What popularized the baby name Cheryl?

Actress Cheryl Walker in the movie "Stage Door Canteen" (1943)
Cheryl Walker in “Stage Door Canteen

It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the name Cheryl (Cherie + Beryl? Cherry + Beryl?), but it’s clear that the name saw a drastic rise in popularity during the first half of 20th century. Cheryl went from a rarity in the early 1900s to one of the most popular girl names in the U.S. by the mid-1950s.

I doubt Cheryl could have achieved this kind of popularity without a series of pop culture boosts — two caused by the same person, interestingly.

The first (and smallest) boost happened in 1938:

  • 1940: 285 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 408th] – 42 in CA
  • 1939: 289 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 390th] – 49 in CA
  • 1938: 397 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 312th] – 76 in CA
  • 1937: 145 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 563rd] – 16 in CA
  • 1936: 94 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 688th] – 10 in CA

Many of these babies were born in California specifically.

The cause?

A 19-year-old from Pasadena named Cheryl Walker. In late 1937, she was selected as the 1938 Queen of the Tournament of Roses. Local newspapers (including the Los Angeles Times) talked about Cheryl quite a bit during the last month of 1937 and the first few months of 1938.

She signed a film contract with Paramount around that time, but didn’t have much success in the entertainment industry until five years later.

That’s when she played the romantic lead in the wartime hit Stage Door Canteen, released in the middle of 1943. Dozens of major celebrities — including Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, George Jessel, Gertrude Lawrence, Gypsy Rose Lee, Ethel Merman, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Mary Pickford, and Johnny Weissmuller — had cameos in the film, which was one of the highest-grossing of the year.

(Notably, several months before Stage Door Canteen came out, LIFE magazine published a series of photos of the actress along with a short article subtitled “Cheryl Walker rises from stand-in for Veronica Lake to stardom.”)

In both 1943 and 1944, the number of babies named Cheryl increased significantly:

  • 1945: 8,150 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 32nd]
  • 1944: 7,970 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 36th]
  • 1943: 2,878 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 102nd]
  • 1942: 590 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 280th]
  • 1941: 439 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 311th]

The name of Cheryl’s character, Eileen, also saw increased usage, as did many variant spellings of Cheryl:

Name19421943194419451946
Cheryl5902,8787,9708,15011,525
Sheryl3245889491,0551,632
Sherrill202207263206250
Cheryle2780176184238
Sherryl4971104140203
Cheryll11416998120
Sheryle1219263152
Cherryl9195958104
Sharelle28*10
Charyl24*271721
Scheryl11*1175
Cherril667
Sherral668
Sherelle6*
Sheril51169
Chyrl5*8710
Cheril6*7
Cherl6*58
Sherryll565
Cherill5*
Cheyrl5*59
Chyrel7*10
Cheryal6*5
Cherryle5*
Sherell5*
Sherrille5*
Chryl9*
Sherryle7*
Cherel5*
Cherle5*
Cherryll5*
Chyral5*
Shyrel5*
*Debut

(The variant Sharelle was the top debut name of the year in 1943.)

Usage of the name Cheryl plateaued in the late ’40s and early ’50s, then began to rise again in 1954:

  • 1956: 21,280 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 18th]
  • 1955: 19,100 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 19th]
  • 1954: 15,000 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 22nd]
  • 1953: 12,271 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 28th]
  • 1952: 12,197 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 31st]

Why?

It wasn’t Cheryl Walker — she’d retired from acting by this time.

Instead it was a short-lived TV show called Waterfront (1954-1956). The central character, John Herrick, was the captain of a San Pedro Harbor tugboat called the “Cheryl Ann.”

The show also gave a boost to the compound names Cherylann, Cherylanne and Sherylann.

[EDIT, 6/10 – Diana reminded me about Mouseketeer Cheryl, who was on The Mickey Mouse Club from 1956 to 1958. No doubt she contributed to the name’s popularity as well in the mid-to-late ’50s!]

Cheryl became one of the top 20 baby names in the country in 1955, and it remained in the top 20 until 1961, peaking at 13th in 1958.

Graph of the usage of the baby name Cheryl in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Cheryl

After that, usage began to decline. Cheryl fell out of the top 50 in 1972, then out of the top 100 in 1980. (This despite a late-1970s uptick inspired by actress Cheryl Ladd, singer Cheryl Lynn, and/or model Cheryl Tiegs.)

[EDIT, 7/7 – Cheryl M. reminded me to include Cheryl Ladd.]

And in 1998, exactly 40 years after nearly reaching the top 10, Cheryl fell out of the top 1,000 entirely.

What are your thoughts on the name Cheryl? (Do you like it more or less than the spelling Cherrill?)

Sources:

Image: © 1943 Life

11 thoughts on “What popularized the baby name Cheryl?

  1. Oh she might have been a cause as well! Sorry I didn’t mention it. I’ll edit the post. I just found a lot more people talking about being named for Cheryl Ann when I was researching. There’s a Cheryls Named after a Tugboat Facebook group, for instance. Thanks Diana!

  2. Don’t forget “Cheryl Ladd” the actress of Charlie’s Angels and daughter of famous game show host of “Password,” and that Betty White was married to.

    I was named, “Cheryl Ann” from that tugboat on Waterfront like most of us was. You are either Cheryl Ann or Cheryl Lynn for the most part that I have met. I’m the first Grandaughter born out of 17 and the last born was named, Cheryl Lee. My mom said no one was named Cheryl in 1959 in Long Island, New York and that is why she picked it. She was shocked to find so many Cheryl’s in California when we moved in 1960.

  3. Cheryl Ladd! Of course. She’s probably the main reason for that late-’70s uptick. Can’t believe I forgot yet another major Cheryl. Thank you!

  4. Here in Michigan, from my experience, Sheryl is the more popular spelling. The name remained popular here throughout the 1960’s.

  5. Another thought, Cheryl Crane, daughter of Lana Turner, killed Johnny Stompanato, Lana’s lover, in 1958, when Cheryl was 14. I know this was a huge news story, and while a tragic story, it could have contributed to the continued use of Cheryl.

  6. @J Rex – You’re right! Thanks for mentioning Cheryl Crane. The murder happened in April — plenty of time to influence baby names. In fact, the story could have been the reason usage of the name peaked that year.

  7. I read an article in an old magazine of the 1940’s that there was a baby contest in Holleywood to name Lana Turner’s baby girl, and the winning name was “Cheryl.”
    In Christ Jesus.

  8. Oh forgot, there was a childrens clothing line called “Cheryl,” in the 1960’s -1970’s. In Christ Jesus.

  9. One last fact about Cheryl Walker: one of her husbands had the intriguing first name “Tway” (Tway Walter Andrews).

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