Naming a Scream Queen: Carrie, Then and Now
The young, deadly stars of horror movies have a long history as baby name trendmakers. Damien of The Omen, Regan of The Exorcist, and Gage of Pet Sematary are all examples of what I once called "Satan's stylish spawn." But if there's one name that embodies youthful cinematic bloodshed, it has to be Carrie.
For those who missed the mayhem, Carrie was a harassed high school student at the center of Stephen King's first novel. Pushed too far, she developed telekinetic powers that broke loose in a blood-drenched prom. (Some pig blood, some human blood, plenty of mess.)
The name Carrie bears the whole franchise on its back. It's the full title of King's 1974 novel, Brian De Palma's 1976 film version, and further adaptations including a remake that just hit theaters in time for Halloween.
A reader named Carrie recently wrote to me about her name's relationship to the horror icon:
"I'm a Carrie born in the mid 70's and was one of those people that went by Carrie R my entire school career. There were at least 2 Kari/Carrie/Kerri's in every class....Is it correlated to the initial book/movie Carrie?"
While the popularity of the name Carrie did peak around the time of the original film, that wasn't the source of the name's surge. A broader Carrie-fest was already underway. The film's release (November, 1976) is seen as the orange line in the popularity graph below:
That name graph looks very different from the timelines of Damien and friends. Carrie had a different kind of name, because Carrie represented a different kind of horror. Her desire and power to spill blood didn't spring from demonic possession, satanic DNA, or any kind of otherworldly evil. She was a victim of an all-too-human wrong.
Carrie's telekinesis was a physical manifestation of a buildup of emotional pressure from years of emotional abuse and taunting. King's novel was an anti-bullying tract drenched in blood. He suggested that what happened to Carrie could happen again, if kids continued to be tormented. So unlike the forboding names typical of horror movies, his protagonist's name was pointedly normal.
The name Carrie in particular was a cannily disarming choice. As a diminutive nickname, it comes across as friendly and guileless. Compare to other similarly popular names of the time like Monica, Shannon and Tanya, and you see how well King named his victimized everygirl. What's more, Carrie is nearly unique among the hit names of the '70s in being a Victorian revival. Here's the view since 1900:
That history laid an undercurrent of sweet, timeless girlhood beneath the name's trendy sound.
So what was sweet Victorian Carrie doing on the 1970s top-40 charts? I think reader Carrie was on the right track when she placed the name in a generational sound grouping that also encompassed Kerri and Kari, along with Kara, Kristi and and friends. (As a New Englander, though, I can't hear Carrie and Kerri as sound-alikes. I'm one of those regional pedants who insist that Mary, merry and marry are all different.)
Take a look at the Kerry name family's '70s heyday:
Would the horror classic Carrie come across the same to us if it had been called Kerri? It's a small difference, but I believe that the more traditional name, and the fact that it's a nickname, helps keep the story rooted in the eternal trials of adolescence.
Over time, while most names of the '70s started to show their age, Carrie remained surprisingly close to the name Stephen King chose 40 years ago. From Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw to American Idol champion Carrie Underwood, Carrie continued to stand for the relatable everywoman...minus the pig's blood.