I grew up on country music - living in a small town with a finite number of radio stations will do that. Now, much of it was fun and beautiful, but some of it was downright cheesy. Depending on your tolerance for twang, you may have heard one or two of the best corny ones; if not, just check out some top ten lists online for a chuckle. Today, I'll be looking at a few of those tunes that include names prominently!
A bit of history - country music started out in the Southern United States in the 1920's, blending a few musical styles together (blues, folk, western, etc). Wikipedia counts at least six "generations" of country music as the styles evolved with American culture and politics. Today, it's one of the most popular musical genres in the world!
I'll be looking at a few choice country tunes with names in their titles - some of them have even had an influence on baby names over the last century!
"Is Zat You, Myrtle?", Bill Carlisle, 1953
An old-fashioned name that will probably not come back into style, Myrtle peaked at 27 in the 1890's and slowly descended before dropping off name records entirely in 1966. Interestingly, the year that this song debuted, the name briefly went up again - thanks, Bill Carlisle! The myrtle plant has significance in both Roman and Jewish mythology, but there are better botanical names out there.
"Ode to Billie Joe", Bobbie Gentry, 1967
Sadly, the US does not record middle names, so data around Billie Joe is a bit skewed. Billie jumped 30 spots between 1966 and 1967, so the song may have helped! It was originally recorded by a Bobbie, and both names have been out of use for awhile. But tomboyish names could definitely make a comeback for girls!
"A Boy Named Sue", Johnny Cash, 1969
I'm with Johnny Cash on this one - Sue isn't the greatest name for a little boy. But there are many who'd disagree, seeing as it's been recorded for between 5-19 boys in 51 separate years. Better names to honor the Man in Black? Quentin, Porter, Jackson, and, of course, Cash.
"Me and Bobby McGee", Roger Miller, 1969
The song was originally written about a female Bobby, but the famous cover by Janis Joplin switched the gender to male. Today, little Robert's are more likely to go by their full name or Robbie, but Bobby could be a cute vintage nickname again. Fun fact: this song has the famous line, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
"Carolyn", Merle Haggard, 1971
While Caroline may be more popular now, both names have a distinctly Southern sweetness that make them timeless. This name is a feminine variation of Charles, meaning "free man." Callie or Lina would be more accessible today.
"My Maria", BW Stevenson, 1973
This song's cover got a lot of airplay in the 1990's, proving once again that Maria is a fun name to sing! Of course, Maria is a classic variation of an already classic name - it's pretty, friendly, and feminine to boot. It's also never left the top 200, if you're looking for a name that's ageless.
"Amanda", Waylon Jennings, 1974
Amanda was already in the top 50 when Waylon Jennings recorded the song, and it would go on to be one of the most popular names of the 1980's and 1990's. Appropriately, it means "much-loved". While similar-sounding Amelia and Amaya are in use today, celebrity couple Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes welcomed a baby Amada last year.
"Amie", Pure Prairie League, 1974
While this particular spelling is also French for "female friend", the singer's pronunciation makes it clear that this tune is about his wayward lover, "Ay-meeeee." During the 1970's, Amy very nearly made it to the top of the US top 1000, but was thwarted every time by Jennifer. Various spellings including Aimée and Ami ranked in the 1970's, but Amy has the most staying power today.
"Jolene", Dolly Parton, 1974
Now a country music standard, "Jolene" has been covered by dozens of artists - young people today can enjoy Miley Cyrus' and Jack White's respective versions in addition to the original. The song bumped the name up almost 300 places in 1974, despite the arguably negative connotations of the name in the song. But Jolene really is charming and lovely, with a recent uptick in popularity! Now, if only Dolly would follow suit...
"Lucille", Kenny Rogers, 1977
Today's little Lucille's are more likely to be called Lucy, but there's something to be said for bringing back the full French prénom. It brings to mind the fabulously funny Lucille Ball - not a bad namesake! - and adds a bit of a lilt to an already-cute name.
"Elvira", The Oak Ridge Boys, 1981
By the time The Oak Ridge boys sang about those "lips like sherry wine", Elvira was on its way out. It will be a few generations yet before Elvira loses its vampiric image and comes back into vogue, if ever. Funnily enough, the name currently ranks in the top 100 in both Norway and Sweden.
"Goodbye Earl", Dixie Chicks, 1999
Before Duke, King, and Prince topped the boys' charts, Earl was the chosen title. But Earl still has a bit of a hayseed reputation, and it's been out of the top 1000 for a decade. Intriguingly, Earl's last jump was the year before the Dixie Chicks' song debuted, but the lyrics "'cause Earl had to die" seem to have helped the name continue its decline.
"Me and Charlie Talking", Miranda Lambert, 2005
Far be it from me to refer to Miranda Lambert as "corny", but her folk-pop 2005 tune is included to show the continuation of names in the titles of country music songs. Charlie is now a favorite unisex pick, in both its short form and as a nickname for longer forms Charles and Charlotte. What names will be on the radio next?