Doo Wop Baby Name: Deserie

the charts, deserie, band,
The Charts (Glenmore, Ross, Leroy, Stephen, & Joe)

The French name Desiree was first popularized in the U.S. by the 1954 movie Désirée, which told the story of Désirée Clary, the one-time fiancée of Napoleon Bonaparte who later became the queen of Sweden and Norway.

Several years later, during the doo-wop craze of the ’50s, five Harlem-based teens formed a vocal group called The Charts — intentionally naming themselves after the Billboard‘s hits list in the hope that they would one day see themselves on the charts.

Despite being booed off stage during an Apollo Theater amateur night, the quintet got signed to a label and ended up recording several songs before disbanding in 1958.

The only Charts song to actually reach the charts? “Deserie,” a “huge East Coast doo wop cult classic” that appeared on Billboard‘s Hot 100 four times during the second half of 1957, peaking at 88th.

Here’s a video featuring the song:

But the Charts actually charted twice, because the baby name Deserie debuted on the U.S. baby name charts the very same year:

  • 1960: 15 baby girls named Deserie
  • 1959: 8 baby girls named Deserie
  • 1958: 7 baby girls named Deserie
  • 1957: 13 baby girls named Deserie [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

Though the spelling and pronunciation aren’t quite the same, Deserie (deh-zə-REE) was no doubt inspired by then-trendy Desiree (deh-zi-RAY), which can be traced back to the Latin word for “desired,” desideratum.

Which name do you like better, Desiree or Deserie?

Source: Warner, Jay. American Singing Groups: A History from 1940s to Today. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2006.


The Baby Names Shevawn and Siobhan

siobhan mckenna, 1956, life, magazine
Siobhán McKenna on the cover of LIFE
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:

  • 1960: 5 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: 9 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1957: 8 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1956: 24 baby girls named Shevawn
  • 1955: 36 baby girls named Shevawn [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted

The spellings Shevon, Shevonne, Chavonne, and Chevonne also debuted in ’55.

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]
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: unlisted

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?

Sources: Siobhán McKenna – Wikipedia, SSA

The Baby Name Tinker

Tinker the Toymaker
The curious baby name “Tinker” debuted on the SSA’s list in the mid-1950s:

  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: 5 baby girls named Tinker
  • 1954: 5 baby boys named Tinker [debut]
  • 1953: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Well, the girls would have been named Tinker with the Peter Pan character Tinker Bell in mind. (Disney’s film version of Peter Pan came out in ’53, and the Broadway musical came out in ’54.)

But for boys, the inspiration would have been the children’s TV program Tinker’s Workshop, which was on the air from 1954 to 1958. The sole human character was gray-haired, Geppetto-like “Tinker the Toymaker” played by Bob Keeshan (who also produced the show). Keeshan wrote in the ’80s that:

[Tinker] was warm and welcoming, a grandfather who finds joy in talking to young people, passing on his wisdom, exploring the world with them.

The show was a success, but Keeshan left less than a year after it premiered to become “Captain Kangaroo” — a role he played for the next three decades.

Tinker’s Workshop continued until mid-1958, with the role of Tinker being taken up by several other actors, the last of whom was a very young Dom DeLuise.

Do you like Tinker as a baby name? Do you think it works better for boys or for girls?

Source: Keeshan, Bob. Growing Up Happy: Captain Kangaroo Tells Yesterday’s Children How to Nurture Their Own. New York: Doubleday, 1989

The Baby Name Zorina

vera zorina

Vera Zorina, often credited simply as “Zorina,” was a German-Norwegian ballerina.

She was born Eva Brigitta Hartwig in Berlin in 1917 and was always called “Brigitta” by friends. But the public knew her by the Russian-sounding stage name “Vera Zorina,” which she adopted while dancing with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the mid-1930s.

She was introduced to American film audiences in The Goldwyn Follies (1938). The next year, she had a starring role in On Your Toes (1939).

In response, a handful of American parents named their baby girls Zorina around that time, and the name ended up debuting on the U.S. charts:

  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: 6 baby girls named Zorina
  • 1939: 6 baby girls named Zorina [debut]
  • 1938: unlisted

Zorina’s film career — as well as her first marriage, to the famous choreographer George Balanchine — lasted until the mid-1940s.

