Movie Star Character Names: A salute to Shirley Temple and the roles she played
By Haley Sedgwick
As a child, I remember asking my mum for a videocassette that I had my eyes on in the grocery store. Any normal preschooler would be asking for some sort of cartoon, but not me. My passion was musicals, and one actress, who had blonde curls and dimples, just like me, stood out the most.
Shirley Temple, “America’s Little Darling,“ was that one actress. And that movie I mentioned asking for earlier? No ordinary 1990’s child, I was asking my mother to buy me a sing-along VHS tape of Shirley Temple’s best known songs. That tape stayed with me until I reached the age of 8 – by which point, I had played it so often, that it had actually become unplayable.
When I found out that Shirley had passed away on February 10th – I suddenly felt very emotional, as if I had just lost a part of my childhood, which, in all honesty, I really did. I grew up with her songs and films, I grew up idolizing her, I grew up with this dream of being just like Shirley – and of one day meeting her. Neither of these dreams will become a reality for me anymore – but I know that, along with other childhood favourites, Shirley Temple will always be something I hold close to me.
So when I learned that America’s Little Darling had passed away, I just knew that I had to do something to honour her, and since the one thing I know about happens to be names, making a post on names she’s worn on screen seemed like a good idea.
Gloria – her first credited role, in 1932, was portraying a little tot named Gloria. Cute, very vintage, but retaining the ever so popular ‘a’ ending, and with a bit of star cred – Gloria seems still seems very usable today.
Martha – Little Miss Marker, which came out in 1934, was one of Shirley’s most famous movies. and her character name also easily makes this list. As one of my personal favourites, Martha has the vintage ‘grandma’ sound that many parents are now turning to, and also boasts some pretty cute nicknames: in this film Shirley’s character went by the adorable nickname of Marky, but there’s also Maisie, Patsy, Marta, Marti, Mimi, Mamie, the list goes on.
Mary – Mary, which was for centuries the most popular name in the world, is now falling down the popularity charts, but seemed fitting in the 1930’s for a little Shirley Temple character. In Now I’ll Tell, Shirley plays a somewhat minor role, but her character, Mary, blends well with the other classic character names – Virginia, Peggy, Freddie and Tommy. Is Mary ready for a rest? Definitely, but it remains a sweet, yet strong name.
Penny – Two of my favourite Shirley Temple films saw her wearing the name Penny, one as a nickname for Penelope and the other used on its own. Although many people are being a bit deterred by Penelope’s increasing popularity and usage by a Kardashian, Penny is one neglected diminutive that needs some love. Having disappeared off the US charts in 1987, Penny now can be heard on The Big Bang Theory, or by replaying the Shirley Temple classic Just Around The Corner.
Lloyd – a name not commonly used for females. The Little Colonel, from 1935, tells the story of a little girl born into a post-Civil War family. Her Southern mother and Northern father name their daughter Lloyd in honour of her mother and grandfather. The Little Colonel is a wonderfully heartwarming film to check out. Shirley’s character name though? Perhaps not.
Molly – 1934 and 1935 were two of Shirley’s busiest years. At the age of seven in 1935, she had appeared alongside Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard, Hattie McDaniel, among many others. In the 1935 drama, Our Little Girl, Shirley plays Molly, the daughter of a doctor. The name Molly has been in the US Top 100 since 1987, and retains all the vintage diminutive style that people in the UK (and I) seem to flock to, while still being strong enough to work as a standalone choice.
Elizabeth – Remember that sing-along tape I mentioned? Two of the most replayed songs on it came from the movie Curly Top, released in 1935, and, the lead character, played by Shirley Temple, was named Elizabeth. A classic never below the Top 25, Elizabeth is one of those names that never gets old, and can work on anyone. Another Shirley Temple film that I adored growing up, Little Miss Broadway starred Shirley as Betsy, my favourite of the Elizabeth diminutives.
Virginia –The 1935 The Littlest Rebel was the second Civil War film Shirley was in. Her character bore the name Virginia, with the more unusual nickname of Virgie. Many parents might be steering away from Virginia due to a fear of teasing, but if you’re brave enough to go for it, I highly suggest it.
Helen – Helen might still feel a bit crusty, however, some might appreciate its vintage appeal. In Captain January, Helen was a strong, spunky little girl who was rescued from the sea as a baby, by a Captain January. Shirley’s character in this movie went by the nickname Star. Unconventional, but, if you’re a fan of the movie, it does make sense.
