I’m much obliged to Nancy of Fritinancy for letting me know about this one.
Yesterday’s edition of Fresh Air featured a segment on Marilyn Miller, a very popular Broadway musical star of the 1920s and early 1930s. Here’s what author Lloyd Schwartz had to say about Marilyn’s name:
Reading about Marilyn Miller, I found several surprising items. The name Marilyn, for example — Miller made it up from her own given name, Mary, and her mother’s name, Lynn — had apparently been quite rare until Miller’s stardom made it one of this country’s most popular girl’s names.
Decades later, Ben Lyon — a Twentieth Century Fox executive and former leading man who had co-starred with Miller and W.C. Fields in Miller’s last and best movie, Her Majesty, Love — signed up another pretty blond actress, Norma Jean Baker. She reminded him of Miller, and he urged her to change her name to Marilyn.
Wikipedia’s story is slightly different. It says Miller’s mother’s name was Ada Lynn (i.e. Lynn was her middle name). It also says the initial version of Miller’s stage name was Marilynn, and that the second n was dropped “at the urging of Florenz Ziegfeld.”
But both sources agree that Marilyn Miller had a big impact on baby names. The baby name Marilyn was rarely bestowed during the early years of the 20th century, but by 1925 it was one of the top 100 names in the nation. It peaked at 13th in 1936 and 1937, sandwiched between Joyce and Virginia the first year, Helen and Beverly the second.
The name has been in slow decline ever since. (Though Marilyn Monroe did give it a bit of a boost in the mid-1950s.)