Last week, two women named Tammy won elections: Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was elected to the U.S. Senate, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Do you think this could be enough to revive the baby name Tammy?
The name started popping up in the U.S. baby name data in the 1930s. It was in the top 1,000 by the late 1940s, and was extremely popular by the late 1950s:
- 1961: 15,527 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 28th]
- 1960: 14,311 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 31st]
- 1959: 13,707 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 31st]
- 1958: 9,981 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 44th]
- 1957: 4,361 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 107th]
- 1956: 261 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 583rd]
- 1955: 192 baby girls named Tammy [rank: 677th]
What caused the surge in popularity?
The romantic comedy Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), which featured a naïve country girl named Tammy Tyree (played by Debbie Reynolds).
Early in the movie, Tammy and her grandfather rescued a man named Peter Brent (played by Leslie Nielsen) from a plane crash. Here’s how Tammy breathlessly explained her name to Peter:
I’m Tammy, my baptized name is Tambrey (it means immortal), my full name is Tammy Tyree only folks call me Tammy.
Even more influential than the character, though, was the movie’s memorable theme song, “Tammy,” which was performed by Reynolds herself:
Reynolds’ version, as well as versions by other performers, reached #1 on Billboard’s Honor Roll Of Hits chart for seven weeks straight from August to October of 1957.
(The Honor Roll was a pre-Hot 100 chart that combined various recordings of each song into single list items, resulting in consolidated rankings.)
The film and the song popularized not just the name Tammy, but also a slew of other Tam-names, including Tambra, Tamela, Tamera, Tami, Tamie, Tammi, Tammie, Tamra, Tamara, and Tambrey — the character’s “baptized name.” :)
The name Tamre, which debuted in 1958, was the top debut name for baby girls that year.
The name Tammy stayed popular through the ’60s, thanks to two more Tammy films (1961 & 1963) and a short-lived TV series (1965-1966). It was one of the top ten baby girl names in the nation in 1964 and from 1966 to 1971. (Tammy Baldwin was born in 1962, and Tammy Duckworth in 1968.)
After that, Tammy began sinking. It dropped out of the top 100 in 1981, out of the top 1,000 in 1992, and continues to fall every year:
- 2011: 58 baby girls named Tammy
- 2010: 69 baby girls named Tammy
- 2009: 96 baby girls named Tammy
- 2008: 120 baby girls named Tammy
Do you think the national coverage of Tammy Baldwin and Tammy Duckworth in 2012 could reverse this trend? (Even if just for a year?)
P.S. The song “Tammy” was composed by the songwriters who created “Que Sera, Sera,” and it was popular at the same time as “Diana” by Paul Anka.
Sources: Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) – TCM, Tammy (song) – Wikipedia, SSA
3 thoughts on “What popularized the baby name Tammy in the late 1950s?”
I can see a small surge in the Midwest where the Tammys were running. I think if there was an interesting long form of the name beyond Tamara it might see a bit more of a surge as a nn. (Thomasina nn Tammy?)
Good point about location — we should monitor the specific states as well.
These are the last few years Tammy was on the SSA’s list for Wisconsin:
Same for Illinois:
So, in 2012, Tammy stayed about the same nationally:
-2012: 56 baby girls named Tammy (US)
-2011: 58 baby girls named Tammy (US)
Considering the name had been falling, this *might* be the sign of a tiny usage boost.
It didn’t pop up again on the WI and IL lists, though.