The Height of Alfie in America

alfie, movie, baby name, 1960s

These days, the baby name Alfie sees a lot more usage overseas than it does in America. That said, Alfie (and Alfy) were doing some interesting things on the U.S. baby name charts in the mid-1960s:

Year Alfie usage Alfy usage
1969 34 baby boys unlisted
1968 57 baby boys [ranked 968th] unlisted
1967 62 baby boys [ranked 915th] unlisted
1966 16 baby boys 15 baby boys [debut]
1965 unlisted unlisted
1964 unlisted unlisted

(There was some female usage of Alfie during this time as well, but I didn’t include it in the table.)

Alfie‘s influence is easy enough to pinpoint, so let’s start there. In 1966, the well-received British movie Alfie came out — in March in the UK, and in August in the US. Michael Caine had the starring role as womanizer Alfie, and this proved to be the breakthrough role of his career.

The film — with lots of help from the theme song “Alfie,” which was recorded and released by multiple artists, including Dionne Warwick — pushed the baby name Alfie into the top U.S. 1,000, where it stuck around for just two years.

The explanation behind the sudden appearance of Alfy, a distinct spelling (and also the top one-hit wonder name for boys in 1966), took me a lot longer to figure out.

alfy, baby name, 1966, tv
Alfy

This one came from the short-lived teen soap opera Never Too Young, which aired on September of 1965 to June of 1966. It was set in Malibu and was narrated by the character Alfy, owner of the local beach hangout. He was played by British actor David Watson (whose first American TV appearance was on Rawhide with Clint Eastwood, aka Rowdy Yates).

One thing I find curious is that two fictional British characters named Alfie/Alfy emerged around the same time in American pop culture. The movie was an adaptation of the 1963 play Alfie by Bill Naughton…perhaps the play influenced the writers of the TV show as well?

Which spelling do you like more, Alfie or Alfy?

Source: Never Too Young – Wikipedia

Pearl Harbor’s Influence on the Name “Pearl”

more baby girls named pearl in 1942, after pearl harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941 — 77 years ago today.

The next year, usage of the baby name Pearl, which had been trending downward since the 1920s, increased nearly 31%:

  • 1945: 654 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 265th]
  • 1944: 757 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 238th]
  • 1943: 878 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 223rd]
  • 1942: 1,092 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 191st]
  • 1941: 835 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 212th]
  • 1940: 908 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 197th]
  • 1939: 901 baby girls named Pearl [rank: 198th]

Some of these post-1941 babies got first-middle combos like “Pearl Victory” and “Pearl Harbor.” (Here’s a “Victory Pearl Harbor.”)

After that 1942 uptick, Pearl’s downward trend continued. Usage was lowest during the last three decades of the 20th century. Since then, usage has picked up somewhat.

Do you like the name Pearl?

The Surprising Source of Tierney

joseph mccarthy, adopted baby, tierney elizabeth
Joseph, Tierney and Jean McCarthy – Jan. 1957

The Irish surname Tierney first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1957. In fact, it was the top debut name of the year.

  • 1960: 18 baby girls named Tierney
  • 1959: 14 baby girls named Tierney
  • 1958: 26 baby girls named Tierney
  • 1957: 46 baby girls named Tierney [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

For a long time I’d assumed that Hollywood actress Gene Tierney was the cause. Then it dawned on me that Gene’s career was on the wane in 1957 — that the peak of her fame had been in the 1940s. So Gene wasn’t the answer.

But you know who was? The adopted daughter of the infamous politician Joseph McCarthy. (This makes Tierney a celebrity baby name, essentially.)

In early 1957, the Wisconsin senator (and zealous communist hunter) and his wife Jean adopted a five-week old baby girl from the New York Foundling Home. They named her Tierney Elizabeth.

Tierney’s first name came from Joe’s mom Bridget Tierney McCarthy; her middle name came from Jean’s mom Elizabeth Fraser Kerr. The name Tierney is based on the Irish surname Ó Tíghearnaigh, meaning “descendant of Tighearnach,” and the byname Tighearnach is based on the Old Irish word tigern, meaning “lord, master.”

The McCarthys brought Tierney home to Washington, D.C., on January 13. The same day, Joseph “announced over a nationwide television program [Press Conference on ABC] that he was a brand new father and invited photographers to his home for a preview of the new arrival.”

A second unfortunate event that gave the name another round of exposure was Joseph McCarthy’s death in May — a mere four months after the adoption. In fact, some newspapers (including the New York Daily News) re-ran the baby photos of Tierney alongside McCarthy’s obituary.

