Where did the baby name Tunney come from in 1926?

American boxer Gene Tunney (1897-1978)
Gene Tunney

The name Tunney was being used often enough in the 1920s to register in the U.S. baby name data for three years straight:

  • 1929: unlisted
  • 1928: 9 baby boys named Tunney
  • 1927: 23 baby boys named Tunney
  • 1926: 8 baby boys named Tunney [debut]
  • 1925: unlisted

The variant spelling Tunny also popped up just once, in 1927.

Where did these names come from?

Professional boxer James Joseph “Gene” Tunney, who held the World Heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928.

He won the title by defeating Jack Dempsey in 1926, retained the title by defeating Dempsey again in 1927 (in a famous match now known as “The Long Count Fight”), and retired in 1928 after defeating Tom Heeney of New Zealand.

Gene Tunney in the movie serial "The Fighting Marine" (1926)
Gene Tunney in “The Fighting Marine

Another factor that could have influenced the name in 1926 was the 10-episode film serial The Fighting Marine, which starred Tunney. (Tunney had served as a Marine during World War I.)

The Irish surname Tunney is ultimately based on the personal name Tonnach, which may have meant either “billowy” or “shining.”

What do you think of Tunney as a baby name?


P.S. In the 1952 movie Sailor Beware, the characters played by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had a short conversation in which they mixed up the similar names of boxer Gene Tunney and actress Gene Tierney — who was not behind the debut of the baby name Tierney, incidentally.

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