Baby Name of the Day: Sally

by appellationmountain on July 29, 2010

She’s Charlie Brown’s little sister, Lightning McQueen’s best girl, and Don Draper’s damaged daughter.

She’s also the person who helped me set up my very first blog. Our Baby Name of the Day is Sally.

The Biblical Sarah has a long history of use. While her status as a Top Ten choice is a twentieth-century phenomenon, there’s no shortage of notable Sarahs in the history books, from actresses and poets to controversial politicians.

So it is no wonder that Sarah has nicknames aplenty. Diminutive Sadie is all the rage these days, but what of the retro Sally?

Plenty of names swapped their “r” sound for an “l” over the years – Mary became Molly, Harold became Hal. And so Sarah has been Sal, Sallie, and Sally through the years. Sallie was the dominant spelling into the nineteenth century, ranking in the US Top 100 into 1900.

After that, the -y ending eclipsed the -ie version. She ranked in the US Top 100 from 193o through 1955, peaking at #52 in 1939. She’s been out of the rankings since 2004. (Sallie last charted in 1969.)

There’s no way to know how many girls baptized Sarah would’ve actually answered to Sal. We do have a written account from one – Sally Wister’s Journal, penned by a young woman living in Philadelphia during the British occupation in 1777.

Fast forward to the twentieth century. In 1929, when the four Warner Brothers were still at the helm of their fledgling studio, Sally became the sixth color film they released. Ziegfield Follies alum Marilyn Miller became a star in the title role on Broadway in 1920; for a record-setting salary, she did the same on the silver screen.

The character was an orphan named after the telephone exchange (think Pennsylvania 6-500) where she was abandoned as a baby. After some hijinks and romantic misunderstandings, all ends happily, with Sally fulfilling her dream of becoming a dancer.

And so the name began her ascent:

  • Born in 1937, actress Sally Kellerman is best remembered as Hot Lips Houlihan in the 1970 movie MASH.
  • Talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael was born in 1942.
  • Television star and Oscar-winning actress Sally Field arrived in 1946.
  • Fellow TV alum Sally Struthers was born a year later.
  • 1951 gave us Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.
  • In 1963, British actress Sally Whittaker was born – she’s a staple on Coronation Street as Sally Webster.

That leads us to more fictional bearers of the name:

  • In 1959, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz used the name for Charlie’s little sister.
  • Isaac Asimov’s “Sally” gave the name to a thinking car.
  • On a lighter note, she’s a 2002 Porsche 911 in Disney Pixar hit Cars.
  • Cabaret’s singer was Sally Bowles, as made famous by Liza Minneli.
  • When Harry Met Sally featured Meg Ryan as the memorable, finicky Sally.
  • Most recently, there’s the little-girl-lost turned teenaged rebel on Mad Men.

And we can’t forget musical nods, including:

  • Gracie Field’s “Sally,” used for her 1931 film debut Sally in Our Alley.
  • The oft-recorded “Long Tall Sally,” made famous by Little Richard.
  • Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” from 1967.
  • Eric Clapton’s 1977 country-fried “Lay Down Sally.”

The name has a lot of spark, partially because of the phrase “to sally forth” – to set out on adventure, from the French saillir via the Latin salire – to leap. Sally Forth has been a character in two comic strips – the bawdy 1960s/70s eye candy in a military publication and later, a modern working mom.

While she’s dated, she might just find favor with hipster parents disappointed that everyone is using Sadie.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaeli November 12, 2012 at 3:44 AM

Thank you, Abby, for your thoughtful response! The name is on my list, along with my other (deceased) grandmother’s name, Pearl. I can’t help but fantasize about two daughters named Sally & Pearl!

Your website is so wonderful and I so enjoy reading it and anxiously await every Name of the Day! I also was touched by your recent post about infertility. After nearly 2 years my husband and I are still waiting to have a single positive pregnancy test, but I know we’ll be parents someday and I’ll get to put my name expertise to the test! :-)

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Kaeli November 10, 2012 at 4:10 AM

My Grandmother’s name is Sally! She was born in the 1930’s. So yes, it definitely seems like a Grandma or Great Grandma name right now. I would be surprised to meet anyone in their 20’s through 50’s named this, but 60’s and up, definitely!

I love my grandmother so much and we are very close; I would be thrilled to name a daughter after her. Do you think Sally is due for a revival? I wonder how it would be perceived to hear of a Baby Sally today. Would it be like the Evelyns, Hazels, Charlottes, and Vivians? As in, a nice, vintage name that sounds fresh? Or is it too soon for Sally? Names like Linda, Deborah and Barbara seem way too early and I don’t think they’ll be back for another 30-40 years. I wouldn’t lump Sally in that category, but would others? Either way, when it’s time for Sally to be revived, I doubt she’ll become as popular as Evelyn & Lily. I think Sally has always been familiar but not over-used.

Anyways, I have some agonizing to do about the name. It is so very happy & cheery!

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appellationmountain November 10, 2012 at 7:57 AM

It is a cherry, happy name! I’m biased – I have a friend called Sallie who makes me see the name in a different light. She’s smart, edgy, and stylish, so Sally has never felt aged to me. I think a little Sally would probably have friends named Molly and Callie and Hailey, so even if the name isn’t common anymore, she wouldn’t sound out of place. I imagine lots of adults would say, “Oh, you never that hear that name anymore.” But in some ways, these make for the best names – familiar, easy to spell, but not shared.

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Sally April 27, 2012 at 3:19 AM

My name is also Sally. It’s my actual name too, but my parents gave me Sara(h) as a nickname. I always felt weird about my name since I too have been the only Sally in elementary, middle, and high school. I’m always wishing I’ll meet another Sally just to see what it feels like. Any Sally I’ve heard of (like my friend’s mom’s friend or my other friend’s mom who lives all the way in Ohio) are older women… Like I said, it feels weird to have a name that was popular way in the 1930s40s50s, but I guess it’s unique and it makes me stand out haha~ I’ve grown to like my name a lot (except when people call me “that girl”…).

