Other names appear in multiple hit songs, or maybe that one-hit wonder we remember – and yet they don’t necessarily come to mind when we talk about names in hit songs.
Boys’ names are far less common, though favorites like Jude, inspired by the Beatles’ enduring “Hey Jude” or Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” come to mind.
This list rounds up all of the baby names from song titles, from traditional folk songs to the newest singles.
Except it’s inevitably incomplete. New song titles featuring names are recorded constantly. Be sure to add your favorites in the comments. And be sure to checkout the Spotify playlist for this post!
BABY NAMES FROM SONG TITLES
Sarah McLachlan scored a 1997 hit with this pretty song. It could be one of many Ada/Adelaide names, but it’s also has Swahili roots and connections to the ancient queen Eurydice II of Macedon. None of that factors into the song, though; it’s sad MacLachlan chose it because it’s pretty.
Scottish poet Robert Burns penned “Sweet Afton” in the 1700s. It’s a poem about a river; it’s not a given name at all. And yet, the words have often been set to music. Bluegrass band Nickel Creek recorded it in the year 2000, and it’s inspired parents ever since.
Indie rockers Glass Animals met at Oxford and scored a major hit with “Heat Waves.” But the lesser-known “Agnes” is a wistful song that put this antique name front and center.
The Pixies released “Alec Eiffel” on Trompe Le Monde in 1991. The lyrics talk about Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the engineer who created Paris’ Eiffel Tower, completed in 1889. In life, he was known as Gustave. It’s not clear why he’s Alec in the song, but it works.
Lady Gaga recorded “Alejandro” in 2009. She’s said it was influenced, in part, by ABBA’s “Fernando.” (That name appears in the lyrics, too.)
ALEX and ALEXANDER
Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” isn’t pop music, but it’s famous enough that it earns a mention. Alex makes the list thanks to the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” from 1987. Chilton was a real-life musician and producer who worked with the band. There’s also Iron Maiden’s “Alexander the Great,” a heavy metal history lesson from 1986.
There’s more than one song that uses the name Alice, but at the same time, there’s only one. Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre” is a cult classic. It comes in at 18 minutes; radio stations often played it only on Thanksgiving, the day that inspired the events of the song. It’s very possible to have never heard the song, but still know the reference.
ALISON and ALLISON
In 1977, Elvis Costello released “Alison” on My Aim is True. It was his very first album, and it wasn’t exactly a hit at the time. But the song – and the name – caught on in the coming years. The Lemonheads recorded “Alison’s Starting to Happen” in 1992. And The Gin Blossoms gave us “Allison Road” the same year. The last was inspired by a road sign for a real life Allison Road, located in Texas.
Boston scored a major hit in 1986 with “Amanda.” The power ballad made it all the way to #1 in the US. The song coincided with the name’s peak popularity, ranking in the Top Five from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s in the US.
AMY and AMIE
In 1948, Broadway musical Where’s Charley gave us the song “Once in Love With Amy.” It’s almost certainly the reason the name started climbing, reaching the US Top Ten by 1969. A few years later, in 1972, Pure Prairie League recorded “Amie.” While the song wasn’t a major hit at the time, it slowly became a staple.
“Ana Ng” is a 1989 song from They Might Be Giants. They chose the title after scanning the New York City phone book and discovering so many people with the last name Ng. It’s common in Catonese, but was new to the songwriting duo.
ANGELA and ANGIE
The Rolling Stones hit #1 in 1973 with “Angie.” Rumor has long circulated about which Angie or Angela inspired the song. One possible explanation? Keith Richards welcomed a daughter in 1972 called Angela. The speculation is as enduring as the song. The Lumineers named a song “Angela,” too.
Irving Berlin scored the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun, based on the life of Annie Oakley, back in 1946. But it’s John Denver’s 1974 hit “Annie’s Song” that puts the name on this list. It was inspired by his wife, Ann Martell.
The Arctic Monkeys recorded “Arabella” in 2013. It refers heavily to 1968 sci fi film Barbarella. So why Arabella instead of Barbarella? One possible reason: frontman Alex Turner was dating model-turned-television host Arielle Vandenberg at the time.
In 1981, Dudley Moore played dissolute millionaire Arthur Bach, who is expected to marry a suitable heiress and secure his inheritance. Instead, he falls for a working class waitress, played by Liza Minnelli. In the end, Arthur throws it all away for love. The movie was a hit, as was “Arthur’s Theme,” recorded by Christopher Cross.
In 1982, The Who recorded “Athena.” The song was inspired by a real woman named Theresa, who turned down advances by band co-founder Pete Townshend. In fact, early versions of the song were titled “Theresa.” Instead, they chose the name of the Greek goddess of wisdom, presumably to minimize any connection to the then-married Townshend’s crush.
