Names That Make You Sing

Oct 13th 2011


I was talking with a woman named Susannah, and the conversation naturally turned to her name. Most people consider it a stylish one: familiar, old-fashioned without being fusty, and surprisingly uncommon. Susannah agreed with that assessment...but. Ah, but. "The song!" she wailed.

Yes, people sing "Oh! Susanna" to her, constantly. When she's introduced to someone new and he bursts into song, she's learned to say "OK, you get ONE of those!" It made me wonder, how many names so inevitably make us sing?

Plenty of songs are built around names, but they don't claim the names the way "Oh! Susanna" does. Take my name, Laura. There's the '40s jazz/pop classic "Laura" (an after-the-fact theme song for the Gene Tierney movie by the same name), the '60s teen weepie "Tell Laura I Love Her," and the '80s hit "Think of Laura," just for a start. But nobody feels compelled to sing them to me.

Part of the difference must be in the names themselves. Laura is a common name -- you'll meet literally a hundred Lauras for every Susannah. That makes it hard for any one association to take over the name. The length of the name Susannah also contributes to its distinctiveness, and to the way it summons the rhythm of the song.

On the song side, it helps to be not only familiar, but easily singable. A timeless song or catchy jingle presumably has the most lasting effects. Comparing the names Delilah and Clementine, two long, distinctive names attached to songs, I'll bet that the number of people singing "Hey There Delilah" (from the 2007 hit) is already dwindling, while the "Darling Clementine" crowd is still going strong.

The role of the name in the song surely matters too. While few of us may know the full lyrics to "Georgia On My Mind," a great many can belt out that leadoff "Georgia" in our best Ray Charles voices. (Note the related phenomenon of Holler Names: Stella! Adrian!)

Some other names that seem poised to induce spontaneous song:

Adeline
Barbara Ann
Billie Jean
Clementine
Dolly
Elvira
Layla
Lola
Mary Lou
Peggy Sue
Roxanne

...and just a few fellas:

Jude
Louie

In the end, though, it's an empirical question. Roxannes, are you really subjected to a steady stream of bad Sting impressions? And if your name isn't on my short list, are there songs (or hollers) that plague you?

Comments

1
October 13, 2011 11:42 AM

you forgot eileen! surely that makes the cut?

p.s. someone once made me a cd of emily songs. there are actually a *ton* of them (but obviously none famous well-known enough to fall into this category). i thought it was a great gift.

2
October 13, 2011 11:46 AM

I've occasionally heard "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" in response to the name Dinah. And I vaguely remember a singing dinosaur as a play on Dinah Shore. I don't think anyone thinks of Alice's kitten.

And of course, you all know who I mean when I say Alice.

3
By not by circumstance (not verified)
October 13, 2011 11:47 AM

Common names that plague me with song!

Amanda - '80s Boston hit

Angie - Rolling Stones

4
By Ladybug (not verified)
October 13, 2011 11:53 AM

I get "Dammit, Janet" more often than I like.

5
By Amanda Renea (not verified)
October 13, 2011 11:55 AM

I've had people start singing "Mandy" to me and I don't even go by Mandy!

6
By Layla K (not verified)
October 13, 2011 11:58 AM

Yes, Layla inspires new people I meet to burst into song. I actually was named after the song, though, and I'm a big Clapton fan (probably as much out of self-preservation as anything). I don't mind it. I've met other Laylas who are endlessly bothered by it, though. To me, the most irritating thing is that everyone who does it thinks he's being SO witty and original.

7
By Mary Beth (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:02 PM

Not Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah? That's what I thought you'd get.

8
By Salovi (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:04 PM

I've gotten renditions of Hall and Oates's "Sara Smile" a few times in my life.

9
By greenie (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:05 PM

My Adeline, age 5, hates her song. And has hated her song since she was 3. It is sad, since only her daddy and I ever sing it to her. bodes poorly for her future that she is at the top of the "I'm going to sing your name to you" list.

10
October 13, 2011 12:08 PM

Ahh, Jude. My Jude is 4 months old and has been sung to at least a thousand times, give or take 900. :) I sort of love it though, and he's all smiles so far...

11
By CZ (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:08 PM

Jenny, 867-5309

"Jenny, I've got your number!"

12
October 13, 2011 12:20 PM

greenie,
aww! she doesn't even like the bah-bah-bah! part? everyone likes that part!

edit: nope, i'm thinking of sweet caroline! in that case, i do not know the adeline song.

13
October 13, 2011 12:13 PM

Mary Beth: Same song, different verse. I went by the name of the song.

Incidentally, I don't even know many of these songs. Adeline, Sara, Elvira, Layla, Mary Lou, Peggy Sue, Eileen, Amanda, Mandy? Not a clue.

14
By Sarah P (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:18 PM

I've gotten "Sara Smile" a few times, but everyone sang Starship's "Sarah" to me all the time when I was in school.

15
By Sarah P (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:18 PM

I've gotten "Sara Smile" a few times, but everyone sang Starship's "Sarah" to me all the time when I was in school.

