What popularized Kyle as girl name in the early 1950s?

Kyle MacDonnell in a Bates Fabrics ad (Feb. 1949)
Kyle MacDonnell in a Bates Fabrics ad

In the U.S., the name Kyle has always been used more often for boys than for girls.

If you look closely at the data from the early 1950s, though, you’ll notice a sudden increase in the usage of Kyle as a girl name. And, interestingly, most of that usage occurred in the north-eastern quadrant of the country — particularly in New York.

Girls named KyleBoys named Kyle
1954158 [rank: 736th]402 [rank: 362nd]
1953153 [rank: 737th]360 [rank: 358th]
1952156 [rank: 713th]381 [rank: 352nd]
1951211 [rank: 594th]343 [rank: 369th]
1950102 [rank: 879th]240 [rank: 431st]
194937144 [rank: 564th]
194816130 [rank: 586th]
194711151 [rank: 549th]
194610107 [rank: 622nd]
1945581 [rank: 670th]

Here’s a visual of the national usage (for girls only):

Graph of the usage of the baby name Kyle (as a girl name only) in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Kyle (as a girl name)

So what’s behind the rise?

Singer and actress Kyle MacDonnell, who was one of the first stars of television!

She was born Ruth Kyle MacDonnell in 1922, and spent most of her childhood in Kansas. Her middle name, Kyle, was a family name on her father’s side.

By the mid-1940s, she was doing modeling work in New York City. A talented singer, MacDonnell also found her way onto Broadway, performing in the musical Park Avenue (1946-1947) and the musical revue Make Mine Manhattan (1948-1949).

While appearing in the latter production, she was offered her own TV series, For Your Pleasure, which featured music and dancing.

The weekly, 15-minute variety show began airing live from NBC’s New York City station, WNBT, on April 15, 1948. It was also broadcast across NBC’s Eastern network, which included nearby cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Schenectady. (NBC affiliate stations in other parts of the country may have screened episodes as well, on later dates, thanks to kinescope recordings sent through the mail.)

One reviewer, after watching only the first episode of For Your Pleasure, said Kyle MacDonnell “showed an extremely photogenic personality with grace and naturalness.”

Her singing of How High the Moon and I Wish I Didn’t Love You So were satisfying, and she may well prove an important video find.

Three episodes in, New York Times television critic Jack Gould described Kyle MacDonnell as “television’s first truly new and bright star…the most videogenic young lady yet seen before the cathode cameras.”

Kyle MacDonnell on the cover of Life magazine (May 1948)

A month and a half after the show began, Kyle MacDonnell was on the cover of Life magazine. Life noted that Kyle’s “catch-all appeal nets strangely assorted fan mail from grandmothers, grammar-school kids and ardent bachelors.”

In September, after NBC was able to secure a sponsor for Kyle MacDonnell’s show, For Your Pleasure ended and its re-branded successor Girl About Town (sponsored by Bates Fabrics, Inc.) promptly began.

Girl About Town was also a weekly variety show that aired live from the studio, but episodes were slightly longer (20 minutes) and included prerecorded film footage of Kyle at various landmarks around New York City. The footage was meant to suggest to viewers that Kyle was performing from these locations.

In December, Jack Gould declared in his annual “Honor Roll” that the top male and female TV personalities of 1948 were Milton Berle (host of Texaco Star Theater) and Kyle MacDonnell.

In early 1949, NBC interlinked its 7-city Eastern network to its 9-city Midwest network (which included Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo), more than doubling the number of cities in which Girl About Town and other NBC series could be seen live.

Kyle MacDonnell in an RCA Victor ad (Aug. 1949)
Kyle MacDonnell in an RCA Victor ad

Not only was Kyle MacDonnell’s show available in more homes, but her face and name began popping up in advertisements in magazines like Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Mademoiselle, Harper’s Bazaar, and Life. Most of the ads were for either Bates-brand fabrics or her own Bates-sponsored television show. The rest were for RCA Victor television sets.

In June of 1949, Girl About Town was canceled. NBC restarted For Your Pleasure in July, but it only lasted until September.

So Kyle MacDonnell returned to Broadway, performing in the musical revue Touch and Go (1949-1950). But she could still be spotted on television, making several guest appearances on the variety show Cavalcade of Stars (DuMont) and several more on the game show Celebrity Time (CBS/ABC).

In late September, 1950, she began hosting a weekly half-hour variety show called Hold that Camera (DuMont). Soon after that, in early October, she became a regular panelist on “Celebrity Time.”

The first show lasted until early December, and her stint on the second show lasted through the end of December — meaning that, for over two months toward the end of 1950, Kyle MacDonnell could be seen on television for two half-hours per week: Fridays from 8:30 to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 10 to 10:30 p.m.

This double-dose of Kyle, combined with a rapidly growing TV audience — the percentage of U.S. homes with a television set had risen from about 2% in 1949 to about 9% in 1950 — is likely what boosted the name Kyle into the girls’ top 1,000 in 1950.

Kyle MacDonnell in a Camel cigarette newspaper ad (Sept. 1950)
Kyle MacDonnell in a Camel cigarette ad

She made a few more guest appearances in early 1951, then took several months off to give birth in June to her first and only child, a son named MacDonnell. (His father was Kyle’s third husband, Richard Gordon, a New York City television producer.)

After that, however, Kyle MacDonnell wasn’t able to find much work in television. Instead, she focused on other things: singing in nightclubs, touring with musical theater productions, and hosting her own radio program in NYC.

She attempted to make a comeback in 1959, singing on Tonight Starring Jack Paar in March, then The Ed Sullivan Show in May. These TV performances would have reached many more viewers than any of her earlier TV performances, as both shows were broadcast nationally, and more than 85% of U.S. homes had a television set by that time. Though they didn’t revive her TV career, they may account for her name seeing a boost in usage in 1959.

Not long after that, Kyle MacDonnell married her fourth (and final) husband, William Vernon, the president of Santa Fe National Bank. She spent the rest of her days in New Mexico, passing away in 2004.

What are your thoughts on Kyle as a girl name?


Second and third images: © 1948 Life, © 1949 Life

One thought on “What popularized Kyle as girl name in the early 1950s?

  1. There was just a side discussion about Kyle as a female name in a Reddit name nerds thread a couple of weeks ago, maybe even last week. Mostly just people saying they knew women or girls named Kyle and other people saying they thought it was terrible. I don’t really mind it for girls, although my first “enemy” was a boy named Kyle (he liked to say nasty words to me in 2nd grade), so I have a somewhat negative association with it for any gender.

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