The Emergence of Gehrig

lou gehrig, baseball, baby name
Lou Gehrig in 1923
Lou Gehrig was the talented first baseman who played his entire career (1923-1939) for the New York Yankees. He was a seven-time All-Star and set several major league records during his career, including most grand slams and most consecutive games played.

He retired days after being diagnosed with ALS (now commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the U.S.). He died in mid-1941.

So the the baby name Gehrig surpassing that 5-baby threshold and debuting in the U.S. baby name data in the year 1944 — years after Gehrig was gone — didn’t make much sense to me at first.

  • 1946: unlisted
  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: 5 baby boys named Gehrig
  • 1943: unlisted
  • 1942: unlisted

It made more sense after I learned about the movie The Pride of the Yankees, a fictionalized account of Lou Gehrig’s life. It was first released in New York for one night only in the summer 1942, but didn’t see nationwide release until the spring of 1943. The film “was awash in honest sentiment and became a sizable box-office hit.” It was also nominated for 11 Academy Awards, though it won only one.

Where does the surname Gehrig come from? It’s German — a variant of Gehring, which is based on the Germanic element gar or ger, meaning “spear.”

What are your thoughts on using Gehrig as a baby name?

Sources:


What Caused the Kalene Spike of ’93?

A couple of months ago, I got an email from someone who wanted to know why the baby name Kalene saw so much usage all of a sudden in 1993.

usage of baby name kalene spiked in 1993

That year, the name reached the the top 1,000 for the first and only time. So did Kaylene.

Other Kalene-like names also saw higher usage in 1993, and at least one of them (Kaylean) was a newbie in the data.

Year Kalene Kaylene Kayleen
1995 41 110 147
1994 85 144 157
1993 204 [peak] 197 [peak] 163
1992 24 91 119
1991 7 77 139

I’d figured out the causes of similar spikes for similar names (Kaleena, Kaelin, Katina), but hadn’t gotten around to Kalene yet.

So I did some research. And I didn’t come up with anything useful until I found myself on the Kalene page of a random baby name site where several people happened to mention the same Hooked on Phonics commercial:

  • “…I seen a Hooked on Phonics Commercial…”
  • “…my mom got it off of the hooked on phonics commercial…”
  • “…I too saw the name on the Hooked On Phonics commercial…”
  • “…My mom got it off the commercial in the 1990’s…”
  • …”My mom named me Kalene because she saw it on tv…”
  • “…my name was originally Christie but my mom saw a ‘hooked on phonics’ commercial about a month after i was born and she changed my name…”

One of my favorite things ever is discovering cheesy pop culture enshrined in the baby name data (excellent example: Kebrina), so finding out that a Hooked on Phonics commercial influenced U.S. baby names was pretty epic for me.

Is this Kalene??
Since that point, I’ve been searching for that specific Hooked on Phonics commercial featuring Kalene.

On YouTube I found a segment of a Hooked on Phonics commercial with a Cindy Brady-esque little girl (at right). She seemed promising…but the segment didn’t include her name on-screen.

That said, I did find a discussion thread from the 1990s — a cool piece of internet history in and of itself — that independently verified the existence of a Hooked on Phonics commercial featuring a girl named Kalene. So that was helpful.

(The search for a decades-old commercial is reminding me of our adventures with Deneen.)

So I’m not sure whether or not we’ve found Kalene yet, but one of the other Hooked on Phonics commercials I saw spotlighted a girl named Kia:

hooked on phonics, kia, 1993
“Hooked on Phonics” Kia

And, like Kalene, the name Kia saw its highest-ever usage in 1993, reaching 648th place in the national rankings. (The first Kia cars that were sold in the U.S. weren’t available until early 1994.)

  • 1995: 211 baby girls named Kia
  • 1994: 229 baby girls named Kia
  • 1993: 344 baby girls named Kia
  • 1992: 247 baby girls named Kia
  • 1991: 253 baby girls named Kia

…So now we have two Hooked on Phonics-influenced baby names. Amazing.

Question of the Day: Do you remember any other names from old Hooked on Phonics commercials? The company was advertising heavily on TV back in the 1990s — that much I remember — but I can’t recall any specific names from the commercials. Please leave a comment if you can think of any!