16
October 13, 2011 12:21 PM

linnaeus,
i don't know many of the songs either, but surely you know "come on eileen"? i thought everyone knew that one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc-P8oDuS0Q

17
By jah (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:22 PM

Being a Joy subjects me to a lot of singing around Christmastime, and was a constant trial in Sunday school ("I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart...", among others). :) I also hear the chorus of "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" a lot.

18
October 13, 2011 12:25 PM

emilyrae:

Thanks for that. I've heard the song, but I've never heard the lyrics. Sounds like a "Wuh uh wuh wuh" to me...

19
October 13, 2011 12:29 PM

Sweet Caroline...bah bah bah...good times never seemed so good!
That seems like a huge one to me. I have a good friend named Caroline, and she certainly hears it a lot. Luckily it's an awesome song.

Matildas say they hear "waltzing matilda" a lot, but I don't even know the tune to that song, just the title.

I have NO IDEA what song has the name Adeline in it...??? Or Elvira. Maybe it's an age thing? But it seems to me that Caroline would be way more prone to song references than either of those two, just based on my experience.

20
By CaramelPoets (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:29 PM

My aunt Val gets 'Valerie, Valeri, valerah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah valerieeeee' but I haven't the slightest idea what song that is. I don't recall ever getting anything at my name (Sara).

And I don't know what most of those songs would be either. The names are ringing no bells. I'd put Elenore and Cindy on a list way before those. (The Turtles' Elenore, Johnny Crawford's Cindy's Birthday. I grew up on my parents' sixties music.) Or, I dunno, Godiva, but I don't really think people are naming their children Godiva. Or Fancy.

21
By blakesnewface (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:36 PM

Cecilia...you're breakin' my heart....you're shakin' my confidence daily.

22
October 13, 2011 12:36 PM

linnaeus, haha, yeah, i don't really think i would know the lyrics if the movie "tommy boy" hadn't prompted me to look them up.

along those lines, a friend of mine only recently learned that the beach boys' "barbara ann" was in fact about "barbara ann." it was playing in a restaurant, and i commented that it was kind of funny just because no one nowadays is going to be writing a song about someone named barbara. she frowned and said, "what are you talking about?" "the song." "what about it?" turns out she just thought they were chanting "bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-ba-ran!"

in addition to eileen and caroline, i'll also throw out eleanor (rigby) and lucy (in the sky with diamonds). i know the beatles have a ton of songs with names in them, but those two stick out to me. maybe not to the degree of jude, but still up there.

23
By blakesnewface (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:39 PM

Cecilia...you're breakin' my heart....you're shakin' my confidence daily.

24
By les (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:40 PM

My niece is named Bonnie and I'm constantly tempted to sing "My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea..." but I usually refrain since I know she would most likely hate it. It's not such a well-known one.

As a child of the 80s, the first ones that came to my mind were 867-5309 and "Sarah, Sarah, storms are brewin' in your eyes." Both mentioned above.

25
By Caroline C (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:42 PM

As I Caroline I can attest to the constant singing of "Sweet Caroline" upon introducing myself. My second grade teacher did it every single time I raised my hand in class and I remember being really embarrassed. I also get serenaded any time it's played in a bar, which is a lot.

26
By Mandy S (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:45 PM

I get "Mandy" sung at me an awful lot. I remember being a kid and my mom telling me specifically that I was NOT named after that song. She hates it!

27
By mk (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:49 PM

Songs from the 80s: Sherry, Sheila, Eileen, Jenny, Veronica, Amanda

Then there's:
Brandy
Renee
Angie
Bernadette
Caroline
Mandy
Alison
Roxanne
Daniel
Danny

I also know some more obsure ones (Angelina, Genevieve, for example) but I imagine those aren't an issue for people with those names.

the only song I don't recognize is Adeline.

28
By blakesnewface (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:49 PM

Also...

Brandy, you're a fine girl, what a good wife you will be..

29
By blakesnewface (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:50 PM

Oh and then my screen name "blakesnewface" refers to a Vampire Weekend song.

30
By mk (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:52 PM

Emilyrae: yes, The Beatles have lots! There's also Prudence, Martha, Julia, Sadie, Michelle, Penny, Pam, Maxwell

31
By Yum (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:54 PM

As a Donna, I have been subjected to listening to terrible renditions of Ritchie Valens' "Oh Donna" song all of my life. The worst was during high school, when certain classmates thought it was particularly clever to put a very suggestive emphasis on the "Oh" part. This was during the '90s, so it's not like it was a timely song at all! Strangely (and thankfully), though, I've never had Madonna songs, "Prima Donna," or "Lady Madonna" tossed my way. Whew!

32
By Freakchelle (not verified)
October 13, 2011 12:56 PM

Ugh, I always get "Michelle, my belle," from the Beatles. I've hated that song since I was a little kid.

A close friend used to have Elvis Costello's "Veronica" sung to her every time she introduced herself. That happens less now, though, since the song has been out for 20+ years.

33
October 13, 2011 1:00 PM

I used to hear Maggie May by Rod Stewart constantly as a kid, but now I can't remember the last time someone sang it to me. Maybe it's because there are so many more Maggies now, or maybe the song has just gotten too old.

