What gave the baby name Madonna a boost in the mid-1980s?

Madonna's album "Like a Virgin" (1984)
Madonna album

From the early 1900s to the late 1960s, Madonna was one of the top 1,000 girl names in the United States. In terms of rankings, it was most popular in the 1930s; in terms of raw numbers of births, it was most popular in the ’50s and ’60s.

The name has been in decline ever since, but it did see a sudden spike in usage in 1985:

  • 1987: 61 baby girls named Madonna
  • 1986: 70 baby girls named Madonna
  • 1985: 146 baby girls named Madonna
  • 1984: 63 baby girls named Madonna
  • 1983: 23 baby girls named Madonna

In fact, it almost landed back inside the top 1,000 that year. (It ranked 1,033rd, just seven babies shy of 1,000th place.)

Here’s a visual:

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

What gave it a boost?

Mononymous pop superstar Madonna (birth name: Madonna Louise Ciccone).

The singer was born into a Catholic family in Michigan in 1958. She was named after her mother. (Her five siblings are named Anthony, Martin, Paula, Christopher, and Melanie.)

Madonna rose to fame in the mid-1980s with a string of catchy hits:

  • “Holiday,” which peaked at #16 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart in January of 1984
  • “Borderline,” which peaked at #10 in June of 1984
  • “Lucky Star,” which peaked at #4 in October of 1984
  • “Like a Virgin,” which peaked at #1 for six weeks starting in December of 1984
  • “Material Girl,” which peaked at #2 in March of 1985
  • “Crazy for You,” which peaked at #1 in May of 1985
    • It was written for the movie Vision Quest, in which Madonna had a cameo.
  • “Angel,” which peaked at #5 in June of 1985
  • “Into the Groove,” which was never technically released as a single
    • It was featured in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan, in which Madonna had a leading role.
  • “Dress You Up,” which peaked at #5 in October of 1985

She also got a lot of exposure on MTV. One of her most memorable MTV moments was the suggestive “Like a Virgin” performance at the very first Video Music Awards (in September of 1984):

In 1991, during a Vanity Fair interview, Madonna posed the question: “How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna?”

Her name is based on the word madonna (which meant “my lady” in Old Italian). Today it’s associated with the Virgin Mary — hence its usage as a given name in Catholic families — but, centuries ago, it was simply a polite form of address similar to madame or milady. (Madonna’s first child, a daughter born in 1996, was also given a Virgin Mary-associated name: Lourdes.)

What are your thoughts on the name Madonna? Would you use it?


P.S. Coincidentally, the primary male characters in two of Madonna’s early movies — Vision Quest and Who’s That Girl — had nearly the same (rather uncommon) first name: Louden/Loudon.

One thought on “What gave the baby name Madonna a boost in the mid-1980s?

  1. I knew everything about Madonna when I was 13, but it has faded. However, I remember a name-related fact: her confirmation name is Veronica. I don’t like the name Madonna (or Donna) but I love the name Lourdes. I was thrilled when she gave the baby that name.

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