Does any name represent mid-century American cute more than Tammy? The 1957 Debbie Reynolds film Tammy and the Bachelor, with its syrupy-sweet theme song and endless spinoffs, cemented the name's image. The movies' Tammy was a guileless country girl in blond pigtails, dreaming of love and winning hearts with her sunny demeanor and home cookin'.
What do you you suppose that pre-feminist daydream of a Tammy would have made of the Tammys in today's election headlines?
Tammy Duckworth defeated an incumbent to represent Illinois in the U.S. Congress. Duckworth, the daughter of a Thai/Chinese mother and an American father, served as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Iraq. She lost both of her legs in a combat mission when her helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Despite her injuries, Duckworth declined medical retirement and remains a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard.
Tammy Baldwin, an attorney and seven-term congressperson, was elected U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. Baldwin is the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the Senate, and was previously the first openly gay non-incumbent elected to the House, and to the Wisconsin State Assembly. As an assemblyperson, she first proposed legalizing same-sex marriage back in 1994.
For good measure, let's toss in another headline-making Tammy from earlier this year:
Tammy Smith, a career Army officer, Afghanistan veteran and deputy chief of the Army Reserve, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. Smith became the first openly gay general officer in the United States military; at the promotion ceremony, her wife pinned the star on her uniform.
That's quite a group of power Tammys, all of whom blew past the traditional feminine roles and images that the Hollywood Tammy helped to define.
I'm not about to declare the name Tammy a route to Washington power, though. As in the case of the ersatz power name Michelle, this cluster of Tammys looks like a natural effect of generational name trends. Duckworth, Baldwin and Smith were all born between 1962 and 1968. Tammy was the 10th most popular name for American girls over that period, with more than 133,000 Tammys born. (Tamara ranked in the top 100, too.)
That generational cohort is right around its peak of career power, so its not surprising to see plenty of Tammys at high levels of public service. At least, it's not surprising on statistical grounds. But this is Tammy we're talking about. The name that stands for eternal cutesy girlishness. Perhaps the new congresswomen and general can stand as reassurance that despite their broad and subtle influence, names aren't really destiny.
Thanks to brand namer extraordinaire Nancy Friedman for suggesting this topic.