…Despite all this, I’m still left wondering about Gene Tierney’s influence. While she clearly didn’t inspire the debut, she had given the surname Tierney a strong feminine association. Was she the reason why the McCarthys opted for Tierney over Elizabeth as the primary name? Hm…

What are your thoughts on the baby name Tierney?

Sources:

  • Hanks, Patrick. (Ed.) Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • “McCarthy Blasts Eisenhower Palace Guard.” Redlands Daily Facts [Redlands, Calif.] 14 Jan. 1957: 9.
  • “Meet Miss McCarthy.” News-Palladium [Benton Harbor, Mich.] 14 Jan. 1957: 3.

P.S. Baby Tierney was in the news at the same time as baby Sindee.

The Emergence of Miata

mazda miata, car, 1989, baby name, 1980s

The baby name Miata appeared in the U.S. data for a little more than a decade, 1989 to 1999, and saw peak usage in the early ’90s:

  • 1993: 19 baby girls named Miata
  • 1992: 17 baby girls named Miata
  • 1991: 25 baby girls named Miata [peak]
  • 1990: 25 baby girls named Miata [peak]
  • 1989: 23 baby girls named Miata [debut]
  • 1988: unlisted

The inspiration, of course, was the Mazda MX-5 Miata — a lightweight, two-seat, open-top roadster that was unveiled in February of 1989 and went on sale in the U.S. the following May.

The sporty car became popular right away, with the help of enthusiastic reviews like this one from Car and Driver (Sept. 1989):

With the new Miata, Mazda has brought back the simple, honest sports car we feared had vanished forever. No longer will we gaze in frustration at 1960s movies and their rakish Triumph TR4s and Lotus Elans and MGBs. Mazda has resurrected those barnstorming sports-car times in one spectacular, up-to-date package.

According to one source, the name of the car came from the Old High German word miata, meaning “a reward” or “due amount of praise.” Interestingly, the name was used only in the North American market.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Miata?

Sources:

Image: Adapted from Mazda MX-5 ND 2.0 SKYACTIV-G 160 i-ELOOP Side View by Kickaffe (Mario von Berg) under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Arrival of Axl

guns n roses, album, axl, baby name, 1980sWe’re well into November, and while I don’t typically experience “November Rain” — usually just November snow — now’s a good time to talk about Axl, the name of the guy who sang “November Rain.”

Axl debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1988:

  • 1992: 29 baby boys named Axl
  • 1991: 23 baby boys named Axl
  • 1990: 25 baby boys named Axl
  • 1989: 21 baby boys named Axl
  • 1988: 9 baby boys named Axl [debut]
  • 1987: unlisted

The next year, the names Axle and Aksel both debuted, while the already-in-use name Axel (which can be traced back to the biblical name Absalom) more than doubled in usage.

The influence? Axl Rose, lead singer of the rock band Guns N’ Roses.

The band’s debut album Appetite for Destruction was released in July of 1987. It became a commercial success the next year, after the band started touring and releasing singles such as “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (peaked at #1 in Sept. 1988), “Welcome to the Jungle” (#7 in Dec. ’88), and “Paradise City” (#5 in Mar. ’89).

Axl Rose grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, with the name William “Bill” Bailey. As a teen, he discovered that his surname at birth had been Rose, so he started using it. Not long after that, he adopted the first name Axl:

One of the short-lived local bands he’d sung with was called AXL, which then became his moniker. When the band broke up, he kept using the name, and styled himself “W. Axl Rose.”

And in early 1986, right before signing with Geffen Records, he legally changed his name to “W. Axl Rose.”

axl, name, music video, GNR
W. Axl Rose grave from the “Don’t Cry” music video (1991)

Unexpectedly, the name is more popular today than ever before:

  • 2017: 335 baby boys named Axl [rank: 716th]
  • 2016: 305 baby boys named Axl [rank: 778th]
  • 2015: 313 baby boys named Axl [rank: 760th]
  • 2014: 266 baby boys named Axl [rank: 842nd]
  • 2013: 111 baby boys named Axl
  • 2012: 102 baby boys named Axl

This is probably thanks to another singer, Fergie, who welcomed a baby boy in August of 2013 and named him Axl after Axl Rose. (Some ’80s trivia for you: Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson was on Kids Incorporated with Marta “Martika” Marrero.)

What are your thoughts on the baby name Axl? Would you use it?

Sources:

P.S. How did the band name “Guns N’ Roses” come to be? It was created from the surnames of two of the founding members, Axl Rose and Tracii Guns (born Tracy Richard Irving Ulrich), essentially. More precisely, it came from the merger of the bands they were in at the time: Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns.