What popularized the baby name Cheryl in the 1940s?

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

We may not know the exact origin of the name Cheryl (is it Cherie + Beryl…?), but we do know 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.

How did it manage to do that?

With a little help from pop culture!

The first pop culture boost happened in 1938:

U.S. girls named CherylCalif. girls named Cheryl
1940285 [rank: 408th]42
1939289 [rank: 390th]49
1938397 [rank: 312th]76
1937145 [rank: 563rd]16
193694 [rank: 688th]10

What was drawing attention to the name (particularly in California) around that time?

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.

Cheryl Walker went on to work in movies for about a decade. Her biggest picture was the wartime hit Stage Door Canteen, in which she played a canteen hostess (named Eileen) who fell in love with a soldier. Released in mid-1943, Stage Door Canteen became one of the highest-grossing films of the year.

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:


But the skyrocketing interest in the name Cheryl was due to more than just a movie.

A few weeks after the film was released, Hollywood star Lana Turner and her husband Stephen Crane welcomed a daughter they decided to call Cheryl Christina Crane. (Lana said the name “Cheryl” came to her in a dream.)

Stephen Crane, Lana Turner, and baby Cheryl Crane (in mid-1943)
Stephen Crane, Lana Turner, and Cheryl

Baby Cheryl was often mentioned in the news — particularly during 1944, when she was at the center of a custody battle that lasted from April until August.

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]


Likely because of 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 specifically.

The rise continued with the help of Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge (b. 1944), who was featured on the immensely popular children’s TV series The Mickey Mouse Club from 1956 to 1958.

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

The name Cheryl reached peak popularity in 1958 — which just so happens to be the year that Lana Turner’s daughter Cheryl (now age 14) was back in the headlines, this time for killing her mother’s abusive boyfriend (a gangster named Johnny Stompanato).

After that, usage of the name began to decline. Cheryl fell out of the top 20 in 1962, then out of the top 50 in 1972.

It saw a minor resurgence at the end of the 1970s — thanks to actress Cheryl Ladd, singer Cheryl Lynn, and/or model Cheryl Tiegs — but was out of the top 100 by 1980.

  • 1980: 2,609 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 119th]
  • 1979: 3,210 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 94th]
  • 1978: 3,167 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 94th]
  • 1977: 2121 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 134th]

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? (How about the specific spelling Cherrill?)

P.S. Thank you to all the people who’ve left helpful comments below! I’ve finally revised this post to incorporate your ideas/suggestions. :)


Images: Screenshot of Stage Door Canteen; Cheryl Crane photo (public domain)

[Latest update: Feb. 2024]

12 thoughts on “What popularized the baby name Cheryl in the 1940s?

  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 the name peaked that year (or dropped off suddenly the following 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).

  10. Cheryl Edith,I was named after Cheryl Crane because Lana Turner was my mothers favorite movie star in the 40’s.My home town is Dallas,Tx.I was surprised to read the name was most popular in California.I know of Cheryl Ladd and Sheryl Crow.Have not heard of the actress or the tug boat.I have noticed through out my life I have not met too many girls named Cheryl. My two friends from high school both had middle name of Ann ,so I gave my daughter the middle name Anne after them,j added the e because I read a lot books on English history and liked that spelling. April,15, 2023.

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