Baby Name of the Day: Charmaine


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c21 by TooFarNorth via Flickr

I’ve been fascinated by today’s choice ever since I found her in a 1972 novel.

Thanks to Charmaine for suggesting her own name as our Baby Name of the Day.

It’s easy to suffer from the misconception that American parents used to choose from a relatively fixed set of given names. Sure, some of them sound dated today. But at least, conventional wisdom goes, parents weren’t just making things up.

Ahem.

Back in 1924, Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings wrote a play called What Price Glory. It’s the story of two US Marines, long-time rivals, who find themselves stationed in France during World War I, both vying for the affections of the local innkeeper’s daughter.

The daughter’s name is Charmaine de la Cognac, and it sounds French. But could you have found a mademoiselle answering to Charmaine in France in 1924?

I’m not so sure.

There are a handful of women named Charmaine in the US Census records before the play was written. But according to Meilleurs Prenoms, there haven’t been many Frenchwomen given the name in the 20th century – it peaked in 1992, with just four newborn Charmaines.

There are a few possible origins for the name:

  • Charmion appears in the historical record as one of Cleopatra’s servants. Shakespeare spelled the name Charmian in his 1606 Antony and Cleopatra;
  • Then there’s Lorraine, a name borrowed from the French region. Lorraine ranked in the US Top 100 from 1918 through 1948. Elaine also ranked in the Top 100 from the 1920s into the 1950s. By 1920, Germaine and Romaine were also in use. The -aine ending was having a moment.

It’s not clear whether Anderson and Stalling thought they were inventing a suitable name for their charming leading lady, or whether they’d heard it elsewhere and believed it was as suitable a choice as Marianne.

What’s certain is that What Price Glory became a silent film in 1926 with the stunning Dolores del Rio playing the lovely Charmaine. Then came the 1952 version with the Paris-born Corinne Calvet in the role.

A song composed for the first film was titled “Charmaine.” It was originally a waltz, but you can find many different versions, both with and without the lyrics.

“Charmaine” was a hit in 1927, spending seven weeks at #1, and it resurfaced again and again over the years. British duo The Bachelors enjoyed modest success with this version in 1963.

And so Charmaine had a surprisingly long shelf life, appearing in the Top 1000 from 1927 to 1993, peaking in 1952 at #331.
Along the way, a few uses kept her in the spotlight:
  • Best known as eldest daughter Leisel in The Sound of Music, Charmian Carr was named after Shakespeare’s character;
  • Then there’s my Charmaine – a character in Ira Levin’s creepy novel The Stepford Wives. Tina Louise – you know her as Ginger on Gilligan’s Island – played Charmaine in the 1975 film version, a glamorous, tennis-playing wife. She’s written out in the 2004 reboot of the movie;
  • If you followed The Golden Girls, you might recall that Southern belle Blanche had an older sister called Charmaine.

With Charlotte so popular, and Hollywood-inspired Charlize in use, it is hard to dismiss a Char- name as hopelessly out of style. But like Cheryl or Charlene, Charmaine sounds committed to an earlier generation.

Parents seeking a name with French flair today are more likely to use Genevieve or Vivienne, and yet, let’s not count Charmaine out yet. French names comes in waves, and in another few decades, Suzette, Charmaine, and Yvonne could be on the cutting edge.

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25 Comments

Well, in my family, (I am the only deaf person in the family), we usually use a sign name using a letter of their name with the sign “baby” until the baby grows a little old enough to show what his/her traits are going to be, then they get their own sign name. Sometimes they already get assigned a sign name based on what their name means. Like one of my little sister’s friend is named Rose, she gets the rose flower sign. I don’t hang out with deaf people a lot so I don’t always know how it’s done with other deaf people so I don’t know if it make them less interested in names. I’ve read some biographies about deaf parents who had their children call them by their names instead of “Daddy” or “Mama.” So I would say names are important to deaf people because it’s part of their identity. I have several deaf friends, but only one of them is a mom. She let her big sister name her daughter, but she came up with a sign name for the sweet baby which means “girl.” I always wanted to meet more deaf moms to see how they care for their hearing children, especially the naming process. 🙂

I realize I didn’t leave a comment about my name. Thanks for posting about Charmaine. I’m deaf, so I don’t care how my name is said long as it’s spelled right. My mother said the correct pronounce is SHAR-mane, so it explains why my little cousins kept spelling my name as Sharmain. lol. And on my first day of college, I had an African-American teacher doing the roll call and then she stared at me, “Did I pronounce your name right?” I threw my arms up and signed, “I don’t know!” The whole class burst into laughter. Ever since, I realize people are always pronouncing my name wrong.

People have asked my mother if I was named after Charlemagne which wasn’t true. Mama just loved how my name was when she was ten, and decided to name me Charmaine. Since twins ran in our family, when my mother was pregnant with me, she thought maybe I might be twins, so she came up with Charmaine and Chantel. Since I was born a single, I got both names.