Barbara – Being the third most popular name at the time, it makes sense that two of Shirley Temple’s movies from 1936 saw her wearing the name Barbara. Barbara might sound tired and old to some, in the same way that Dorothy, Nancy, and even Shirley do, but if you can look past her age, and the Barbie references, Barbara could be very cute and definitely usable. It currently ranks at 900in the United States, so there might be hope for little Barbaras yet.
Sylvia – Sylvia Delores was the name used in Dimples, and while Sylvia is quite pretty still, Delores lacks the lustre of most other ‘Grandma-chic’ names; Sylvia has never dropped below the Top 600, and is currently at 526 in the US, while Delores fell off the lists in 1981– though both names ranked in the top 100 (and fairly close together) in 1936.
Sara – The Little Princess, one of the best-known Shirley Temple films, was loosely based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett that tells the story of courageous little Sara Crewe. Another story with a happy ending, but in the 1930’s happy endings were just what people wanted.
As a teen, Shirley was seen bearing names like Philadelphia, Kathleen, Susannah, Corliss, Dinah, Annie and Bridget. However, there was also one important name, which she wore in many movies, and that was Shirley, her legal given name. In Stand Up & Cheer, Baby Take a Bow, Bright Eyes, and in three short films, the character she played simply went by Shirley. Perhaps a bit too dated to be worn right now, Shirley has only just fallen off the US top 1000 in 2008, while in the peak years of America’s Little Darling – 1935 and 1936 – ranked second in the US, just behind the Number 1 Mary.
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on February 24th, 2014 at 12:13 am
I just met a Penny the other day whose full first name is Penny. She’s one of the crossing guards at my kids’ school. I can’t decide whether I like it better as a stand-alone name or nickname to Penelope.
on February 24th, 2014 at 6:23 am
What a lovely sentiment! A great list to honor an unforgettable lady.
on February 24th, 2014 at 7:11 am
great article! what about Heidi? one of my faves…
on February 24th, 2014 at 8:24 am
Heidi!!! What about Heidi!!?? “Heidi!!” “Grandfather!” “Heidi!” “Grandfather”
Every single woman I have ever met named Heidi told me that they heard that reference all their lives.
Women named ‘Annette’ have the same problem but with the late Mouseketeer. “Annette!!!”
on February 24th, 2014 at 12:59 pm
Love Shirley Temple. I’ve always loved Star because of the movie ‘Captain January’!
on February 24th, 2014 at 4:11 pm
Mary, Molly, Helen and Sylvia are my faves from this list.
Shirley Temple meant a lot to many people. She represented a sweet innocence, a wholesome exuberance and a joyful spirit. In this modern age of negativity and cynicism, she will always be a reminder of a era of hope and optimism. What a talent she had to make people forget their own troubles. May the good lady rest in peace!
on February 24th, 2014 at 4:35 pm
I’m loving all of these except Barbara 🙂
on February 24th, 2014 at 5:10 pm
In “Stowaway” Shirley is Barbara, but called Ching-Ching. A great movie worth watching again for stellar performances by Shirley, Alice Faye, and Robert Young, plus the wonderful song, “Goodnight Sweetheart”.
on February 24th, 2014 at 5:49 pm
I purposely left out Heidi and Rebecca (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) because I wanted to focus more on the lesser known films that she did, which are the ones I loved the most. 🙂 I have both Heidi & Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but I never loved them as much as I did the others, I wanted to make the article more personal, as like, my own tribute to Shirley.
@madelon_mireille – I love that song! 😀 I completely forgot about her NN though, thank you for posting that 🙂
on February 24th, 2014 at 10:09 pm
So happy you wrote this! I was a huge Shirley fan as a child (in the 80s), and performed many of her songs in school talent shows (thank God it was before the wide use of video cameras and the Internet). I too was saddened to hear of her death, but what an amazing life she had! Curly Top is probably my all time fave–maybe that contributes to my love of the name Elizabeth (and her whole name if you recall was Elizabeth Blair–I can still hear the plump orphanage lady calling her name in my head–may have seen this one a few too many times, ha). I also love the name Susanna (spelled this way the best), and I definitely associate it with Susannah of the Mounties! I will just throw out there too, her mn (in real life) was Jane, and while Shirley isn’t back, I think Jane is, in a lot of circles.
on February 24th, 2014 at 10:10 pm
Blair was her last name in Curly Top, I know; sister was Mary Blair. But I always thought it had a nice ring to it.
A salute to Shirley Temple and the roles that she played – Haley Roesler Said
on February 15th, 2017 at 1:18 pm
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