Where did the baby name Jheri come from in the 1980s?

Michael Jackson's Jheri curl hairstyle on the cover of the 1982 album "Thriller"
Michael Jackson’s Jheri curl

The Jerry-like name Jheri appeared regularly in the U.S. baby name data from 1980 until the mid-1990s:

  • 1996: unlisted
  • 1995: 7 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1994: 11 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1993: 10 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1992: 8 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1991: 12 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1990 9 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1989: 8 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1988 10 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1987 12 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1986: 9 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1985: 13 baby girls named Jheri (peak usage)
  • 1984: 8 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1982: 12 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1981: 8 baby girls named Jheri
  • 1980: 6 baby girls named Jheri (debut)
  • 1979: unlisted


Because of the Jheri curl, a hairstyle featuring loose, glossy curls that was trendy among African-Americans primarily during the 1980s. Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Rick James, and other famous men and women of the era sported Jheri-curled hair.

Where did the style come from?

The “curl” originated with hairdresser/entrepreneur Jheri Redding, who developed a chemical process to make straight hair curly. Salons started offering the Jheri Kurl (as it was often spelled in advertisements) in the early 1970s.

Then, African-American hairdresser/entrepreneur Willie Lee Morrow adapted the process for African-American hair. His two-step method involved straightening the hair before adding a looser curl. (He also introduced “curl activator” to add moisture to the style.) Salons began offering Morrow’s California Curl in the late 1970s.

Some salons, in fact, offered both perms:

Newspaper advertisement for California Curl and Jheri Kurl (Feb. 1979)
(Feb. 1979)

Finally, African-American entrepreneur Comer Cottrell made Morrow’s perm both less expensive and more widely available by developing the do-it-yourself Curly Kit.

His kits were advertised heavily in Jet magazine throughout 1980:

Magazine advertisement for Curly Kit (Aug. 1980)
(Aug. 1980)

In mid-1981, Forbes magazine declared the Curly Kit “the biggest single product ever to hit the black cosmetics market.” Numerous copycat kits (with names like Classy Curl, S-Curl, and Super Curl) soon followed.

Despite the crucial contributions of Morrow and Cottrell, though, it was Jheri Reddings’s distinctive first name — associated with the curl since the start — that became the generic term for the style.

So, where did “Jheri” come from?

Redding coined it himself.

He was born Robert William Redding on a farm in Illinois in 1907. He became a licensed cosmetologist after noticing, during the Depression, that hairdressers were still being paid well.

Redding was an innovative marketer — he introduced the concept of “pH balanced” shampoos, for instance — and he created the eye-catching name for himself at some point before 1950, because he’s listed as “Jheri R Redding” on the 1950 U.S. Census:

Jheri Redding on 1950 U.S. Census

He launched his first company, Jheri Redding Products, six years later.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Jheri?


  • Johnston, David Cay. “Jheri Redding Is Dead at 91; A Hair Products Entrepreneur.” New York Times 21 Mar. 1998: A-13.
  • Folkart, Burt A. “Jheri Redding; Beauty Products Pioneer.” Los Angeles Times 18 Mar. 1998.
  • Mack, Toni. “Caution + Daring = 82% Returns.” Forbes 8 Jun. 1981: 101-103.
  • Byrd, Ayana and Lori Tharps. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2002.
  • Ford, Tanisha C. Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion. NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.
  • Moore, Jennifer Grayer. Fashion Fads Through American History: Fitting Clothes Into Context. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015.
  • SSA

Images: Clipping from Chula Vista Star-News (25 Feb. 1979); clipping from Jet magazine (14 Aug. 1980); clipping of the 1950 U.S. Census

2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Jheri come from in the 1980s?

  1. I’m not a fan of any spelling of Jerry. I think it would be an embarrassing thing to have been named after (the product, not the man) once that hairstyle became an object of ridicule in pop culture. Speaking of which, I was listening to a true crime podcast yesterday and one of the suspects was named Jordache (first name). I thought that was so weird. Those were the it-jeans when I was in 1st grade, so I assume that means they were already out of style amongst teenagers, if I knew about them in 1979 when I was 6.

  2. I believe Jordache (and other designer jeans brands) stayed legitimately stylish for the first few years of the 1980s, but that was probably it.

    Coincidentally, Jheri and Jordache debuted in the baby name data the same year (1980).

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