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Sally March 7, 2012 at 9:16 PM

My name is Sally, short for Sally. My father named me and always told me that it meant to go forth boldly. Turns out it means more like an unplanned attack from a vulnerable position, to rush out desperately into no-man’s-land. Don Quixote’s adventures are called his first, second, and third sallies. I hope that’s the end of it being pretty, positive, and cute.

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Sally September 22, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Count me in as another Sara, nicknamed Sally. The really wonderful thing about this name is that virtually everyone has heard of it, but very few know anyone who goes by it. I’m in my 20s and I was THE ONLY Sally in my entire elementary school, middle school, high school AND college. (And this after several moves, too.) It’s a great feeling, to have a name not in the top 1000 – you really standout. I feel like Sally’s due for a comeback. It’s easy to say, easy to spell and yet – for whatever reason – extremely rare. And I love Mustang Sally.

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Sally August 1, 2010 at 9:57 PM

Well, my name is Sally. I’ve always gone by Sally, even though my name is Sara Elizabeth. I was named after my great grandmother, Sara Elizabeth, who also went by Sally. I love my name, and the nick names associated with it. Mustang Sally is a little tough to listen to at weddings. Not really a fan of that one. However, I really like Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally. I’ve never been a Sara. It’s a little confusing to people who see my formal name as Sara and have no idea where the nickname Sally came from. The bank sometimes gives me trouble if I try to cash checks written to Sally. Most other Sallys I have met also are officially named Sara. Other than the confusion regarding the nickname, it’s a great, happy, unique name to have.

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caroline July 31, 2010 at 3:03 PM

I love Sally! A friend of mine had a little sister named Sally. She is now early twenties and GORGEOUS and I think her name is so distinctive for her generation. I would have a Sally and Betsy sibset in a heartbeat.

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Julie July 30, 2010 at 2:34 PM

If I had a different surname to bestow, Sarah, called Sally would be near the top of my list. Like other posters have said it’s a rather cheerful name to give to a daughter.

An old friend of mine is named Alessandra, nicknamed Sally.

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Meredith July 30, 2010 at 12:20 AM

We didn’t do Salome in part because of our fear of this nickname. I associate it with women in their 40s and 50s. But seeing everyone’s positive talk about the name, I’ve taken a small step toward seeing it in a different light. And I confess my ignorance: I had no idea it was a nn for Sarah.

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Smismar July 29, 2010 at 11:16 PM

I owe Sallie Mae entirely too much money for student loans to ever use the name for someone I love. Nope. Can’t do it.

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JNE July 30, 2010 at 7:49 AM

Ha! Of course! Sallie Mae! Yes, I’ve been writing checks (well, electronically transferring payments) to Sallie Mae for more than a decade, and still have at least a decade more of doing so ahead of me… you are so right – not really a check in the ‘positive’ column!

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Mary July 29, 2010 at 9:22 PM

Sally sounds like such a happy name to me! I’m not sure that I would ever use it as a full name though, it seems more on the nickname side. :-)

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JNE July 29, 2010 at 8:52 PM

Like Photoquilty, I have a familial association that is extremely positive: my great aunt Sally. She was born in the 20s and was also Sarah, but always went by Sally. She passed away when I was in college. Three awesome things about her: she traveled to all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica), she earned her PhD back in the day when there weren’t all that many ladies doing so, and she was an awesome great aunt. But her name? Sarah – oh yes, very nice. Elizabeth (her middle) – lovely (I have an aunt whose name is the inversion of Sally’s name and goes by Betsy). But Sally? Erm, um, no. I just can’t get into it. I can understand the appeal in a cerebral way, but I think it’s gonna take a few decades for it to feel ‘rested’ enough to genuinely like the sound of it.

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Charlotte Vera July 29, 2010 at 7:39 PM

The only Sally I ever knew was actually names Salome. I’d love it if one of my many friends named Sarah opted for Sally as a nickname.

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Charlotte Vera July 30, 2010 at 2:30 AM

*named

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Sebastiane July 29, 2010 at 4:34 PM

Sally was a small town girl from Nebraska? No. I cannot like this name. There is something depressing about it. It makes me think of an ill-fated character and I don’t know why.

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rockingfetal July 29, 2010 at 12:09 PM

I love Sally and considered it last time around, but my husband wasn’t on board at all. It’s a family name, and the main Sally it would be after actually hated her name and went by her middle. :P Now it’s a little tongue-twistery with my daughter’s name. I think of Sandra Bullock from Practical Magic.

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Whitney Gigandet July 29, 2010 at 10:55 AM

I’ve always liked Sally for the “Mustang Sally” association. I love Mustangs and have had them all my life, and that song is one of my favorites. Maybe someday…

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photoquilty July 29, 2010 at 8:31 AM

Sally was my grandmother, who died in 1989, when I was 11. She was born Sarah, but never went by it – kind of like Amy to Abby, I guess. ;) My son Sam is named for her. Although I can’t imagine naming a girl Sally today, the name always fills me with cheer because it has such a happy association for me.

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appellationmountain July 29, 2010 at 8:26 PM

It is a cheerful name! Maybe Ethan or Sam will give you a granddaughter called Sally. In 30 years, that is. ;)

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Elizabeth July 29, 2010 at 7:38 AM

I’ve always liked Sally; I almost think of it as a dark, gothic name thanks to the rag doll in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. She was Sally, right?

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Colleen July 29, 2010 at 7:02 AM

I like Sally. Like Molly, it has a happy, friendly sound without being too cutesy.

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