Aubrey was a sometimes-used rare boys’ name for years. Then 1970s soft rock giants Bread recorded “Aubrey” in 1972. By 1973, it was marching up the popularity charts for girls until it became an early twenty-first century favorite – long after the song was mostly forgotten. As for why the band borrowed a fading boy’s name for their single? It was, apparently, inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s performance in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” No, there’s no one named Aubrey (or Audrey or Tiffany) in the story. But that’s still the story.
The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1998 album Adore featured the single “Ava Adore,” complete with a creepy, Nosferatu-inspired music video. It wasn’t a hit by any measure, especially not compared to the band’s earlier success. And yet, it’s worth noting that the girl’s name Ava soared in the years immediately following the song. For lots of reasons, yes, but a catchy tune never hurt.
Not a ton of instrumental singles ever chart, but 1984’s “Axel F.” did. The theme from Beverly Hills Cop was written and performed by German composer Harold Faltermeyer. The name comes the title character’s name, Axel Foley, played by Eddie Murphy. Not only did the movie and single become blockbusters, but it also launched the popularity of the name Axel. The name returned to the US popularity charts for the first time in decades in 1989.
The girl’s name Barbara topped the popularity charts in the 1930s and 40s. But the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” topped the musical charts in 1965. It’s actually a cover of a 1961 song by The Regents. Another smash hit Barbara-influenced song? Aqua’s kitschy homage to the immortal fashion doll, “Barbie Girl,” from 1997. With Margot Robbie starring as the iconic figure in a 2023 movie, maybe Barbie is ready for a comeback.
Depending on your perspective, Bernadette might be a saintly, reverent name, associated with Our Lady of Lourdes. Or it fits with baby names from song titles, thanks to The Four Tops’ 1967 hit “Bernadette.” Decades later, television series The Big Bang Theory borrowed “Bernadette” as a love song for a character on the show.
This short form of Elizabeth got the heavy metal power ballad treatment in 1976, thanks to KISS. Sung by Peter Criss, “Beth” was a lament about life on the road. Criss first wrote it with the name “Beck,” inspired by a former bandmate’s wife, Becky. Years later, as “Beth” it became a hit.
There’s more than one song with Betty in the title or lyrics. But it’s Taylor Swift’s song from 2020 album Folklore that feels most current. Not only because it’s Taylor Swift, but because it turned out that the song revealed the name of Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ third child.
Back when Michael Jackson was on top of the world, “Billie Jean” reached #1, a single from his wildly successful 1982 album Thriller. That’s a potentially problematic reference today. But just Billie also feels musical thanks to Billie Eilish.
At first glance, Blue Jean refer to pants. Not people. Except the lyrics – and video – to David Bowie’s 1984 single “Blue Jean” clearly refers to a woman. In 2013, Beyonce recorded a song titled “Blue,” a love song to her daughter with Jay-Z. Blue Ivy herself cameos on the track, her giggle closing the song.
A 1972 single from a New Jersey band called Looking Glass, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” found new life on the second Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack in 2017.
A 1970 single from Tony Orlando & Dawn, “Candida” is catchy. And it is a real name, from a Late Latin name meaning white, complete with a handful of early saints and a George Bernard Shaw play by the name. Except … Candida is also a common fungal infection. Not surprisingly, the name has never quite caught on, through it briefly charted in the US Top 1000 during the song’s heyday.
Candy isn’t always a given name, even in a song title. But in Bruce Springsteen’s 1978 “Candy’s Room” she is. That’s also true for New Edition’s 1983 debut “Candy Girl.” That’s just two, but the given name Candace peaked in the 1980s, suggesting that, once again, song titles helped fuel a name’s popularity.
Caroline is most famous thanks to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The 1969 hit is rumored to be about many things, from his former wife (named Marcia) to Caroline Kennedy. It’s now an anthem, but that hasn’t hurt the name, or stopped other bands from borrowing it. Status Quo scored a hit in the UK with “Caroline,” inspired by Diamond’s title in 1973. The Kaiser Chefs’ 2005 “Caroline, Yes” was a response to the Beach Boys’ 1966 “Caroline, No.” Most recently, the rapper Aminé’s 2016 “Caroline” gave the name to a fictional “mighty fine” Caroline. The name just sounds right in a song.
Given the enduring popularity of Catherine and Katherine, it’s a surprise to see that just one hit song uses the name Cathy in the title. Then again, The Everly Brothers took “Cathy’s Clown” to #1 in 1960. Fun fact: it became the very first song to top the charts in the US and the UK at the same time.
Among the most towering of baby names from song titles, Simon & Garfunkel scored a hit with 1970’s rollicking “Cecilia.” The lyrics are about an on-again, off-again relationship … or maybe, they’re an appeal to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Simon & Garfunkel have often said that neither is really true – the song evolved in the studio as they were working, and Cecilia just fit the rhythm.
Patti Page recorded “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” as the theme song for a 1964 Bette Davis movie. It even earned as Oscar nomination for best song. But it’s The Cure’s haunting 1986 single “Charlotte Sometimes” that puts the name on this list. One more that comes up often: Julian Cope’s “Charlotte Anne.”
A neighborhood in London and another in New York City, Chelsea was far more place name than person. But it’s often mentioned that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton’s name was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s 1969 song “Chelsea Morning.” Mitchell lived in New York’s Chelsea when she wrote the song. Fast-forward to 2006, and the Fratellis scored a hit with “Chelsea Dagger,” clearly a girl’s name this time. In fact, it was inspired by frontman Jon Fratelli’s wife, Heather, who used the stage name Chelsea Dagger.
Plenty of songs use cherry in the title, but it’s not always a name. Neil Dimaond’s 1966 “Cherry, Cherry” is one that clearly makes it a name. 1977’s “Cherry Baby” by Starz is another, as is reggae song “Cherry Oh Baby,” covered by the Rolling Stones and UB40, for starters.
Jason Derulo released “Cheyenne” in 2015, but the name’s peak popularity was in the mid-1990s. That means, of course, that the beautiful woman haunting Derulo in the video could easily have answered to this name.
Mother Love Bone was one of the first groups to emerge from Seattle’s music scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The tragic death of frontman Andrew Wood ended the band, but not before their first album was recorded. “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” is about Wood’s real life girlfriend, Xana, but also his struggles with addiction. The song appears on the soundtrack for 1992 hit movie Singles, boosting its profile – and possibly pushing this name higher on the popularity charts, too.
“Oh My Darling, Clementine” is a traditional folk song, but plenty of pop and rock stars have recorded it, too. Bobby Darin added lyrics for his 1960 version; so did Irish pop group Westlife and legendary singer-songwriter Neil Young. But there’s also “Clementine,” a completely unrelated song from surf rockers Sun Room – and yet another from Halsey.
Weezer’s “Cleopatra” was released in 2014, followed quickly by The Lumineers’ 2016 song by the same name, both referencing the legendary Egyptian queen. But way back in 1998, British R&B trio Cleopatra released a single titled “Cleopatra’s Theme.” In this case, the lead singer’s name really is Cleopatra “Cleo” Higgins.
Elton John’s “Daniel” was recorded in 1973. It’s a somber song. John’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, was inspired by stories of veterans returning from the Vietnam War. But it’s uplifting, too, thanks to the refrain “Daniel, you’re a star.” The singer gave the name Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John to his younger son with husband David Furnish. (Brother Zachary has a middle inspired by dad’s songs, too – Levon.)
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons scored a hit with “Dawn (Go Away)” in 1964. it wasn’t the first song with dawn in the title, but most of those lyrics were about the beginning of a new day. This was clearly directed at a woman: “pretty as a mid-summers morn.” The name was already in the US Top 100 when the single was released, but it surged in use for the next few years.
The backstory to “Delia’s Gone” is dark and tragic, the story of a murder. (Turns out there’s an entire genre called murder ballads.) It’s no lullaby, but the song is a standard, recorded by many. Johnny Cash first put it on an album in 1962, but the 1994 recording is better known.
The Plain White T’s weren’t the first to use Delilah in a song title. Tom Jones and Queen both did so long before. But it’s 2005’s “Hey There Delilah” that instantly comes to mind. Plain White T’s frontman Tom Higgenson penned the ballad for a real life Delilah.
One Direction’s 1980s-throwback “Diana” was released in 2013.
John Mellencamp scored a hit with “Jack & Diane” in 1982. Material Issue released “Diane” in 1990. And Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young” followed in 2013.
A few songs use Donna in the title. 1960s-inspired Broadway musical Hair is one. DeBarge’s 1980s ballad “Who’s Holding Donna Now” also comes to mind. But it’s Ritchie Valens’ “Donna” that is probably most famous. The “La Bamba” singer perished in the tragic plane crash with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper in 1959. His story has been retold countless times, including a 1987 film titled La Bamba.
Taylor Swift has plenty of names in her song titles. This one is from her 2020 album Evermore.
“Come On Eileen” is the kind of rousing anthem that defined the 1980s. Dexys Midnight Runners scored their only US hit with this 1982 single. And yes, there was a real Eileen, the first girlfriend of the band’s frontman, Kevin Rowland.
The Beatles titled many of their songs with names, including 1966’s “Eleanor Rigby.” It’s said Paul McCartney took the first name from actress Eleanor Bron, who appeared in the band’s 1965 movie Help! The dark lyrics about “all the lonely people” are softened by a soaring string section. McCartney and John Lennon quibbled about who wrote more of the song, but McCartney won the 1966 Grammy for his vocal performance. Fun fact: Eleanor Rigby was named Daisy Hawkins in the first version of the lyrics. Plenty of other song titles use Eleanor, including Franz Ferdinand’s 2005 “Eleanor Put Your Boots On.”
This is the first – and only – mention of Beethoven on the list of baby names from song titles. Credit to “Für Elise,” also known as Bagatelle No. 25. The composer died in 1827; this wasn’t discovered for forty more years. The identity of Elise has been debated by scholars ever since. But it’s The Cure’s “A Letter to Elise” from their 1992 album Wish that really earns the name a place here.
If Beethoven gets a mention, why not Mozart, too? In his lifetime, Mozart would’ve called it “Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major.” But the piece was used for a 1967 movie about a tightrope walker named Elvira Madigan – and ever since, we’ve called it “Elvira Madigan” instead. On a very different note, American country quarter The Oak Ridge Boys scored a surprise country-pop crossover hit in 1981. It was actually written – and first recorded – in the 1960s. And while it sounds like it’s about a woman, the song was inspired by a street name in Nashville.
Pink Floyd and Bowling for Soup have both used the name Emily for a song title. So did Simon and Garfunkel, in 1966’s romantic “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.”
Emma is a former #1 name in the US, but Bon Iver’s “For Emma” was never released as a single. But the album it appears on, For Emma, Forever Ago did launch Bon Iver’s career.
This sweet, quirky name comes from a Welsh word meaning life, and was first famous as character in Arthurian legend. Fast forward to 1992 and the Barenaked Ladies wrote this song after spotting it on their server’s name tag in a restaurant. Now it’s the name of Wednesday’s roommate in the Netflix hit series, so maybe this rarity will make a comeback.
Matthew Sweet’s 1991 “Evangeline” was inspired by a character from a comic books series. Los Lobos and Randy Houser have both used the name for a song title, too. And, of course, it’s a romantic song in Disney’s 2009 The Princess and the Frog – sung by a firefly to the moon.
ABBA scored an international hit with “Fernando” in 1976.
Most songs with Georgia in the title are about the place. But “Sweet Georgia Brown,” first written in the 1920s, makes it a girl’s name. It’s been covered by everyone, from the Beatles to Broadway, but the most famous version is an instrumental, used by the Harlem Globetrotters as their signature song. A bonus for One Direction fans: in “Best Song Ever,” there’s a lyric that goes “said her name was Georgia Rose.”
The 1980s were good to Gloria. First came U2’s “Gloria” in 1981 – though it’s about faith, not love. In 1982, Laura Branigan borrowed an Italian pop hit and reinvented it as a global chart-topper, also titled “Gloria.” That’s clearly about a person: “you’re always on the run now.” Most recently, The Lumineers recorded a 2019 track titled “Gloria,” inspired by a relative of one of the band members.
From the Misfits to My Chemical Romance to Foster the People, there’s more than one track titled “Helena.” The MCR track was inspired by frontman Gerard Way’s grandmother, Elena.
More than one song includes the name Henry, but most of us have probably heard Herman’s Hermit’s 1965 smash hit “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am.” They didn’t write it; it was 1910 song made famous by a music hall star named Harry Champion. Believe it or not, the novelty song knocked the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” out of the #1 spot in the US.
Neil Diamond scored a Top Ten hit with “Holly Holy” in 1969. A new generation discovered it thanks to Netflix series Midnight Mass. Of course, Holly’s status as a Christmas name puts it in the titles of many a seasonal song – and the lyrics of even more. There’s also Yellowcard’s “Rough Landing, Holly” from 2005.
“Goodnight Irene” is a traditional folk song. Lead Belly’s 1950 song is famous, but it’s been covered by Tom Waits and Pete Seeger, Eric Clapton and Little Richard, Nat King Cole and Jerry Garcia – to name just a few.
The Goo Goo Dolls were tasked with writing the theme song for 1998 Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan movie City of Angels. They titled their song “Iris” … but Meg Ryan’s character was named Maggie. City of Angels was loosely based on a German movie, where the Maggie equivalent was called Marion. So where did Iris come from? Apparently, lead singer Johnny Rzeznik spotted it in a profile of country singer Iris DeMent. The song struck a nerve, and continues to inspire parents decades after its release.
There’s John Mellencamp’s little ditty ’bout “Jack & Diane,” a hit from 1982. A decade earlier, Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” appeared on 1973 album Piano Man. The Who’s “Happy Jack” was recorded in 1966. Not long before that, Ray Charles recorded “Hit the Road Jack.” Pick your decade, and this name appears in a lyric or three.
Both the Eagles and The Wrecks have songs about James Dean. There’s the instantly familiar “James Bond Theme.” But the song that probably comes to mind for many is James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” from 1970. It was written for the singer’s nephew, who is named in his honor.
Recorded in 1978, Van Halen’s “Jamie’s Cryin'” was never released as a single, but became a favorite anyway.
1970’s “Sweet Jane” from The Velvet Underground is a staple. Jane’s Addiction took their name from a real-life person, as did their 1988 song “Jane Says.” (Yes, there was a real Sergio, too.) In 1989, Aerosmith released “Janie’s Got a Gun.” Plenty more have used the classic name, including Janelle Monáe’s “Django Jane” from 2018.
When Donovan released “Jennifer Juniper” in 1968, Jennifer had not reached the top spot for girls’ names in the US. (Though it was already in the Top Ten.) He borrowed the name from a real-life person, a model named Jenny Boyd. By the time Tommy Tutone released “Jenny (867-5309),” the name was everywhere. The song was a huge hit in 1982, causing chaos for anyone who really had the phone number 867-5309.
Possibly one of the most famous instrumental songs of all time, The Allman Brothers released “Jessica” in 1973. It’s named for guitarist Dickey Betts’ daughter, born a year earlier. The already-rising name leapt in use over the new few years, reaching the US Top Ten in 1976. (And at least one reader has said that she was named for the song.)
Pearl Jam’s 1991 “Jeremy” is based on a real life tragedy. The video recorded for the single went on to win four MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year.
Kool & the Gang is best known today for “Celebration,” but they also hit the #2 spot in the US and the UK in 1983 with “Joanna.”
Lady Gaga’s 2016 song “Joanne” was written about her late aunt.
Dozens of songs include the name Joe, but perhaps the most enduring is Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” from 1966.
Like Joe, it’s tough to list just one song with Johnny in the title. But “Johnny B. Goode,”the 1958 Chuck Berry single might be the most memorable.
Dolly Parton’s 1974 “Jolene” was inspired by a child who asked for an autograph. But the song tells the story of a homewrecking Jolene, as Dolly begs her “please don’t take my man.”
Like many a word name, especially those with seasonal ties, Joy appears in more than one song. It makes this list because long-time reader Joy mentioned Three Dog Night’s enduring “Joy to the World.” It’s surely inspired more than one parent to consider this upbeat, straightforward name for a daughter.
Chances are you know the story: Paul McCartney penned “Hey Jules” to console John Lennon’s young son, Julian, during his parents’ divorce. The song title morphed into “Hey Jude,” and the rest in history. The song hit #1 in the UK and the US in 1968, and remains beloved all these years later. It’s often cited by parents naming their sons Jude – even though the parents themselves weren’t born when the song was first released.
In 1963, Lesley Gore’s hit single “It’s My Party” told the story of Johnny dumping her for Judy. She followed it up with “Judy’s Turn to Cry” later that year, continuing the sage. In 1968, a very different kind of song used the name in the title: John Fred & His Playboy Band recorded “Judy in Disguise with Glasses.” The title was inspired by the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” While the offbeat hit wasn’t quite as successful as “Lucy,” it did hit #1 in the US. There’s also the Ramones’ 1976 “Judy Is a Punk.” And for something even more obscure, there’s Harbour’s “Judy You Hung the Moon.” It sounds very 1960s, but is actually from 2017.
Julia from the Beatles’ “White Album” was inspired by John Lennon’s late mother.
In 1980, Dire Straits recorded “Romeo and Juliet,” inspired by a mix of frontman Mark Knopfler’s real life struggles and Shakespeare’s romance. The 2007 single “Check Yes Juliet” from We The Kings is also about romance, but less clearly connected to the tragedy. After all, the name was changing from literary rarity to favorite choice around the time We The Kings recorded the song. In fact, Juliet leapt nearly 200 spots on the popularity charts between 2007 and 2009.
Paul Simon’s 1972 “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” drew inspiration from Simon’s childhood in Queens, New York.
Donovan’s single “Jennifer Juniper” came in 1968, right as Jennifer was peaking. But it was more than a generation before Juniper would catch on.
Class Kate has appeared in more than one song. There’s “Kiss Me, Kate” from the same-named Broadway musical in 1948. The Cole Porter score is inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. But there’s also 1997’s “Kate” from Ben Folds Five.
R.E.M.’s first – and only – entry on this list is thanks to 1994’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” The song was inspired by a real life event. In 1986, CBS new anchor Dan Rather was attacked by a man on a New York City street. Rather’s attack kept shouting this phrase.
When Ray Peterson recorded “Tell Laura I Love Her” in 1960, it was reached the US Top Ten, but was banned in the UK. The lyrics are a farewell from a young race car driver to his beloved after he crashes in a race. 1983’s “Think of Laura” from Christopher Cross was also a hit – and also about a tragedy, this time a real life accidental shooting of a friend of Cross’ girlfriend. Despite all that darkness, this classic name was a Top 100 favorite from the 1940s, right into the earliest years of the twenty-first century.
Derek & the Dominos scored a hit with “Layla” in 1971. Eric Clapton was inspired by two things: the woman he was dating (while she was still married to someone else) and an epic Persian poem about love. The poem as we know it was written in the twelfth century by Nizami Ganjavi, but the story stretches back centuries earlier. As a given name, Layla entered the US popularity charts in 1972, but it didn’t really catch on. Instead, in 1992 Eric Clapton performed a slowed-down, acoustic ballad version of “Layla” for MTV Unplugged. The name soared – and continues to be powerfully popular today.
Donnie Iris recorded “Ah! Leah!” in 1980. He would later say that they came up with the sound first, and only realized it was a girl’s name after they’d started writing.
Blessid Union of Souls’ 1999 single “Hey Leonardo” is known for a rousing chorus of “She Likes Me for Me.” But it names checks at least a dozen 1990s celebs, from Tyson Beckford and Cindy Crawford to, as the title suggests, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” is a 1973 song about “the baddest man” in Chicago. Leroy had been a Top 100 name in the US, from the 1880s into the 1940s. So while it was an appropriate name for an adult character – bad or otherwise – Croce’s hit had no impact on parents naming their sons.
An enduring 1971 song from Elton John, “Levon” was “born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas Day.” It’s said that John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin didn’t have any person or particular story behind the name. Years later, though, Elton John named his first son with partner David Furnish Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John. And yes, Zachary was born on Christmas Day 2010.
The biggest hit to use the name has to be The Who’s “Pictures of Lily,” recorded in 1967. (Even so, it’s far from the band’s biggest hit.) It’s about a boy in love with pictures of a long-dead movie star. (At least, that’s the G-rated synopsis.)
“Whatever Lola Wants” is a song from 1955 musical Damn Yankees. But the song that comes to mind is inevitably The Kinks’ “Lola,” complete with spelling the name out L-O-L-A, Lola and rhyming it with cherry cola. It was a hit in 1970, but the name was falling out of use then. It wasn’t until the early twenty-first century that Lola began to climb once more.
The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” is an unmistakable hit, even if the only lyrics many recognize is the twice-repeated name. A 1963 cover of a 1955 song, “Louie Louie” raced up the charts and triggered an FBI investigation into the possibly obscene (though indecipherable) lyrics. But that’s in the past. Today it’s almost a point in favor of using a Lou- name.
Little Richard’s song “Lucille” started out as a ballad, but changed dramatically before it was released in 1957. It was about a woman who leaves her man. Twenty years later, Kenny Rogers also sang his “Lucille” about a woman who “picked a fine time to leave me.”
A handful of songs use the name Lucy, but none rivals the Beatles’ 1967 “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Rumors abound as to the song’s hidden meaning. But there really was a Lucy, a school friend of John Lennon’s son Julian. A picture Julian drew of his friend inspired the lyric. Years later, in 2009, Julian Lennon recorded another song, titled simply “Lucy.”
Suzanne Vega’s surprise 1987 hit “Luka” is about a frightened child, one suffering from abuse. The video drove home the story.
Mack rhymes with the wildly popular Jack, but isn’t nearly as common. In the Middle Ages, Mack might’ve shorten for Magnus. Today, it’s most likely short for one of many Irish or Scottish surnames beginning with the sound. The latter applies in Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife,” a 1959 hit for the singer. He updated a song from the musical “The Threepenny Opera.” The character’s full name is Macheath, the most notorious criminal in London.
More than one song title includes the name Maggie, but the most famous is Rod Stewart’s 1961 “Maggie May.” Fun fact: the name Maggie appears in the song, but not Maggie May. Instead, Stewart borrowed the name from an old folk song.
Soft rock superstar Barry Manilow’s first-even hit was 1974’s lament “Mandy.” It started out as a hit in the UK for fellow singer-songwriter Scott English, titled “Brandy.” Manilow changed the BR to an M in order to avoid confusion with that other song with Brandy in the title. Mandy is most often a nickname for Amanda; given how dramatically Amanda climbed in use during the 1970s.
First came “Ave Maria.” Then there’s West Side Story and The Sound of Music. But even beyond Broadway, there’s RB Greaves “Take a Letter Maria” from 1969; Blondie’s “Maria”; a Travis Scott-Justin Bieber collaboration; and a Rage Against the Machine track, too.
This bold botanical is more often associated with Downton Abbey, but it’s also the name of a later Nirvana song, with Dave Grohl singing. (Shades of the Foo Fighters.) While they lyrics aren’t expressly about Marigold as a given name, the name’s recent popularity makes the case for adding Marigold to this list.
Taylor Swift’s 2020 album Evermore included “Marjorie,” written for her maternal grandmother. Marjorie Finlay was a professional opera singer and television host.
The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear” sounds like a sweet love song, but Paul McCartney took the name from his sheepdog. The Smashing Pumpkins, The Allman Brothers Band, and others have also used the traditional girls’ name in titles. So did Rufus Wainwright, but he was singing about his sister, fellow singer Martha Wainwright.
Let’s just list them. There’s 1967’s “And the Wind Cries Mary” from Jimi Hendrix. “Along Comes Mary” was a hit for The Association in 1966. The Monkees recorded “Mary Mary” in 1967 and Run DMC re-invented it in 1988. “Proud Mary” was a 1967 Creedence Clearwater Revival song, but Tina Turner’s cover might be more famous. And that’s a few of the songs featuring this enduring name.
Just like Mary and Maria, more than one song title includes Mary Jane. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers arguably had the biggest hit with 1993’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
If the name Matilda makes you think of the Roald Dahl story, then you’re on the right track. Harry Styles wrote this story about a real life friend struggling with her family and home life … but to protect her privacy, borrowed the name of Dahl’s character instead. Pink Floyd also used the name for a song.
From a 2006 John Legend song. “Maxine” wasn’t a hit – it wasn’t even a single – but it’s still worth a mention. Some years earlier, The Traveling Wilburys also recorded a song titled “Maxine.”
Upbeat but violent, the Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is catchy … and more than a little bit dark, too.
The Allman Brothers Band recorded “Melissa” in 1972. It’s said that Gregg Allman wrote most of the song, but couldn’t figure out the right name, until he heard a mother calling after her daughter in a grocery store.
Romantic 1965 Beatles’s song “Michelle” helped push the French feminine name to the very top of the popularity charts. Years later, all of those Michelles were grown up – including a friend of the band Guns N’ Roses. “My Michelle” became a hit in 1987.
Yes, there’s Mickey Mouse. But musically speaking, “Mickey” is the chart-topping 1981 hit from Toni Basil. Basil is more famous as a choreographer; her cheerleading-themed video help propel this single up the pop charts.
Including Millie on the list of baby names from song titles feels obvious, except Thoroughly Modern Millie is all-but-forgotten today. Julie Andrews starred as Millie, a fresh-faced young woman newly arrived in 1920s New York City, determined to launch her career … until she finds a wealthy husband. A series of madcap escapades follow, and all live happily ever after. The film hasn’t exactly aged well, but it inspired a successful Broadway musical in 2002. And that 1920s name has, indeed, enjoyed a thoroughly modern revival a century later.
Sure, there’s the Mouse – and she sings quite a bit. But “Minnie the Moocher” was a 1931 hit for Cab Calloway, a famous band leader and jazz composer. The lyrics would’ve been scandalous in the 1930s – all about risque dances and opium – but because Calloway’s slang was unfamiliar to most, the song became a sensation. It inspired the 1932 Betty Boop short by the same name. And in 1999, “Minnie the Moocher” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” was a 1958 hit. It’s been covered time and time again, and a 1966 Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels version was also popular. It’s instantly familiar to many, all these years later. There’s also John Denver’s 1970 song “Molly.” Sponge’s 1995 “Molly (Sixteen Candles Down the Drain)” is, at least in part, an ode to actress Molly Ringwald, star of many an enduring 1980s teen movie. There’s also Tyga’s 2013 Molly, except by then, the name was also slang for the drug MDMA.
Nat King Cole’s #1 1950 hit “Mona Lisa” is about the Leonardo da Vinci painting – and a real girl, too. Elton John’s “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters” appears on 1972 album “Honky Chateau,” but it’s not clear what the song is about. And Panic! At the Disco recorded “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” in 2011.
Know your British history? Elvis Costello’s 1979 single “Oliver’s Army” refers to Olver Cromwell, a military leader during the seventeenth century English Civil War. But it was inspired by Costello’s first visit to Belfast and seeing British soldiers in the streets.
One Direction recorded “Olivia” in 2015; Harry Styles insists it’s not necessarily about a woman – though the lyrics suggest otherwise. Some years later, Styles famously dated actress-filmmaker Olivia Wilde – but that was long after the song was written.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet makes Ophelia a tragic figure. Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant, and The Band have all used the name for songs; at least the first two are clearly inspired by the literary figure. So is The Lumineers’ 2016 track “Ophelia.” It’s the last one that has helped propel the name into wider use in recent years.
1957 hit “Peggy Sue” from the legendary Buddy Holly inspired a 1959 sequel, “Peggy Sue Got Married.” (And that, in turn, inspired a 1986 movie by the same name, starring Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage.) Holly originally titled the song “Cindy Lou,” after his niece. But Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison, asked to change it to Peggy Sue, for his girlfriend – and later wife. For years, the name Peggy Sue appeared in lyrics to other pop songs, including the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.”
As in Penny Lane. Sticklers may insist that The Beatles’ 1967 hit “Penny Lane” is about a street in Liverpool. And that was the inspiration for the soaring single. But given the popularity of Penelope, chances are that plenty of girls consider Penny Lane their song. And in 2000, a young Kate Hudson played Penny Lane in Almost Famous, earning an Oscar nomination for her work. That means that this generation has considered Penny Lane a given name for years.
