The Shirley Temple Syndrome: On loving a popular, trendy name

September 29, 2013 bluejuniper

By Brooke Cussans of Baby Name Pondering

For many name nerds there are two things that are usually pretty high on their want list when choosing names. One is that the name isn’t too “trendy” – so that it won’t seem too dated in years to come and instantly mark someone as a child of a particular decade. Another is that it’s not “too” popular.

In the 1930’s, one name that completely broke both of these rules was Shirley, thanks largely to child mega-star Shirley Temple. The name was already very well recognised, positioned at #9 in America, when Shirley Temple‘s first films were made. The attention this young girl brought to the name gave it such a boost that Nancy of popular blog Nancy‘s Baby Names points out that Shirley had the second biggest jump (in numbers of girls given the name) ever from 1934 to 1935, which saw it go from #4 to #2 when 42,353 American girls were given the name. That’s a lot of Shirleys.

In many other countries Shirley followed a similar pattern. Fast forward to 1996 in Western Australia. A woman named Shirley, inspired by some lunches with a couple of other Shirleys, thought it might be fun to meet more Shirleys and so put the word out via local media. Sixty-two Shirleys showed up to the first gathering and the Shirley Club was born. The club has grown to include branches all over Australia, in New Zealand and even America, and this weekend they held their 2013 convention in Australia’s capital, Canberra.

This is a group of ladies whose name has given them a special bond, a common ground from which to form lasting friendships. The group’s founder Shirley Brown (otherwise known as S1) says that “Shirleys everywhere have such a good time together, it seemed a logical idea to all of us that we should get together” and that Shirleys are “friendly, outgoing and fun people”. They even wrote a Shirley song, which they sing at their conventions.

It’s a great argument for not being afraid to choose a currently popular name if you love it. Maybe your child won’t feel quite as “special” in a world where four other children at school has the same name. Or maybe it will give them a sense of belonging – a special connection with other children who share the same name, or the confidence to more easily form friendships with others.

Shirleys aren’t the only ones who have formed a group to meet like-named friends. In the US you will also find Betty Clubs, The Bob Club, The LINDA Club, The Jim Smith Society, and even The Phil Campbells, who meet in the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama.

Many of these names seem to be ones that were once very popular, but are now seen as antiquated and not-so-cool. American member Shirley Rose openly admits that their members have encouraged their children and grandchildren to pass on the name Shirley, but that “It seems the younger generation finds the name very old-fashioned sounding. It’s fair to say that I don’t think we’ll see an upsurge in the name any time soon, although I love its meaning of ‘bright meadow’.

For now though, members of The Shirley Club are definitely teaching us all a lesson about how to love and appreciate our name, and share that joy with the people who understand it the best.

This blog ran previously on Brooke’s site.

Brooke Cussans – better known on the Nameberry forums as bluejuniper – is based in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of name blog Baby Name Pondering. She especially loves rare and unusual names.

Would you want to join a same-name group?

About the author


Brooke Cussans – better known on the Nameberry forums as bluejuniper – is based in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of name blog Baby Name Pondering. She especially loves rare and unusual names.

View all of bluejuniper's articles


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