Sharlie debuted rather impressively as a girl name in the SSA data in the year 1933.
Initially, my best guess regarding Sharlie’s sudden appearance was the trendy radio catchphrase, “Vas you dere, Sharlie?”
But a few months ago, I serendipitously discovered a much better explanation: a serialized newspaper story simply called Sharlie. It was written by Beatrice Burton and appeared in the papers in late 1932 and early 1933. The main character was “pretty, vivacious Sharlie Dunn.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned researching thousands of pop culture-inspired baby names over the years, it’s this: personification is key. A name attached to a person (real or fictional) carries far more weight with the baby-naming public than a free-floating name/word.
So, while I don’t doubt that the catchphrase did indeed draw attention to “Sharlie” back in the early 1930s, I think the female character was what helped expectant parents see “Sharlie” as a potential baby name. And that makes all the difference.
What are your thoughts on this?
P.S. I had to update my theory on the name Normandie for the very same reason. It’s much more likely that it was influenced by the comic strip character than by the ocean liner.
The baby name Sharlie popped up on the SSA’s baby name list for the very first time in 1933. It was the second-highest girl-name debut that year after Gayleen.
1935: not listed
1934: 10 baby girls named Sharlie
1933: 20 baby girls named Sharlie [debut]
1932: not listed
What was the inspiration?
My guess is the catch phrase “Vas you dere, Sharlie?” which became very popular around 1933.
It was introduced to radio audiences in 1932 by comedian Jack Pearl, playing his character Baron Munchausen (loosely based on Baron Münchhausen) on the program The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air.
As the Baron, Pearl would tell far-fetched stories with a comic German accent. When the straight man expressed skepticism, the Baron replied with his familiar tagline and punchline: “Vass you dere, Sharlie?”
“In 1933, Jack Pearl’s fame had reached such heights that he was summoned to MGM, the most prestigious studio in Hollywood, to star in his first feature, Meet The Baron.”
According to the Hollywood Walk of Fame site, the Baron’s catch phrase “soon became part of the national lexicon.”
Unfortunately for Pearl, though, radio audiences soon tired of the Baron:
Pearl’s “Vos you dere, Sharlie?” made him an overnight sensation and a virtual overnight has-been. It was his best and just about only idea, and–as Jack Benny had warned him might happen–the Baron wore out his welcome quickly.
Nachman, Gerald. Raised on Radio. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998.