I’ve been called Char, Charry, Charm, Maine, and Chantel. My prefered nickname is Charry. I’ve been called “Don’t squeeze the Charmin!” by my brother. 🙂

Now that’s fascinating! My son has a good friend who is a hearing child of deaf parents. We live outside of DC, not far from Gallaudet, so it is actually really common to interact with the deaf, though I’ll admit we often just talk by passing our Blackberries back and forth, typing what we’re thinking. But I’ve never found the right moment to ask how being deaf impacts name choices. I’ve noticed, though, that none of the children of deaf parents answer to nicknames, at least not in English. Are there diminutives in ASL? Or does it just depend? And oh, I’m horribly sorry if I’m being nosy. I’ve been waiting and waiting to ask, and it never seems like the right moment. (BTW, one of my co-workers has a lovely, super-smart wife named Charmaine, and he says it “SHEH mayne” – always surprises me, even though I’ve known him for years.)

Wow, thank you! I remember fingerspelling our names for Aly’s friend’s parents when we first met – I’ve managed to absorb the alphabet over the years, but not much else. In a perfect world, we’d all have nicknames based on our best qualities! 🙂 Do you think it makes deaf parents less interested in names? If you’ll have the opportunity to really choose an appropriate name after your child reveals more of his or her personality, does the name on the birth certificate matter less? A (deaf) friend of mine passed on her maiden name to her daughter – it is very boyish, but she’s Southern, and her daughter seems very girly. Now I need to find a way to ask if her daughter’s sign name is something feminine … This is fascinating!

Hate it. Too close to Charmin toilet paper, champagne, Charlemagne and Charlene.

Side note: Charmian Carr’s character in The Sound of Music was spelled Liesl.

I really dislike Charmaine. I lump it in with Chanel and Siobhan (even though I know those two are very different in origin). With few exceptions, I’m not fond of names that begin with the “sh” sound — they sound very dated to me, and they also sound slightly “downmarket” (as I think Kayt terms it). Shay, Shawna, Shyla … all icky to me.

I also dislike most two-syllable names with the stress on the second syllable — like Louise, Lorraine, Colette, Maureen. They also seem very dated.

So, Charmaine is definitely not for me. You’re right, though, that maybe in another 30 years or so when Louise and Colette are starting so sound stylish again, Charmaine may be a viable option.

Emmy Jo, I think you have a point about “sh” names. The daughter in the recent Ben Affleck movie The Town was named Shyne. Yuck.

My MIL’s name is Sharon and it just sounds horribly dated to me. Luckily hubby doesn’t feel strongly about using it 🙂

Shoshannah and Charlotte are really the only “sh” names I can think of that don’t sound dated or “downmarket” imho.

I’ve come across a couple of bearers of the name , and it’s generally of the White descent. They also pronounced their name SHAR-mane.

It’s not one for me; it sounds a bit too ”the 20 something mom’s mom’s name”

It doesn’t have a great “rep” in NZ and is lumped in with the other Char/Shar/Cher/Sher names e.g Sheryl, Sharon and Chanelle. Many would call those old school bogan choices. While it’s not quite Chardonnay, it does have a very faux-pretentious air and for me, I’ve always had this strange mixture of charming and chow mein when I see/hear it.

It is also sorely dated here and not in a good way. Much like Cheryl. I’d be very surprised to see either name back in vogue anytime soon.

So, not for me. However, it beats Charlotte by a smidgen.

Old school bogan – love it! It is equally dated here, but I was surprised at the amount of history behind this one.

In the DVD commentary for Sound of Music, the actress pronounces her name Shar-mee-an (Charmian), while Charmaine is Shar-mayne. I like Charmian better because I like it pronounced that way. Not a fan of Charmaine, though, maybe because I have been watching a lot of Golden Girls and Charmaine is an awful character!

I know a Charmian in her mid-30s, also a ballerina. I think now that she’s older she uses her full name but she used to go exclusively by Charm.

I went to middle school with sisters named Celeste and Charmaine. At the time their names seemed old-fashioned and a little bit funky. Now I realize in a school full of Jennifers, Andreas and Heathers, their names stuck out in a good way.

I like the -aine names best as middle names.

The only ends in -aine name I really like and would ever use is my grandmother’s name, Elaine, which is also my and my mother’s middle name.

I don’t really like Charmaine because as a child I knew a rather mean woman called Char, though I’m not sure if/what Char was short for.

Oddly enough though, Char has not spoiled my love of the name Charlotte…maybe because I love Lottie for Charlotte, from A Little Princess 🙂

I knew a number of women named Charmaine growing up, all of them East Indian. The information you’ve provided makes me wonder how common the name is in the more French regions of Canada — I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a Charmaine here so far, although I’m sure they exist.

I know the name is similar to my own, but it does come across as dated to me. Plus I’ve never been much of a fan of names I’d classify as “cutesy”, and Charmaine is just a wee bit too close to the word charming for my personal preference.

Thanks for sharing Erin, that is hilarious! And now I will forever picture Charmaine as a beautiful 14 year old “mixed race” woman with green eyes!

I went to school with a girl named Charmaine. She was beautiful and a ballerina so that is what I think about with that name.

My MIL has a girlfriend named Charmian, she’s a lovely woman (she’s in her late 60’s now, along with Honey). I seem to think she thinks her parents made it up! I’ll have to shoot his Mom an email and tell her to tell Charmian to look.

As far as Charmaine goes, I agree. She sounds dated to my ears too and needs some more time to sound fresh again. Maybe as a middle today?
And FWIW: I adore Yvonne. Always have, so elegant! 🙂