Why Don't Boys' Names Make Us Sing?

Mar 19th 2015


Say these names aloud: Susanna, Billie Jean, Roxanne. Were you tempted to break into song?

A catchy tune can weld itself to a name in our memories. Any Susanna or Roxanne -- or Rhonda, or sweet Caroline -- will tell you that she's serenaded wherever she goes. Yet when I wrote about "Names That Make You Sing," I was only able to find two similarly songified boys' names: (Hey) Jude and (Louie) Louie. Readers came up with more names I'd missed, but their suggestions were female-dominated as well.

Why? The rhythm of girls' names, which are more likely to end in vowels or have a stressed last syllable, could be one factor. A tradition of male singers serenading lady loves could be another. But a gender imbalance persists even when you factor out vowels and love songs.

Looking back over the song-inducing names, I've realized that there's a second hidden trend. Below are the names that BabyNameWizard.com readers and I identified as irresistibly singable, with the sex of the name and of the singer. (A "-" indicates both male and female singers, e.g. folk tunes like "O, Susanna" and names that summon multiple songs, like Gloria.)

Name Name-M/F     Singer-M/F
Adeline F -
Alejandro M F
Barbara Ann    F M
Billie Jean F M
Brandy F M
Caroline F M
Cecilia F M
Clementine F -
Daniel M M
Delilah F M
Dinah F -
Dolly F M
Donna F M
Eileen F M
Elvira F M
Fernando M -
Georgia F M
Gloria F -
Jude M M
Layla F M
Lola F M
Louie M M
Lucille F M
Mandy F M
Maria F -
Mary Lou F M
Matilda F -
Maybelline F M
Michelle F M
Peggy Sue F M
Rhonda F M
Roxanne F M
Sharona F M
Sherry F M
Susanna F -

 

The name list is overwhelmingly female, with 29 girls' names and just 5 boys . But the singers list is even more overwhelmingly male, by a count of 26-1. The only name on the list that plays a female voice in our mental jukebox is also the most recent: Alejandro, a 2010 Lady Gaga song. It remains to be seen whether that song will prove memorable enough to stay on the long-term playlist.

In part, this reflects the predominance of male voices in popular music. Depending on how you measure, male singers represent 60-75% of the pop charts, and even higher percentages in rock, hip-hop and country. 26-1, though, still looks like a mighty extreme ratio.

For some reason, women haven't been singing names. With most name songs addressed to the opposite sex, more tunes by women might help even out the list and get some boys' names stuck on mental replay.

Comments

1
March 19, 2015 3:15 PM

I'd be curious to know the sex of the songwriters.

2
March 19, 2015 4:09 PM

What about Michael by Franz Ferdinand?

3
March 19, 2015 4:23 PM

Well, there's Jessie's Girl, male name in the title and sung by a male (Rick Springfield), but of course the singer is yearning for a female--who is addressed only as a male possession, not in her own identity.

Anyway you are missing a number of songs with male names in the title, sung by women (omitting the many sung by men):

Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey--sung by many, both male and female

Alfie--Dionne Warwick

Danny Boy--sung by almost everyone, male and female

Jimmie Mack--Martha and the Vandellas

Johnny Angel--Shelley Fabares

Me and Bobby McGee--Janis Joplin

Ode to Billie Joe--Bobbie Gentry

These go back mostly to my own teen years, but Taylor Swift and Madonna and other current singers have songs with male names in the titles.

The list of songs with male names in the title sung by males is exceedingly long, too long to note exhaustively here. A few samples:

Abraham, Martin, and John

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

Charlie Brown

Johnny B. Goode

Cotton Eye Joe

Hit the Road Jack

Jumpin Jack Flash

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Stagger Lee

Tom Dooley

and many many more

4
March 19, 2015 4:35 PM

Not sure the "Lola" info is accurate...

5
March 19, 2015 6:38 PM

John-Jacob (an important song for NEs!)

I wonder if this is also due to the more diverse female names than male names.  A song about John isn't going to stick in our head.  An enemy named John isn't going to make us hate the name John and associate all future Johns with enemy-John.  If I'm in love with a John, my heart doesn't pound every time I hear the name like it would if my love was named Jude.  So men's names are less emotionally charged for us.  Less emotion means fewer songs written and fewer songs remembered. 

6
March 19, 2015 9:48 PM

Haha. Namey magee has a point there...

7
March 20, 2015 3:01 AM

Quinn the Eskimo and The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, both sung by Bob Dylan

8
March 20, 2015 8:44 AM

From a naminess point of view my favourite is missing: Nikita (m) by Elton John (m). Many listeners mistook the uncomon name Nikita (Krushtshev is long forgotten, ain't he?) for a female name.

