There’s no sweeter pleasure than serenading your baby with a lullaby, which can even be nicer if the song’s title references the sweetness of your daughter’s (or son’s) name. An amazing number of songs fit this bill, dating from the early days of the republic to the Golden Age of jazz and swing, right through to contemporary rock— from the barbershop quartet harmonies of Sweet Adeline to the Rolling Stones’ rendition of Sweet Virginia. Most of these songs have lyrics you can actually croon, while just a few are instrumentals you can set your own words to.
Here they are:
ADELINE—Sweet Adeline is an old standard that was a favorite of barbershop quartets. JFK’s grandfather John F. Fitzgerald, mayor of Boston, made it his theme song, and Mickey Mouse serenaded Minnie with it in a 1929 cartoon. Sweet name Adeline reappeared on the pop list in 1999, and is now Number 288.
ANGELINE—Sweet Angeline has been sung by a number of people and groups, including Elvis and Mott the Hoople. This French form has never been as popular as Angela or Angelina; it’s the full name of Angie Dickinson.
BETSY—Sweet Betsy from Pike is an old Gold Rush-era ballad relating the tribulations of sweet Betsy and her lover Ike as they migrated west to California; it was popularized by folk singer Burl Ives. Betsy is a retro Elizabeth nickname that just could follow Mads Men’s Betty back into favor.
CAROLINE—Sweet Caroline was a huge mellow-rock hit for Neil Diamond released in 1969, inspired by the then eleven-year-old Caroline Kennedy (for whom he sang it at her fiftieth birthday party). Caroline is an elegant but accessible classic, still in the Top 100.
ELOISE—Sweet Eloise is a song recorded by Glenn Miller and his Big Band orchestra on April 2, 1942. Eloise has finally escaped her mischievous Plaza Hotel little girl image and is now definitely on the rise. E
GENEVIEVE—Sweet Lady Genevieve is known for its rendition by The Kinks, but there was also a vintage 1869 song sung by John McCormack. The revived Genevieve has begun replacing the tired Jen-starting names.
GEORGIA––Sweet Georgia Brown, written in 1925, is a great jazz and pop song performed by any number of musical stars, including Ethel Waters, Django Reinhardt, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, the Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, and Jerry Lee Lewis—as well as Bugs Bunny and Minnie Mouse. It also became the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters. (Your little Georgia could be serenaded to the wonderful Ray Charles rendition of Georgia on my Mind as well.)
JAMES—One of the few sweet boys’ name songs, Sweet Baby James is among James Taylor’s signature melodies; it was written for his nephew, who had been named James after him. An enduring classic name and the perfect baby lullaby!
JANE—Sweet Jane, written by Lou Reed and recorded by his band The Velvet Underground in 1970, is a hipster take on sweetness. The timeless Jane is starting to move back from middle to first name status.
LEILANI—Sweet Leilani was written the day after the day after the composer’s daughter Leilani was born in 1934. It won the Oscar for best song of 1937 in the film Waikiki Wedding, became a mega hit for Bing Crosby, and was performed by others from Rosemary Clooney to Eddie Fisher to Sonny Rollins. This lovely Hawaiian name has definitely mainstreamed: it’s now Number 244.
LORRAINE—Another 1920s song that went on to become a pop and jazz standard, Sweet Lorraine was most famously recorded by Nat King Cole, but there are also versions by Sinatra and others. Lorraine was a Top 100 name for thirty years—from 1918 to 1948—but is rarely used today.
MARIE—Maries have been much serenaded, from the 1893 Sweet Marie to Bob Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie, on his iconic 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. Marie was an archetypal middle name choice for several generations.
MELISSA—Officially titled just Melissa, but usually referred to as Sweet Melissa, this is a 1967 Gregg Allman song in the Allman Brothers Band 1972 album Eat a Peach. Conflicting stories cite the inspiration as a little girl whose name was called out in a market or the name of Allman’s motorcycle. In any case, it inspired many little Melissas born in the seventies.
ROSIE—Sweet Rosie O’Grady was a major Gay Nineties hit for a Brooklyn songwriter named Maude Nugent, a waltz ballad that swept the country. It later became the title of a popular Technicolor movie musical starring Betty Grable. Rosie has been well used as a stand-alone nickname name ever since.
SAVANNAH ––Sweet Savannah has had two incarnations: the first back in 1898, the more recent a wistful country song by Shooter Jennings about a lost love. Savannah is now a Top 50 name, following on the success of big sister Samantha.
SCARLET—Sweet Scarlet is a Cat Stevens song, said to be about his relationship with Carly Simon. Spelled Scarlett, as in Johansson, this name has been a twenty-first century hit, now at a high of Number 80.
SUE— Sweet Sue, Just You—This 1928 composition would later become a Miles Davis jazz favorite. The name Susanna(h) is back, and we hear intimations of a possible Susan revival as well, so can Sue and Susie be far behind?
VIRGINIA—Sweet Virginia is a Rolling Stones song written by Mick and Keith for the 1972 album Exile on Main Street. Virginia is a long neglected classic with a rich history as the name of the first child of English parents born in the New World.
Do you ever sing a lullaby to your child that uses her name?