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 Name Kaseem

kaseem, jungle jim

Jungle Jim started as a comic strip in the mid-1930s. The titular character, Jim Bradley, was an American hunter living in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Another main character was his native sidekick, Kolu.

Jungle Jim stories were adapted for radio, film, and eventually a short-lived television series consisting of 26 episodes that aired from 1955 to 1956. The TV show introduced several new characters, including a boy named Skipper, a chimp named Tamba, and a new native sidekick named Kaseem. (Many sources called him a “Hindu manservant.”)

The show didn’t do much for the names Skipper or Tamba, but it did boost the name Kaseem up over the SSA’s 5-baby threshold for the first time:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 11 baby boys named Kaseem [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

Incidentally, in the 1956 movie Zarak included a character named Kasim. And, surprisingly, Kaseem wasn’t the only turbaned man on TV influencing baby names in the ’50s — check out Korla.

Source: Don Markstein’s Toonopedia: Jungle Jim

It’s Time for Zsa Zsa, Dahling

zsa zsa gabor, milton berle, tv, 1950
Zsa Zsa Gabor getting a kiss from Milton Berle, 1956

This one is easy. Zsazsa debuted in the U.S. data in 1957:

  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 8 baby girls named Zsazsa
  • 1959: 12 baby girls named Zsazsa
  • 1958: 5 baby girls named Zsazsa
  • 1957: 6 baby girls named Zsazsa [debut]
  • 1956: unlisted

The source, of course, is glamorous Hungarian-born Zsa Zsa [zhah zhah] Gábor.

It’s hard to know what caused the debut specifically, but it probably wasn’t the movies. More likely it was Zsa Zsa’s many TV appearances in 1956 and 1957. She was on The Milton Berle Show, The Herb Shriner Show, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, The Rosemary Clooney Show, and other shows.

Her birth name was Sári [SHAH-ree] Gábor. She was named after Hungarian stage actress Sári “Zsazsa” Fedak, whose nickname came from her young daughter’s mispronunciation of her first name.

What do you think of the name Zsa Zsa?

Source: Gábor, Zsa Zsa and Gerold Frank. Zsa Zsa Gábor: My Story. NY: World Publishing Company, 1960.
Image: Screenshot from The Milton Berle Show, 3/13/1956 episode

Baby Girls Named Tina Marie

tina marie, 1955, bob merrill, perry como, music, song
Tina Marie sheet music

In mid-1955, Perry Como released pop song “Tina Marie” [vid]. “Tina Marie” became a big hit, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart in August.

And, just like “Mona Lisa” inspired parents to name their baby girls Monalisa in 1950, “Tina Marie” inspired parents to name their baby girls Tinamarie in 1955:

  • 1958: 15 baby girls named Tinamarie
  • 1957: 14 baby girls named Tinamarie
  • 1956: 17 baby girls named Tinamarie
  • 1955: 10 baby girls named Tinamarie [debut]
  • 1954: unlisted

The name Tina also saw a spike in usage that year. No doubt many of these Tinas had the middle name Marie.

Source: Macfarlane, Malcolm and Ken Crossland. Perry Como: A Biography and Complete Career Record. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2012.

What Turned Shalimar into a Baby Name?

shalimar, debra paget, princess of the nileThe name Shalimar first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1954:

  • 1958: unlisted
  • 1957: 6 baby girls named Shalimar
  • 1956: unlisted
  • 1955: unlisted
  • 1954: 5 baby girls named Shalimar
  • 1953: unlisted

The inspiration here was not the famous perfume created by Guerlain in the 1920s, but a movie called Princess of the Nile released in mid-1954. It starred Debra Paget as an Egyptian Princess named Shalimar (who sometimes went incognito as a dancing girl known as Taura).

This was a few years after the Debra Paget movie Broken Arrow boosted Sonseeahray into the data, and a few years before Debra started outranking Deborah on the popularity charts.

But the word Shalamar is not Egyptian. It comes from the famous Shalimar Gardens located in Pakistan. The gardens were created in the mid-1600s by Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal around the same time). “Shalamar” was derived from the Persian-Arabic phrase shah al-‘imarat, meaning “king of buildings.”

Source: Princess of the Nile (1954) – TCM, The meaning of ‘Shalimar’