Where did the baby name Rooney come from?

Actor Mickey Rooney in the movie "The Human Comedy" (1943).
Mickey Rooney in “The Human Comedy

The baby name Rooney has been given to dozens of baby girls lately thanks to the influence of actress Rooney Mara, but it first popped up in the data as a boy name in 1943:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 5 baby boys named Rooney [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: unlisted


The obvious answer would be Mickey Rooney, though it’s hard to pinpoint a reason, as he’d been appearing in movies since the 1920s.

My best guess is the film The Human Comedy (1943), in which Rooney played Homer Macauley, a teenager who became the man of house after his older brother went off to war. It was one of Rooney’s first dramatic roles, and it earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Mickey Rooney was born Joe Yule, Jr., in 1920. (His vaudevillian father was technically named Ninian Ewell, but went by the stage name Joe Yule.) After starring in a series of “Mickey McGuire” movies as a kid, Rooney not only began using the name Mickey McGuire professionally, but his legal name was also changed to Mickey McGuire.

When he signed with Universal to make Fast Companions (1932), the studio asked him to use a different stage name. His mother, remembering vaudevillian Pat Rooney, suggested Mickey Rooney. And, again, both his stage and legal names were changed.

Here’s what Rooney thought about the name changes (from his 1991 autobiography, Life Is Too Short):

This is the kind of world I was born in, one in which I had only one reason for existence: pleasing others. This was very clear, now, with a second legal name change: Even my name, even that, was designed to please others.

What are your thoughts on Rooney as a baby name?


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