Names That Make You Sing
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:
...and just a few fellas:
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?