn’t start reflecting real numbers until the ’30s. So I checked the SSDI, which indicated that the total number of babies with the first name Halley were actually much higher:
1913: 6 babies named Halley
1912: 15 babies named Halley
1911: 8 babies named Halley
1910: 119 babies named Halley
1909: 14 people named Halley born
1908: 3 people named Halley born
Some of the Halleys named specifically for the comet include:
Halley Reed Palmer, boy, born on May 10, 1910, to Mr. and Mrs. John Palmer of Milton, Oregon.
Halley Comett Johnston, boy, born on April 13, 1910, to Jessie Johnston and Addie Webb of North Carolina.
Parents also used different spellings and placements of Halley. Here’s what happened to the first name Hallie in 1910, for instance, according to the SSDI:
1913: 280 babies named Hallie born
1912: 328 babies named Hallie born
1911: 385 babies named Hallie born
1910: 520 babies named Hallie born
1909: 392 babies named Hallie born
1908: 353 babies named Hallie born
I also found 1910 babies named Halie Comet Wood (boy), Estyr Halley Abrams (girl), Comet Halley Briggs (boy), and Aerial Comet Roath (boy).
Speaking of Comet…the SSDI tells me at least 10 people were named Comet in 1910, and that one of these 10 happened to have the surname Halley. Also born in 1910: a Comette, a Cometniss, a Cometa, and two Comettas.
Halley’s Comet in 1986
Halley was given another big boost by the comet in 1986:
1989: 56 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
1988: 71 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
1987: 69 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
1986: 332 baby girls and 21 baby boys named Halley
1985: 147 baby girls and 10 baby boys named Halley
1984: 25 baby girls named Halley, unlisted for baby boys
The surge in usage bumped Halley into the girls’ top 1,000 for the first (and only) time in 1986:
1987: Halley ranked 1,737th
1986: Halley ranked 581st
1985: Halley ranked 1,025th
The only Halley-baby I noticed in the newspapers this year was from Canada: Halley Marie Mullen, a baby girl born to Susan and Brendan Mullen of Ottawa on 4 January 1986.
And, again, there were plenty of alternative spellings. Here’s what happened to Hallie in 1986:
1989: 237 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
1988: 232 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
1987: 210 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
1986: 267 baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
1985: 195 baby girls and 7 baby boys named Hallie
1984: 164 baby girls baby girls named Hallie, unlisted for baby boys
“Listen to the Mocking Bird” (1855) was one of Septimus Winner’s most popular songs. Between 1855 and 1905, about 20 million copies of the song were sold.
A 1937 Homage to Winner in Time suggests that the song may have helped popularize a baby name:
Many an ante-bellum baby was named after Hally, the fictitious girl over whom the song moons:
I’m dreaming now of Hally, sweet Hally, sweet Hally,
I’m dreaming now of Hally,
For the thought of her is one that never dies.
She’s sleeping in the valley, the valley, the valley,
She’s sleeping in the valley,
And the mocking bird is singing where
The name is spelled “Hally” in Time and in sheet music from 1856, but spelled “Hallie” in other sources, like Music of the Civil War Era by Steven H. Cornelius. Hallie/Hally is a pet form of Harriet, Henrietta and related names.
I’m not sure what kind of impact “Listen to the Mocking Bird” had on baby names in the mid-1800s, but Hallie was used regularly as a baby name in the late 1800s and early 1900s according to Social Security Administration data. The spelling Hally was rarely used.
If you like the idea of anagrams but want to avoid sound-alike sets, I recommend anagrams with different numbers of syllables. Pairs like “Etta and Tate” and “Clay and Lacy” are a far more subtle than pairs like “Enzo and Zeno” and “Mary and Myra.”