Baby Name of the Day: Sally

by appellationmountain on July 29, 2010

Sally BrownShe’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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