Spotting Zimbalist on the SSA’s baby name list was a lot like spotting Arbutus: I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it the first time I saw it.
The baby name Zimbalist has only ever made the list twice:
1972: 5 baby boys named Zimbalist
1961: 8 baby boys named Zimbalist [debut]
Where does it come from?
Actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who starred in the popular TV shows 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964) and The F.B.I. (1965-1974).
The movie By Love Possessed (1961), which featured Zimbalist along with actress Lana Turner, may be what caused that initial 1961 debut. (By Love Possessed, btw, was the first movie shown regularly aboard airplanes. The carrier was TWA, and they began screening movies in-flight for first-class passengers in mid-1961.)
His first name, Efrem, saw increased usage as soon as 77 Sunset Strip started airing:
1962: 55 baby boys named Efrem
1961: 83 baby boys named Efrem
1960: 56 baby boys named Efrem
1959: 85 baby boys named Efrem
1958: 8 baby boys named Efrem
Efrem is a Russian version of the Hebrew name Ephraim, which means “fruitful,” while Zimbalist is a Jewish surname that originally referred to someone who played a tsimbl, a musical instrument in the dulcimer family.
Which do you like better as a first name, Efrem or Zimbalist?
P.S. Kookie was another 77 Sunset Strip-inspired debut.
Here are some of the baby names that didn’t make the cut: Boomer, Bub, Bubber, Calamity, Cookie, Dainty, Danger, Demon, Fancy, Fester, Jinx, Less, Little, Manly, Notorious, Phuc, Pleasure, Rage, Riot, Savage, Sherlock, Sparky, Tarzan, Tiny.
If you know people who like baby name humor, please share!
I thought it was just a variant of Cookie until I did some research. Turns out that Kookie was a hipster character played by Edward Byrnes on the detective show 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964). He worked as a valet parking attendant at the club next door to the detectives’ office. The character quickly became a cultural phenomenon:
Constantly combing his glossy, duck-tailed hair and speaking in what was called ‘jive talk’, Gerald Lloyd Kookson III – ‘Kookie’ to his friends — helped Stu and Jeff out on their cases and stole the show. Teenage girls went wild for Kookie and his fan mail reached 10,000 letters a week. A glossary was issued for those who wanted to learn his language which included such young dude phrases as, ‘let’s exitville’ (let’s go), ‘out of print’ (from another town), ‘piling up the Z’s’ (sleeping), ‘a dark seven’ (a depressing week) and ‘headache grapplers’ (aspirin) – all soon copied by youth worldwide.
This popularity led to Kookie-branded merchandise, including “Kookie’s Comb.”
Byrnes also appeared in-character as Kookie on other TV shows and in advertisements (such as a series of Harley-Davidson ads for the Topper motor scooter).
Most impressively, Edward Byrnes became a top-10 recording artist with the release of the novelty song “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb” (1959), a duet with Connie Stevens that reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2005, TV Guide ranked the top 25 teen idols of all time. Edward “Kookie” Byrnes came in 5th. (John Travolta came in 3rd. Michael J. Fox came in 23rd.)
Source: Lewis, Jon E. and Penny Stempel. Cult TV: The Essential Critical Guide. London: Pavilion Books, 1996.