Independent baby name blog & directory, est. 2006.
How popular is the baby name Johnny in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Johnny and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Johnny.
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Memphis-based radio station WHER (1430 AM), which was run almost entirely by women, went on the air in October of 1955. It was billed as America’s “First All-Female Radio Station.”
The station was created and funded by legendary record producer Sam Phillips — the guy who discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, among others.
WHER’s original staff included Sam’s wife Rebecca (Becky) along with seven other women: Barbara Gurley, Donna Rae Johnson, Dorothy “Dot” Fisher, Dotty Abbott, Fay Bussell, Phyllis Stimbert, and Roberta Stout.
Six of these eight ladies were on-air personalities with their own programs, each of which emphasized “some particular subject of interest to housewives” according to a 1957 source.
Which of the original WHER names do you like best?
(Dotty is usually a nickname for Dorothy, so I combined them in the poll.)
Vida Jane Butler, who joined WHER later in the ’50s, was known on-air as “Janie Joplin.” She’d been told that Vida “was considered too old-fashioned and too Southern for WHER,” and the data backs it up: the name Vida was indeed out of fashion and associated with the south at that time. These days, though, Vida is picking up steam — particularly in California. Janie, on the other hand, saw peak usage in the mid-20th century and has been in decline ever since.
Brigance, Linda. “WHER.” The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 18: Media Ed. Allison Graham, Sharon Monteith. Chapell Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
In 2015, Emma replaced Lea as the top girl name, William joined Thomas as the top boy name, Beatrice replaced Charlie in the girls’ top 10, and Noah replaced Olivier in the boy’s top 10. (Here are the 2014 rankings.)
Of all 9,096 girl names on Quebec’s list in 2015, 74.5% of them were used a single time. Here are some of the unique girl names:
Allegresse – the French word allégresse means “joy, elation.”
Confiance – the French word confiance means “confidence, trust.”
Exaucee – the French verb exaucer means “to grant a wish.”
Garance – the French word garance refers to a shade of red created from the root of the madder plant.
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 also contributed to the name’s popularity 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.
Last month, a man in Louisiana named Jack Daniels (after the whiskey) named his newborn son Jim Beam (after the bourbon).
Jack Daniels Leathers and his wife Lydia welcomed baby Jim Beam on November 14. They came up with the name way back on their first date. (The guy who officiated at their wedding was named Judge Johnny Walker, btw.)
Jack Daniels says that, if he and Lydia have another baby, it’ll be named Evan Williams (another brand of bourbon) if a boy and Sherry if a girl.
This reminds me of Matthew McConaughey’s brother “Rooster” — actually Michael — who has kids named Miller Lyte and Margarita. It also reminds me of the Hawkins family: Budweiser, Falstaff, Jose Cuervo, etc.
I’m not sure exactly what criteria were used to create the rankings, but it looks like the top unisex names on this list were the top-1,000 names that “stuck around that 50-50 split” the longest from 1930 to 2012.
(In contrast, my unisex baby names page lists any name on the full list to fall within the 25-75 to 75-25 range, but only in the most recent year on record.)
The FlowingData post also mentions that, though the data is pretty noisy, there might be “a mild upward trend” over the years in the number of babies with a unisex name.
Annette Funicello, the most popular member of the original Mickey Mouse Club (1955-1959), passed away a couple of days ago.
Seeing her name in the news made me think about the other original Mouseketeers, most of whom were born in the early to mid-1940s (making them teens in the late 1950s). If you’re looking for a baby name reminiscent of sock hops and soda fountains, the first batch of Mouseketeers is not a bad place to start: