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.
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.
- 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.