The Baby Name Yul

Yul Brynner, actor
Yul Brynner

The birth name of Russian-born actor Yul Brynner has been transcribed various ways: Yuli, Yuly, Yuliy. He was named after his Swiss-German grandfather Julius (pronounced yoo-lee-us). He started going by “Yul” after immigrating to the U.S. as young man in 1940:

[H]e initially spelled his named “Youl Bryner,” but a New York theatrical agent told him that “Youl” sounded too much like “you-all” and “Bryner” as though he was soaked in brine and pickled. To clarify the pronunciation, the actor respelled his name as Yul Brynner, pronounced “Yool Brinner.”

He didn’t see much acting success during the ’40s. (He had more luck working as a TV director during this time.) But everything changed in the early ’50s after he landed the lead role in the hit Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” (1951-1954). The Broadway production earned multiple Tony Awards in early 1952, including one for Brynner.

Mainstream audiences were introduced to Yul in 1956, the year he starred in three big films: The King and I (released in June), The Ten Commandments (October), and Anastasia (December).

In 1957, Yul not only won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in (the film version of) The King and I, but his distinctive first name appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the first time:

  • 1961: 29 baby boys named Yul
  • 1960: 32 baby boys named Yul [peak usage]
  • 1959: 24 baby boys named Yul
  • 1958: 24 baby boys named Yul
  • 1957: 31 baby boys named Yul [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

Yul was the second most popular debut name for baby boys that year, just barely losing to Maverick.

Since then, the trajectories of the two names have been very different. Trendy Maverick is now given to thousands of baby boys per year, whereas unusual Yul is given to fewer than a dozen per year. Which name do you prefer, Yul or Maverick?

Sources:

Mystery Monday: The Name Chyleen

Today’s mystery name is Chyleen, a uniquely spelled one-hit wonder from 1945:

  • 1947: unlisted
  • 1946: unlisted
  • 1945: 9 baby girls named Chyleen [debut]
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: unlisted

The names Charlene and Cheryl were on the rise in the ’40s, so the look/sound of Chyleen certainly fits with the trends of the time. But I can’t figure out what put the specific spelling “Chyleen” on the map.

Looking through records, I found a couple of people with other spellings, but “Chyleen” was the dominant favorite. This makes me think the influence was something written (e.g., news story, movie credits, book).

Any ideas about what influenced Chyleen?

P.S. The Chyleen-like name Chyla saw a spike in usage in 1983, with a third of that usage coming from in Illinois. The influence was likely Chicago Bears quarterback Vince Evans, who married a woman named Chyla Dibble in mid-1982. (The couple was featured in a July 1982 issue of Jet magazine.)

The Start of Sierra

The baby name Sierra debuted in the U.S. baby name data in 1940.

Back in 1940, the baby name Sierra debuted in the U.S. baby name data rather impressively. It was the top newbie name of the year, in fact.

  • 1942: 13 baby girls named Sierra
  • 1941: 24 baby girls named Sierra
  • 1940: 32 baby girls named Sierra [debut]
  • 1939: unlisted
  • 1938: unlisted

What was behind the debut?

“Sierra Sue,” a song that was a #1 hit in 1940 for Bing Crosby. A version by The Glenn Miller Orchestra also charted the same year. The song was actually an updated version of an older song, written originally by Joseph B. Carey in 1916. It “was probably revived because of the popularity of other western-style songs in the late ’30s.”

And, yes, a large number of the babies named Sierra in 1940 also had the middle name “Sue.” :)

The Spanish word sierra, which refers to a mountain range, can be traced back to the Latin word serra, meaning “saw.”

In November of the next year, a movie called Sierra Sue starring Gene Autry was released. Here’s the scene in which Gene sings the title song:

Decades later, in 1985, usage of the name began to rise rapidly thanks to soap opera character Sierra Estaban from As the World Turns. Sierra was a top-100 name from 1993 to 2004, peaking in 1999 at 49th (just below Jordan, just above Sara).

Do you like the name Sierra?

Sources:

  • Popular Baby Names – SSA
  • Tyler, Don. Hit Songs, 1900-1955: American Popular Music of the Pre-Rock Era. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.