34
By Senora H-B (not verified)
October 13, 2011 1:02 PM

Maria. My name is Maria and, oh, do people ever sing about it:

"How do you solve a problem like Maria...."

"Mariiiia, I just met a girl named Maria...."

"Ave Maria..."

"My Maria..."

"Maria, Maria..."

There are so, so many of them.

I've learned to live with it. I think.

35
October 13, 2011 1:08 PM

My dad used to torture my younger brother by singing songs which touched on the name of whoever my brother's crush was, so my brother challenged him to pair each name with a song, and when Dad couldn't come up with one, he turned to the old rhyming tune - my name would be "Rachel Rachel bo-bachel, banana fana fo fachel, me my mo machel - Rachel!"

Other name-songs:
Noel
Stella
Holly
Maria
Jessica
Evangeline
Alice
Belle
Sandy (or Sandra Dee)
Ginny

Gabriel
Charlie
Stephen
Freddy

Just a sampling, many are from musicals.

36
October 13, 2011 1:09 PM

how about bad bad leroy brown? :D it almost makes me *want* to name my son leroy.

37
By Jen LF (not verified)
October 13, 2011 1:12 PM

Elvira: Oak Ridge Boys.

My heart's on fire for Elvira.

See also: Giddy Up A-Oom Pop A-Oom Pop A-Mow Mow.

:)

38
By Zann
October 13, 2011 1:21 PM

Lucille. For a while in the late '70's, it played every half hour on the radio. While I've successfully refrained from singing it to Lucille's I've met, it's been hard.

39
By moll
October 13, 2011 1:23 PM

(1) Almost everyone sang "Good Golly Miss Molly" to me, especially as a child/teen and (2) all of these people thought it was super-original.
I also got a healthy dose of Molly Malone, usually from middle aged and older Irish Americans - though actual Irish people have never given me that.

I adore the name Clementine but may never use it because I don't care for that song, and I'm sure a child with that name gets treated to "oh my daaarlin'..." more times than they'd like.

40
October 13, 2011 1:24 PM

Don't forget the tuneless "STELLLAAAAA"

Might not be a song, but a song might have been better... :)

41
October 13, 2011 1:31 PM

ben folds also uses tons of names in his songs, but i don't know that any of them are well-known enough to be sung to people. maybe zak and sara among a certain age group? some of them are:

Alice
Annie
Cathy
Emaline
Fred
Gracie
Howard
Judy
Kate
Kylie
Lisa
Sara
Stan
Steven
Zak

42
By CaramelPoets (not verified)
October 13, 2011 1:32 PM

You don't mess around with Jim!

43
By Tamale (not verified)
October 13, 2011 1:35 PM

Another song name I actually really like that hasn't been mentioned yet is Amie, from the song "Amie" by Pure Prairie League.

I have to try hard to refrain from singing it to my brother's girlfriend Amy and other Amys I've known. It's not that popular of a song any more, though, so it probably doesn't come up too often. I used to bartend at weddings and did once see the groom sing a spoof of this song to his new wife Amy, which was pretty cute.

44
October 13, 2011 1:42 PM

"Mimi, you funny little good for nothing Mimi,
Am I the guy?"

That's the chorus of a very popular song by Maurice Chevalier which came out about 10 years or so before I was born. And when I was a little girl I heard it incessantly. Thankfully no more.

Susannah, Clementine, and Dinah are from folk songs which therefore have no sell by date. They are perennials. As we have noticed popular commercial songs do come and go--most of you don't know the earlier pop songs referred to in this thread, and I don't know the more recent ones.

Would anyone use the name Rudolph these days, knowing it would forever evoke reindeers and red noses?

And good night to all the Irenes.

45
By AmyRenee (not verified)
October 13, 2011 1:43 PM

I've gotten the song that goes "Amy, what you gonna do?" a few times, mostly when I was younger (in the 80s), but not enough to really bother me. My college roommate was Roxanne, and she got sung to ALL the time, especially by people who were drunk or thought it was a good pickup line (or both). She got pretty irritated with that.

46
By Brandi (not verified)
October 13, 2011 1:56 PM

I stopped counting long ago how many people sing "Brandi, you're a fine girl. What a good wife you would be." Why yes, yes I am.

47
By njwv (not verified)
October 13, 2011 2:09 PM

Others yet to be mentioned:
Jeremy
Gloria

And this was my rule #1 in picking baby names. No spontaneous songs.

48
October 13, 2011 2:12 PM

I know many of these songs. I do think of them quite a bit when I think about the names. I think the newer popular ones and the 60/70/80 ones I grew up on are more in my head than the "folk" songs. Brandy, Delilah, and Cecelia along with Layla, Renee, and Amie are going to be called to mind much more quickly than Dinah and Susannah. We've talked many times about the movie characters/titles/cartoon characters that people associate with names. There aren't too many names out there that don't have some sort of association with pop culture.

49
By Hera
October 13, 2011 2:20 PM

I would add:

Delilah
Jenny
Cecelia

50
By Sarah Rose (not verified)
October 13, 2011 2:24 PM

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Mary. My little sister had people singing "Mary had a Little Lamb" and "Mary, Mary quite Contrary" all the time.