9
March 20, 2015 8:48 AM

And another one: Here's to you, Nicola and Bart (sung by Joan Baez), both Nicola and Bart are males.

10
By hwar
March 20, 2015 10:34 AM

Slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. No need to be coy, Roy...just listen to me. 

11
March 20, 2015 1:09 PM

What, no "Goodbye Earl"? 

No "John, I'm Only Dancing"? 

"Me & Bobby McGee" is an interesting one, because the best known version (Joplin's) is gender-swapped; the original Bobby was a woman, and Janis swapped the pronouns for her version. 

12
March 23, 2015 10:23 AM

The gender imbalance seems likely to be more of a recent phenomenon. I can think of lots of songs from way back that feature a male name, some of which have already been mentioned...My Name is Yon Yonson, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Bill Grogan's Goat, Frankie and Johnny (admittedly half-and-half), Hit the Road, Jack (sung half-and-half), Mack the Knife, We Love You Conrad, Tommy Can You Hear Me, etc.

When I was in high school I had a boyfriend named Bill, who sadly matched the lyrics to the old ShowBoat song all too well: "I can't explain/it's surely not his brain/that makes me thrill." To this day whenever he crosses my mind, so does that song.

Maybe the issue is more that the pool of men's names was so limited, there isn't any ONE song that a name makes us sing? John, for example, has up to five songs on my list, depending on how you count it.

13
By mk
March 23, 2015 3:29 PM

Tom's Diner: Suzanne Vega

Luka: Suzanne Vega

Jesse: Carly Simon

Mickey: Toni Basil

These are just ones that I think are most recognizable and "singable." I can think of others but they are not as well known. And there's lots of folk/jazz songs with male names that have been covered by women

Not a female voice, but there's also:

Jeremy: Pearl Jam

Jack and Diane: John Cougar Mellencamp

 

14
March 23, 2015 4:33 PM

It's true that Mavis and Sybil 'ave ways that are winning

And Prudence and Gwendolyn set your 'eart spinning

Phoebe's delightful, Maude is disarming

Janice, Felicia, Lydia - charming

Cynthia's dashing, Vivian's sweet

Stephanie's smashing, Priscilla a treat

Veronica, Millicent, Agnes, and Jane

Convival company, time and again

Drocas and Phyllis and Glynis are sorts

I'll agree are three jolly good sports

But cream of the crop, tip of the top

 

It's Mary Poppins, and there we stop!

15
By hka
March 25, 2015 10:11 AM

"Hey Eugene" - Pink Martini (femaie singer)

"Levon" - Elton John (male singer)

Both songs have the male name in the "belt-it-out-in -the -shower" chorus.

I would add Lucy to the female list, as in "in the sky with diamonds."

16
By Aiea
March 28, 2015 6:54 PM

Adia by Sarah McLachlan
Adrienne by The Calling
Amelia by Natalie Imbruglia
Amie by Damien Rice

Andy, You're a Star by The Killers
Angela by The Bee Gees

Angie by The Rolling Stones

Anna Sun by Walk the Moon

Antonia by Motion City Soundtrack

April Come She Will by Simon & Garfunkel

Barbie Girl by Aqua

Believe Me Natalie by The Killers

Bella Linda by The Grass Roots

Bennie and the Jets by Elton John

Bernadette by The Four Tops

Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes

Billy Brown by Mika

Black Betty by Ram Jam

Bloody Mary by Lady Gaga

Bobby's Girl by Lesley Gore

Bonnie & Clyde '03 by Jay-Z ft. Beyonce Knowles

Brandy Alexander by Feist

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something

Brian Wilson by Barenaked Ladies

Call Tyrone by Erykah Badu

Candy Says by The Velvent Underground

Celia Inside by The Cardigans

Charlie, The Methadone Man by Fastball

Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis

Clementine by Pink Martini

Daniel by Bat for Lashes

Danny's Song by Anne Murray

Daria by Cake

David by Nellie McKay

Dear Prudence by The Beatles

Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson

Dr. John by Mika

Edie by The Cult

Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

Emmylou by First Aid Kit

Eva by Nightwish

Fernando by Abba

Gloria by Van Morrison

Good Golly Miss Molly by Little Richard

Grace Kelly by Mika

Hannah by Freelance Whales

Heather by Zambri

Helena by My Chemical Romance

Help Me Rhonda by The Beach Boys

Henrietta by The Fratellis

Hey Eugene by Pink Martini

Hey Jude by The Beatles

Hey Julie by Fountains of Wayne

Hey Paula by Paul & Paula

Hey There Delilah by Plain White Ts

Hit the Road Jack by Ray Charles

I'm Henry the VIII I Am by Herman's Hermits

If U Seek Amy by Britney Spears

If You C Jordan by Something Corporate

Iris by Goo Goo Dolls

Isobel by Dido

Jackie Wilson Said by Van Morrison

Jane by Barenaked Ladies

Jeffrey by The Pierces

Jennifer Juniper by Donovan

Jenny (867-5309) by Tommy Tutone

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine by The Killers

Jerry by The Clientele

Jessica by The Allman Brothers Band

Jessie's Girl by Rick Springfield

Jimmy Mack by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Joey by Nick Drake

