It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the name Cheryl (Cherie + Beryl? Cherry + Beryl?), but it’s clear 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.
I doubt Cheryl could have achieved this kind of popularity without a series of pop culture boosts — two caused by the same person, interestingly.
The first (and smallest) boost happened in 1938:
- 1940: 285 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 408th] – 42 in CA
- 1939: 289 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 390th] – 49 in CA
- 1938: 397 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 312th] – 76 in CA
- 1937: 145 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 563rd] – 16 in CA
- 1936: 94 baby girls named Cheryl [rank: 688th] – 10 in CA
Many of these babies were born in California specifically.
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.
She signed a film contract with Paramount around that time, but didn’t have much success in the entertainment industry until five years later.
That’s when she played the romantic lead in the wartime hit Stage Door Canteen, released in the middle of 1943. Dozens of major celebrities — including Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, George Jessel, Gertrude Lawrence, Gypsy Rose Lee, Ethel Merman, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Mary Pickford, and Johnny Weissmuller — had cameos in the film, which was one of the highest-grossing of the year.
(Notably, several months before Stage Door Canteen came out, LIFE magazine published a series of photos of the actress along with a short article subtitled “Cheryl Walker rises from stand-in for Veronica Lake to stardom.”)
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:
(The variant Sharelle was the top debut name of the year in 1943.)
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]
It wasn’t Cheryl Walker — she’d retired from acting by this time.
Instead it was 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.”
[EDIT, 6/10 – Diana reminded me about Mouseketeer Cheryl, who was on The Mickey Mouse Club from 1956 to 1958. No doubt she contributed to the name’s popularity as well in the mid-to-late ’50s!]
Cheryl became one of the top 20 baby names in the country in 1955, and it remained in the top 20 until 1961, peaking at 13th in 1958.
After that, usage began to decline. Cheryl fell out of the top 50 in 1972, then out of the top 100 in 1980. (This despite a late-1970s uptick inspired by actress Cheryl Ladd, singer Cheryl Lynn, and/or model Cheryl Tiegs.)
[EDIT, 7/7 – Cheryl M. reminded me to include Cheryl Ladd.]
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? (Do you like it more or less than the spelling Cherrill?)
- 1943 in film – Wikipedia
- Cheryl Walker – Wikipedia
- “Stage Door Canteen Girl.” LIFE Feb 22. 1943: 76-78.
Image: © 1943 Life