What gave the baby name Jolene a boost in 1974?

Dolly Parton's album "Jolene" (1974)
Dolly Parton album

The baby name Jolene had been on the decline for more than a decade when, all of a sudden, usage more than tripled in 1974:

  • 1976: 766 baby girls named Jolene [rank: 301st]
  • 1975: 999 baby girls named Jolene [rank: 248th]
  • 1974: 1,052 baby girls named Jolene [rank: 245th]
  • 1973: 293 baby girls named Jolene [rank: 562nd]
  • 1972: 266 baby girls named Jolene [rank: 599th]

Here’s a visual:

What gave the name a boost that year?

Dolly Parton’s memorable song “Jolene,” which was released as a single in October of 1973.

It reached the #1 spot on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart in February of 1974. It even crossed over to the pop charts, peaking at #60 on the Hot 100 chart in March.

The narrator of the Grammy-nominated song begs a beautiful woman named Jolene not to steal her man. (“You could have your choice of men / But I could never love again / He’s the only one for me, Jolene.”)

Here’s what the song sounds like:

The song’s antagonist was (loosely) based on a real person: A particularly pretty bank teller who would flirt with Dolly’s husband Carl during the early days of their marriage.

The character’s name, however, came from a different source. Here’s how Dolly explained it:

One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time. And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, and beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. And I said, “Well, you’re just the prettiest little thing I’ve ever seen.” I said, “What is your name?” And she said, “Jolene.” And I said, “Well, Jolene, Jolene. Jolene.’ I said, “That is pretty.” I said, “That sounds like a song. I’m gonna write a song about that.”

What are your thoughts on the name Jolene?


2 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Jolene a boost in 1974?

  1. I think it’s a very cute country name, but I feel sorry for all the girls and women who cannot tell anyone their name without them breaking into song. That’s got to be annoying for anyone named Jolene, Rosanna, Delilah, Brandy, and probably a dozen other names. My best friend’s name is Eileen, and most people over the age of 45 have to sing “Come on Eileen” to her when they find out.

    I love Dolly’s origin story for the song, though. I always wonder how much little Jolene flipped out when the song became a hit.

  2. I’m sure that does get annoying. Anything that your name forces you to do repeatedly — pronounce it, spell it, explain it, listen to someone sing a song (probably badly) — is bound to get old at some point.

    I wonder if any reporter has ever managed to track down the original Jolene. That would make for a cool interview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.