John the Fisherman by Primus

Johnny Angel by Lesley Gore

Johnn Cash by Fefe Dobson

Jolene by Dolly Parton

Judas by Lady Gaga

Judy's Turn to Cry by Lesley Gore

Julia by The Beatles

Julia by Fefe Dobson

Juliet by LMNT

Kathy's Song by Simon & Garfunkel

Konstantine by Something Corporate

Lady Jane by Mika

Lady Madonna by The Beatles

Lalena by Donovan

Layla by Eric Clapton

Letters to Noelle by Something Corporate.

 

To Be Continued... 

17
By Aiea
March 29, 2015 11:50 AM

Lille - Lisa Hannigan

Lilly - Pink Martini

Lola - The Kinks

Louie, Louie - The Kingsmen

Louisa - The Pierces

Lovely Rita - The Beatles

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - The Beatles

Luka - Suzanne Vega

Lukas - Natalie Imbruglia

Mandy - Barry Manilow

Maria Maria - Carlos Santana

Mary Jane - Alanis Morissette

Mary Jane Shoes - Fergie

Mary the Inventor - Ash Koley

Mary Without Sound - Motion City Soundtrack

Mary, Mary - The Monkees

Maxine - John Legend

Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard - Simon & Garfunkel

Meet Virginia - Train

Meghan's Song - Matthew Perryman Jones

Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim - Fountains of Wayne

Michelle - The Beatles

Miranda - Fleetwood Mac

Molly - Sponge

Mona Lisa - Nat King Cole

Mona Lisa - Guster

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters - Elton John

Mother Mary - Foxboro Hot Tubs

Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) - Billy Joel

My Sharona - The Knack

Nickel Romeo - The Bangles

Nina Pretty Ballerina - ABBA

Oh Angela! - Blair Crimmins and the Hookers

Oh, Emily - Jukebox the Ghost

Penny & Me - Hanson

Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Ramona - Guster

Revolving Dora - Fountains of Wayne

Richie and Ruben - Fountains of Wayne

Rocky Raccoon - The Beatles

Roll with Me, Henry - Etta James

Romeo - Basement Jaxx

Romeo - The Planet Smashers

Romeo and Juliet - Dire Straits

Romeo and Juliet - The Indigo Girls

Romeo and Juliette - Sade

Rosey and Mick - Jewel

Run Bobby Run - Lesley Gore

Runaround Sue - Dion and the Belmonts

Sad Lisa - Cat Stevens

Sally's Advice - The Chenille Sisters

Sara - Chad Vangaalen

Sebastian - Reptar

Sherry Baby - Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Shikaiya (For Billy) - Natalie Imbruglia

Simon Says - The Pipettes

Smackwater Jack - Carole King

So Sweet (Amelia) - Maria Mena ft. Thomas Dybdah

Song of Bernadette - Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen

St. Jimmy - Green Day

Stacy's Mom - Fountains of Wayne

Stan - Eminem ft. Dido

Stealing Rosemary - The Bangles

Sunny Came Home - Shawn Colvin

Suzy - The Chenille Sisters

Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond

Sweet Gypsy Rose - Tony Orlando and Dawn

Sweet Louise - The Belle Brigade

Taylor the Latte Boy - Kristin Chenoweth

There Goes Lucy - The Rembrandts

Tom's Diner - Suzanne Vega

Turn on Billie - The Pierces

Valerie - Amy Winehouse

Valerie  - James Morrison

Valleri - The Monkees 

Venus - The Shocking Blue

Victoria - The Kinks

Victoria (Tori) - John Mayer

Vince the Loveable Stoner - The Fratellis

Wake up, Little Susie - The Everly Brothers

Wendy - The Beach Boys

The Wind Cries Mary - John Mayer

Windy - The Association

Yolanda Hayes - Fountains of Wayne

You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon

18
April 2, 2015 5:38 AM

Not to forget this one:

Sebastian by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

19
April 4, 2015 11:10 PM

What about Jeremiah? Was a bullfrog! Was a good friend of mine! 

20
April 5, 2015 11:49 PM

And that's why my name is Mandy. Thank you Barry Manilow.

21
By EVie
April 8, 2015 2:34 PM

I'm super late to this thread, but just had to jump in with another female -> female one: Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac. 

22
August 23, 2016 1:39 PM

Mambo # 5. Too many to list. LOL. "A little bit of Monica in my life....."

23
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