We revisited the name Shevawn-with-a-W the other day, so today let’s check out another Siobhan variant, Shevaun-with-a-U, which first appeared in the data during the ’50s:
1956: 5 baby girls named Shevaun [debut]
This one might have a distinct influence as well, because it popped up the same year that Life magazine — which was extremely popular in the middle of the 20th century — suggested that readers pronounce the first name of Irish actress Siobhán McKenna as if it were spelled “Shevaun”:
What do you think?
Source: “Siobhan Shows U.S. Her Joan.” Life. 10 Sept. 1956: 59.
A while back I posted about the baby name Siobhan, which was kicked off (in the U.S.) by Irish stage actress Siobhán McKenna in 1956. The curious part was that, in 1955, a handful of phonetic spellings of Siobhán — Shevawn, Shevon, etc. — popped up ahead of the traditional spelling.
My initial assumption was that these had emerged naturally, as often happens with names that have tricky spellings and/or names we hear rather than see. Deirdre is a good example of this.
But one variant, Shevawn, was pretty dominant. In fact, it was the top debut name of 1955.
1958: 9 baby girls named Shevawn
1957: 8 baby girls named Shevawn
1956: 24 baby girls named Shevawn
1955: 36 baby girls named Shevawn
I just figured “Shevawn” was the most-liked phonetic spelling…because I had no other explanation.
I recently came across a blog post that recapped a September 1955 episode of the live drama series The United States Steel Hour (ABC) called “A Wind from the South.” The episode prominently featured a character named Shevawn, amazingly.
Shevawn, played by stage actress Julie Harris, was an Irishwoman who ran an inn with her brother Liam. Here’s a synopsis that ran in a Texas newspaper a few days before the episode aired:
Miss Harris, in a rare television appearance, will portray Shevawn, an imaginative and winsome colleen who, with her brother, runs a country-side inn. Longing to travel to far-away places, where she believes life is full of magic and splendor, the girl becomes hopelessly enamored of an American guest, who is struck with the girl’s delicate and unspoiled nature.
So that explains Shevawn!
But you know what? Siobhán McKenna is still the explanation, ultimately. Because screenwriter James Costigan had written the role with Siobhán McKenna in mind, and hence had given the character her name. But then the show’s producers intervened. They gave the role to the more recognizable Harris and respelled the character’s name “Shevawn” to make it easier for the American audience to connect the spelling and the pronunciation.
What are your thoughts on the name Shevawn? Do you like the simplified spelling, or do you prefer the original form of the name?
P.S. Here’s the full episode, you want to see it:
“Julie Harris Has Starring Role In TV Production.” Waxahachie Daily Light 11 Sept. 1955: 9.
Tara, Maeve, and many of the other Irish names used in the U.S. today weren’t popularized by Irish immigrants. Instead, they gained traction after being introduced to the public via movies, television, and other types of pop culture.
Siobhan is no different. But it’s also a special case, because Americans heard about the name before they saw it written down. The result? The Irish spelling made a splash on the U.S. baby name charts…but only after a phonetic respelling made a similar splash. In fact, the misspelled version and the correctly spelled version were consecutive top girl name debuts in the mid-1950s.
So who’s the person behind the launch of Siobhan? Irish actress Siobhán McKenna (1923-1986).
In 1955, McKenna was nominated for a Tony for her role as Miss Madrigal in the play The Chalk Garden by Enid Bagnold (who had written National Velvet two decades earlier). The same year, the name Shevawn debuted in the U.S. data:
The next year, Siobhán McKenna impressed audiences with her portrayal of Joan of Arc in the George Bernard Shaw play Saint Joan. Her popularity in this role earned her the cover of LIFE magazine in September. Next to her image was her name, Siobhan, spelled correctly (but missing the fada). Right on cue, the name Siobhan debuted in the data:
1960: 90 baby girls named Siobhan
1959: 85 baby girls named Siobhan
1958: 54 baby girls named Siobhan
1957: 67 baby girls named Siobhan
1956: 58 baby girls named Siobhan [debut]
Once U.S. parents learned how to spell “Siobhan,” the alternative spellings became less common, though they remained in use.
Siobhan was boosted into the top 1,000 in 1979 and remained popular during the 1980s thanks to the soap opera Ryan’s Hope, which introduced a character named Siobhan in 1978.
It’s rather fitting that Siobhán McKenna was best known for playing Saint Joan, as both “Siobhán” and “Joan” were derived from the name Jeanne, which is French feminine form of John (meaning “Yahweh is gracious”).
How do you feel about the name Siobhan? If you were going to use it, how would you spell it?
Though vast majority of the baby names on the Social Security Administration’s yearly baby name lists are repeats, every list does contain a handful of brand-new names.
Below are the highest-charting debut names for every single year on record, after the first.
Why bother with an analysis like this? Because debut names often have cool stories behind them, and high-hitting debuts are especially likely to have intriguing pop culture explanations. So this is more than a list of names — it’s also a list of stories.
Here’s the format: “Girl name(s), number of baby girls; Boy name(s), number of baby boys.” Keep in mind that the raw numbers aren’t too trustworthy for about the first six decades, though. (More on that in a minute.)
I’ve already written about some of the names above, and I plan to write about all the others as well…eventually. In the meanwhile, if you want to beat me to it and leave a comment about why Maverick hit in 1957, or why Moesha hit in 1996, feel free!