The Male Madison?

Oct 11th 2012

The girl's name Madison holds a special place in name lore, because its popularity arose from a joke. In the 1984 movie Splash, a mermaid in Manhattan -- naïve to our language and culture -- took the name from a Madison Ave. street sign. To understand how the joke sounded at the time, imagine that she had named herself Roosevelt after the FDR Drive. But thanks to that golden-haired mermaid, a generation of girls grew up with Madison filed in their in their minds as a glamorous girl's name.

I've always considered Madison a unique case, but it has struck me that one other name has an oddly similar history. It's a surname, introduced as a not-quite-realistic assumed name by a glamorous tv/movie character in the 1980s. Any guesses?

Allow me to roll back the clock to my misspent junior-high years...

It's the 1980s. If you're a fan of humorous detective shows featuring a mismatched male-female pair of sleuths, brought together via a wildly unlikely premise to banter and solve crimes in an atmosphere thick with unresolved sexual tension, boy are you in luck! This is the decade of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Moonlighting, and the mother of the sub-sub-genre, Remington Steele.

The high-concept premise of Remington Steele, as narrated in the season-1 opening credits by female detective Laura Holt:

"Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Remington Steele? He doesn’t exist. I invented him.

Follow. I always loved excitement, so I studied and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so... feminine.

So I invented a superior. A decidedly masculine superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm... until the day he walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele’s identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows."

The invented "Remington Steele" wasn't quite a joke of a name, but neither was it supposed to be realistic. It was intended as a glossy cartoon, an exaggerated vision of the "decidedly masculine." In fact, it was just barely a personal name at all. In the first regular episode of the series, our heroine explained that she constructed the name from a typewriter and a football team.

A typewriter! Yes, Remington Steele hit the air before the first Macintosh computer, back in the days when typewriters were everywhere. The association with Remington typewriters would have been a familiar one. Today those typewriters are vintage curiosities, while a generation has grown up with the personal name Remington Steele in its cultural background. (It also helps that the Remington brand name lives on in the iconic Remington Arms Company, which was originally the same company as the typewriter maker. See more on gun names.)

Thirty years later, the glossy cartoon has faded and Remington just reads as a name. You can see that in the baby name popularity charts. Remington Steele premiered in the fall of 1982.

Comments

1
October 11, 2012 10:13 PM

Ok--that is just awesome. I love this!

2
October 12, 2012 9:03 AM

On the subject of Madison's joke, I once heard someone suggest that if the mermaid had named herself after Wall Street the Occupy Wall Street movement might have never been necessary if it made the name "fashionable" and we got a bunch of girls named Wall!

3
October 12, 2012 2:38 PM

Swoon! I so loved that show. I had plans to watch it with my best friend and next-door neighbor on my 14th birthday. I had a fever that day, but for some bizarre reason my mom made me go anyway--turned out to be a surprise party for me! Thanks for the memory. :)

4
By Joni
October 16, 2012 1:03 PM

I know a baby Remington, which promptly made me think, "that's a lot of name for a baby." Of course thinking of Remington Steele. I did not know, however, that the name started off as a 'joke'! 

In this case, Remington's parents call him Remi.

 

5
By mac
October 18, 2012 6:24 PM

I went to high school with a male Remington. Lately there have been several baby girl Remington's popping up in my area, including my cousin's new baby. So far, she mostly gets called Remi. And yes, her dad is a hunter.

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November 15, 2012 3:16 AM

Normally people attribute certain names to specific genders and the post that you have on your blog is pretty interesting. I have believed that are no such rules in naming a child and it for convenience that we have made a rule like that. The statistics that you have produced is clear indication that people have started to see this less important.

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