The name, on the other hand, is still around. In 2015 it was given to 5 baby girls.

Source: Vera Zorina, 86, Is Dead; Ballerina for Balanchine

The Car-Inspired Baby Name Capri

capri, car, nameplateThe Italian island of Capri has been inhabited for millennia, but very few Americans were naming their babies “Capri” before Ford introduced the Lincoln Capri in the early 1950s:

  • 1955: 6 baby girls named Capri
  • 1954: 5 baby girls named Capri
  • 1953: 7 baby girls named Capri [debut]
  • 1952: unlisted

The car was on the market from 1952 to 1959 and, as far as I can tell, it was the very first car-inspired baby name to appear in the data. Since then, many different cars have inspired baby names (e.g., Camry, DeLorean, Miata, Porsche).

These days the name Capri is given to close to 200 baby girls per year, which puts it pretty close to the top 1,000.

The origin of the island name “Capri” isn’t known for certain, but it could be derived from the Ancient Greek word kapros, meaning “wild boar,” or from the Latin word capreae, meaning “goats.”

Do you like the name Capri? Would you use it for a baby girl?

The One-Hit Wonder Baby Name Kitza

kitza kazacos, 1959, baby name
Kitza Kazacos
© 1959 Billboard
Like Gogi, the name Kitza debuted in the U.S. baby name data in the late ’50s but never returned.

  • 1960: unlisted
  • 1959: 5 baby girls named Kitza [debut]
  • 1958: unlisted

Where did it come from?

Greek singer Kitza Kazacos. During the ’50s she became famous in England, and at the end of the decade she decided to try her luck with American audiences.

As the mononymous “Kitza” she appeared (along with Paul Anka) on the Perry Como Show in February of 1959. The press coverage leading up to the appearance was a bit weird, focusing on how she maintained her figure with the help of a hypnotist (“who hypnotizes her into disliking foods that make her gain weight”).

Ultimately, Kitza didn’t have much luck getting attention in the U.S. Here’s what she said later the same year:

“Since the Perry Como show, I have made just one other appearance and that was on daytime show ‘The Jimmy Dean Show.’ They say they want fresh new talent here, but when fresh, new talent comes to them, they say, “The public doesn’t know you.””

I’m not sure what became of Kitza Kazacos, but I can tell you that her first name is a variant of Kitsa, which is a nickname for Kyriaki. Kyriaki is both the Greek word for Sunday and the feminine form of the name Kyriakos, which means “of the lord.” (The Latin equivalent of Kyriakos is Dominicus, the root names like of Dominic and Dominique.)

What do you think of the name Kitza?

Source: Torre, Marie. “New Face Gets Second Look.” Lawrence Journal-World 15 Jun. 1959: 4.

The Baby Name Thayle

thalye, name, 1936, short story
Thayle & Malvern
The baby name Thayle appeared in the SSA data for one year only:

  • 1937: unlisted
  • 1936: 6 baby girls named Thayle [debut]
  • 1935: unlisted

Where did it come from?

The source is the long-forgotten short story “Company for the Milkman” by Florence Leighton Pfalzgraf. It was published in various newspapers in 1936.

The protagonist is 24-year-old working girl Thayle. She wants to settle down, but first has to choose between two suitors: Nigel “Nig” Duffield (who’s poor, but perfect for her) and Malvern “Mal” Kay (who’s wealthy, but a bad match).

“I don’t mean to offend you, Nig. But — but I’m tired of my tuppenny job. I hate the real estate office, that cold iron typewriter. I don’t want to work after I’m married.”

She nearly marries Mal, but of course there’s a twist (involving a milkman) and she ends up with Nig.

The only thought-provoking thing about this story? The nickname “Nig.” I suspect the author wanted it pronounced “Nige” (long I, soft G–as in Nigel). So why did she leave off the E so that it rhymes with “pig” (or Twig)? Weird omission.

Source: Pfalzgraf, Florence Leighton. “Company for the Milkman.” Reading Eagle 3 May 1936: 14.