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

posted by: bluejuniper View all posts by this author

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.

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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.
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16 Responses to “The Shirley Temple Syndrome: On loving a popular, trendy name”

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meggielk Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 3:42 am

I agree that sharing a name with others isn’t all bad. I’m a Meghan of the 80s, and there were other girls named Megan/ Meghan in my grade. Although I was the only one who went by Meggie (sometimes Meg). That is until I met a Meg (for Margaret, sometimes called Meggie), and we totally bonded over our shared named and became best friends. We loved being the Megs:)

dindlee Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 5:23 am

I would have loved to have met another girl with my name growing up. As a teacher now, I’ve taught a few with my name and I always tell them they have an A because they have the best name ever!

Mischa Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 11:44 am

I was never upset if I met another girl with my name in school or in life. I was always intrigued that I shared my name with someone else. We were a “secret group”. It amazes me at the needless grief that parents allow themselves to feel when trying to come up with a “unique” name. They will eliminate perfectly acceptable names simply because it’s in the top 1,000 in their country. I hope this blog on Shirley will put some minds at ease on the popularity issue. One year with 42,353 girls named Shirley really dwarfs 2012’s top name of Sophia at 22,158 girls, doesn’t it? Let’s keep things in perspective and just the names you love the most, whether it’s more common or unusual.

tori101 Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I agree with everything Mischa said.

little.lottie710 Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I’ve met multiple girls with my name – I don’t really like sharing it, but I don’t really hate it, either.

stripedsocks Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

As a kid I was thrilled to meet anyone with any form of my name (and I never HAVE met anyone with my spelling and only, like, 2, with the more common spelling).

As far as names of right now, I know nobody on NB is going to congratulate me on loving Emily, Lily, or Hannah, but, well, I still do!

MissElizabeth Says:

September 30th, 2013 at 9:00 pm

When give your kid a top ten name they never actually get called by that name. I was always LizLastname, never Liz. I was once one of 4 Elizabeths in my math class. We all went by Liz. The teacher couldn’t address us by name. It was painful. I’m not going to inflict that on my child.

You might get a fun secret club feeling when there are 1 or 2 other kids with your name in your whole school but how do you know where that line will be for your kid?

mmljar1 Says:

October 1st, 2013 at 6:46 am

No sorry, my name was #1 for my year (actually much of the decade) in my home state and I would never do that to my kids! There were 6 of us in my high school class of 30 girls (SIX!) and none of us was called by our real name. The worst is that you get named based on appearance (little Shirley, big Shirley, etc etc). Now my name is terminally dated and I just know that I will be the Enid/Myrtle/Doris of 2060. My kids have top 100 names but not ones with a lot of spelling variants which are secretly higher nor names that sound really similar to a lot of others. You just never know how much your kids will hate it and if you can avoid it why not? I do wonder though about avoiding the top 1000, this does seem unnecessary…

LuMary Says:

October 1st, 2013 at 9:23 am

Apart from Shirley Temple’s influence, It seems strange that Shirley caught on at all in the first half of the 20th century, given that unisex last names with a ‘ley’,’ney,’ ‘sey’ ending were’t used noticeably for girls until the 1970s: Lindsay, Ashley, Whitney, Courtney/Courtenay, Brittany/Britney, Sydney, Bailey, Ainsley/Aynesley, Whitley, Kinsley, Kinsey, Whitley, Reilly/Riley, Marley, etc.

taliesin Says:

October 1st, 2013 at 2:34 pm

A couple of years ago I worked a retail job during the Christmas holidays. Of the twelve women, ranging in age from twenty to forty, who worked there, SIX were named Jennifer. One was a Jenny, another a Jen but they were all Jennifer. When the last one was hired, I said “oh, another ‘Jennifer'” She replied, “yeah, and my middle name is Michelle, another popular name. Thanks Mom.” Jennifer is a pretty name but it was so popular it really needed a more unusual middle name as a back-up.

The same with the name Ashley. Another retail job. Five women in their early twenties. One Heather. One Rachel. Three Ashleys. When the last one was hired, Ashleigh, the second one, spelled Ashleigh, big deal, said , “That’s it! No more Ashleys.”

Having a little club of same-named people is fine but not when they’re together all the time.

katie_lou88 Says:

October 1st, 2013 at 7:10 pm

I grew up having one of those “popular” names and always hated sharing it with others. I always wished that I had a name of my own instead of being identified ast Katie S. along with Katie T. , Katie W. and all of the other Katies along lifes path. That’s why we gave our daughter a more unique name. (Even though it seems to becoming more popular lately??)Hopefully it gives her the ownership of her own identity and an edge on overcoming that peer pressure we’ve all gone through. We want to make sure she knows who “she” is and happy about it. 🙂

Fox Says:

October 2nd, 2013 at 3:35 am

I was a Jessica in high school in the nineties, and having such a common name got really annoying after a while. Especially after the TV show made “Jesse” an acceptable girl variant too, which I had previously relied on to make mine stand out. By the way, pity the ONE Jessica or Jennifer or Katie who WASN’T popular enough to be a member of the name group – there’s a special kind of exclusionary nastiness to be felt there.

I don’t think parents should agonise over a unique name, especially if it results in overreaching history lessons, vocabulary names or wacky spellings. But I do think it’s worth aiming for /uncommon/. There’s a huge middle ground between “one of the crowd” and “desperately standing out”, and that will always be the goal in my mind.

( I did bond with another Jessica once, who was a few years behind me in primary school, on the basis of our names (also that she could do the same trick with her nose that I could). But she was the only other Jessica I ever had common ground with – the rest were very far removed from my personality. )

dramagrl19 Says:

October 2nd, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I HATE being named Emily. I hate it. It’s so popular, I’ve always been Emily A. (Last name doesn’t start with an A, but just as an illustration). Even worse…I’m an Emily Marie. Yes…my mother was one of THOSE. Marie has family significance, but Emily? Really? Too popular for my taste.

Entangler Says:

October 2nd, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I love my name; Cassandra. When I was a kid i didn’t mind being one of a few Cassandra’s my age, I even bonded with another girl who had the same first name as me and the same maiden name as my mom so her name was almost exactly mine as my mom’s maiden is one of my middles. But now I’m an adult and today one of my co-workers was surprised no one in our building shares my name as “Cassandra’s such a common name” blah. It’s okay to say it’s popular, but “common” stung a little bit.

wickedjr89 Says:

November 7th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I agree that sharing a popular name isn’t all that bad. I’m a Stephanie born in 89, my name was a top 10 name in the 80s and 90s. There were always many other Stephanie’s in school and in my classes. I never hated my name for it. I love my name, it sounds nice. My name (first and middle) is Stephanie Jean and Jean is another middle name I hear as a middle name ALL THE TIME (though i’ve never met another Stephanie Jean though i’ve met Stephanie Ann’s and Stephanie Marie’s…other popular middle names). Sure it’s a popular name but popular names are generally popular for a reason. I will admit it was a little annoying in school at times but I never hated my name for it and now at 24 I love it. Even if there are many other Stephanie’s my age. The person makes the name not the other way around. 🙂

Hayden_Taylor Says:

March 10th, 2017 at 10:03 am

If I loved a name enough, I’d definitely use it regardless of popularity. So far, there are very few names I love enough to disregard popularity (Violet!).

It’s hard to tell who will and won’t care about popularity, so I do it to my own preference. My partner didn’t mind sharing a name with many classmates, he thought it was nice. I hated it, however. I hated being “the other one”, literally “the other _” is what I was called often times. While my children’s names aren’t incredibly unique, they are a little lower on the list so less likely to be “the other one”.

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