Babies named after Hally from “Listen to the Mocking Bird”?

mocking bird, music, song,

Here’s an intriguing sentence I found in an issue of Time magazine from the 1930s:

Many an antebellum baby was named after Hally, the fictitious girl over whom the song moons.

What song are we talking about here?

“Listen to the Mocking Bird,” first published in 1855 as sheet music (this was long before records or radio) with lyrics by Septimus “Sep” Winner (the seventh child in his family, hence the name).

Hally, according to the lyrics, was the deceased sweetheart of the singer. (Despite this sad scenario, the melody is actually pretty lively.) Her name — a diminutive form of Harriet — was spelled “Hally” originally, as in this sheet music from 1856, but pops up as “Hallie” elsewhere, as in the book Music of the Civil War Era (2004) by Steven H. Cornelius.

Here’s the first verse:

I’m dreaming now of Hally, sweet Hally, sweet Hally;

I’m dreaming now of Hally,

For the thought of her is one that never dies:

She’s sleeping in the valley, the valley, the valley,

She’s sleeping in the valley,

And the mocking bird is singing where she lies.

And here’s a recording of the song from 1904:

The song became one of the biggest hits of the era. “By the end of the century, it had sold over twenty million copies of sheet music, making it one of the three or four best-selling compositions of all time.” It was a fixture in theaters, and was even used as marching music during the Civil War.

So…what sort of impact did “Listen to the Mocking Bird” have on baby names during the second half of the 1800s?

It’s impossible to say using the SSA data, which only goes back to 1880. Instead, I turned to the U.S. Census (via Family Search). I searched for the number of instances of Hally and Hallie on each U.S Census from 1850 to 1900 (excluding 1890, as that Census was lost in a fire).

The numbers below don’t represent babies, and no doubt include a few false positives (e.g., “Halliett”). But overall they do suggest that the proportion of people in the U.S. named Hally or Hallie increased over the latter half of the 19th century.

U.S. Census# Named Hally# Named HallieTotal Pop.
76 mil.
189063 mil.
50 mil.
39 mil.
31 mil.
23 mil.

The SSA data for the 1880s and 1890s doesn’t include Hally (it was too rare at that time) but does include Hallie, which was given to dozens of U.S. babies in each of those years.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Hally?


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