Influential Baby Names: The Songbirds
It’s easy to see the how a catchy, name-centric song like “Jolene” or “Hey There Delilah” might make a particular baby name trendy. But did you know that the names of singers can sometimes be just as influential as the names in lyrics?
Each of the female vocalists below popularized her unusual name enough to boost it onto the U.S. baby name charts for the very first time.
In 1997, Erykah Badu exploded onto the scene with her soulful debut single “On & On,” which ended up winning a Grammy. Her name debuted impressively on the charts the same year, going straight into the Top 1000 (ranked 757th). Erykah Badu was born Erica Wright; for her stage name she altered the spelling of her first name to incorporate the ancient Egyptian term “ka(h),” which signifies the soul.
Traditional pop singer Eydie Gormé was most famous during in the 1960s, but she started making TV appearances as early as 1953 on the original version of the Tonight Show. As a result, her name made a modest debut on the baby name charts in 1954. Eydie’s birth name was Edith. She had wanted to use Edie as her stage name, but people kept calling her “Eddie,” so she added a Y to emphasize the correct pronunciation.
In 1956, Gogi (go-ghee) Grant scored her first and only #1 hit, “The Wayward Wind,” and was voted Billboard’s Most Popular Female Vocalist. The next year, the name Gogi first appeared in the baby name data. Gogi Grant was born Audrey Arinsberg. The “Gogi” part of her stage name was suggested by a record company executive who frequented the New York City restaurant Gogi’s Larue.
English soul singer Joss Stone started seeing international success in the mid-2000s. In 2005, the year she was nominated for three Grammys, her name first appeared in the U.S. baby name data (as a girl name; it was already in use for boys). Joss Stone was born Joscelyn Stoker. The name Jocelyn can be traced back to a Germanic word that refers to the Goths.
Singer-songwriter Kelis was born Kelis Rogers. Her first name is a portmanteau of her parents’ names, Kenneth and Eveliss. In late 1999, Kelis not only released her first single (“Caught Out There”) but former Wu-Tang Clan member ODB released a single (“Got Your Money”) that prominently featured Kelis on vocals. Her name first appeared on the charts the following year.
Norwegian-born Kirsten (keer-sten) Flagstad was one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century. She became internationally famous in 1935, after debuting at the Met with her portrayal of Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre. In 1937, her name bubbled up on the U.S. baby name charts for the first time. Kirsten is the Norwegian form of Christina.
Petula Clark was well known in her native England in the 1950s, but she wasn’t known in the U.S. until the song “Downtown” was released in late 1964. The song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1965, and her name debuted in the U.S. baby name data the same year. Petula Clark was born Sally Clark. The name “Petula” was invented by her father (who was also her manager).
Opera singer Risë (ree-suh) Stevens was a mezzo-soprano closely associated with the role of Carmen. Her singing career began in the late 1930s, but she also appeared in several Hollywood films, including the 1941 musical The Chocolate Soldier. Her name debuted on the U.S. baby name charts in 1942. Risë – her actual birth name – can be traced back to the Latin word risus, meaning “laughter.”
Sade (shah-day) is both a band and a person: British smooth jazz band Sade was named after its British-Nigerian lead singer, Helen Folasade “Sade” Adu. The band’s fourth single, “Smooth Operator,” was released in late 1984 became a big hit in the U.S. in 1985. The same year, the name Sade debuted impressively on the charts, going straight to the top 1,000 (ranked 512th). The Yoruba name Folasade means “honor confers a crown.”
The Shirelles was a girl group founded in the late 1950s by four New Jersey teenagers. Their two biggest hits, “Tonight’s the Night” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” both came out in 1960. The next year, the name Shirelle first appeared in the baby name data. The name Shirelle is the initial syllable of “Shirley” (after lead singer Shirley Owens) plus the French feminine –elle ending.
Teena Marie, the “Ivory Queen of Soul,” started her music career in the mid-1970s. A decade later, in 1985, her song “Lovergirl” hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The name Teenamarie popped up for the first time in the U.S. baby name data the same year. Teena Marie’s stage name is based on her birth name, Mary Christine Brockert.
Country singer Wynonna Judd formed The Judds with her mother Naomi in the early 1980s. The duo won their first Grammy in 1985 for the song “Mama He’s Crazy.” The same year, the name Wynonna debuted on the charts. Wynonna’s birth name was Christina Ciminella. Her stage name was inspired by the mention of Winona, Arizona, in the song “Route 66.”