Nirvana’s 1991 album “Nevermind” was a massive, genre-defining hit. The track “Polly” was never released as a single, but given the sheer number of albums sold, chances are that you’ve heard this song. It’s about a real-life tragedy, a kidnapping victim – who managed to escape her captor. The girl’s name was never released. Again, it’s a dark topic for a song, and perhaps one unlikely to inspire parents. Polly has not charted in the US Top 1000 since the 1970s.
The Beatles recorded “Dear Prudence” in 1968. Once again, there was a real live inspiration for the song. Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence, met the Fab Four on a spiritual retreat in India. Prudence was focused on enlightenment, not socializing. The song was written by John Lennon to draw her out. In 1983, Siouxie and the Banshees covered it, and scored a Top Ten hit in the UK.
Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon, released in 1975, is one of the most famous baby names from pop songs of all time. Stevie Nicks took inspiration from Triad, a book by Mary Leader. The supernatural tale also drew from traditional Welsh stories about the goddess Rhiannon. The name shot into the US Top 1000 in 1976.
The Beach Boys’ 1965 “Help Me, Rhonda” was a #1 hit in the US. The name was already in the US Top 100, but climbed even more following the song’s release.
The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita,” a 1967 song about a meter maid, is a quirky song written by Paul McCartney for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
It’s hard to listen to Taylor Swift’s “Ronan” without tearing up. The song is a tribute to a little boy who passed away from cancer. Swift was inspired by a blog kept by Ronan’s mom during his illness. It was released as a benefit for cancer charities. On a list packed with love songs, this is a reminder that baby names from song titles can be deeply, powerfully moving.
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is a 1973 Bruce Springsteen song from second album The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. It was his next album – Born to Run – that made Springsteen a mega-star. But “Rosalita” eventually became a favorite thanks to live performances. The name, however, has never caught on.
Toto’s 1982 hit “Rosanna” borrowed its name from actress Rosanna Arquette. At the time, she was dating one of the band members.
In 1970, British band Edison Lighthouse scored a hit with “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes).” A favorite from the 1920s into the 1940s, the song couldn’t revive Rosemary. But it’s a catchy song today, now that vintage, lovely Rosemary is back in favor.
At least half a dozen songs use Rosie in the title. But it’s Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” that might be the most famous. It hit #1 in the US in 1970. That said, apparently Diamond was inspired by a bottle of wine – a rosé.
The Police recorded “Roxanne” in 1978. But the Roxanne that really stands out is UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The 1984 hip hop classic ignited the Roxanne Wars – a series of hip hop singles continuing the story. There’s “Roxanne’s Revenge,” from Roxanne Shanté, released later in 1984. At least ten more singles followed over the next year. The baby name Roxanne had been falling in the 1970s; this burst of energy briefly helped buoy the name up, but by 1990, it was trending out of use once more.
Choose your genre and your decade, and there’s a good chance that Ruby has been sung in a famous lyric or three. First came “Ruby Baby,” recorded by the Drifters in 1956, but made famous by Dion in 1962 – and covered by many others over the years. The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” came out in 1967; Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” was a 1969 hit; Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” followed in 1995; and the Kaiser Chiefs hit #1 in the UK with 2007’s “Ruby.”
Wilson Pickett’s 1963 “Mustang Sally” is a classic. But so is Eric Clapton’s 1977 “Lay Down Sally.” And “Long Tall Sally,” recorded by Little Richard in 1956 and covered by the Beatles and the Kinks in the following decades, is every bit as enduring.
Songs by Fleetwood Mac (1979) and Starship (1986) were titled just Sara; Hall & Oates released “Sara Smile” in 1975. While Sarah with an H has always been more popular in the US, Sara without an H reigns on the pop music charts. Daryl Hall did, indeed, write the name for a real-life Sara, his girlfriend and collaborator Sara Allen. Years later, Panic! At The Disco recorded “Sarah Smiles,” a different song with a similar title, for lead singer Brendan Urie’s wife Sarah Orzechowski.
Henry Gross scored a 1976 hit with tearful ballad “Shannon.” Except Shannon isn’t a girl. It’s inspiration was a dog – specifically, the Irish Setter that belonged to Beach Boys’ guitarist Carl Wilson. Nevermind the backstory, though – the already popular name spiked in use again after the song’s release.
The Knack’s upbeat single “My Sharona” was released in 1979. Yes, there was a real-life Sharona, who dated the lead singer of The Knack and appeared on an album cover. The name has never been popular in the US, though the song has inspired some families, including 68 in 1980, the year after the song was released.
In 1985, Ready for the World released “Oh Sheila,” and it became a #1 hit. As a given name, the Irish import was already fading during the 1970s and 80s – but since it peaked in the 1960s, chances are plenty of 20-something Sheilas appreciated seeing their name at the top of the popularity charts.
SHERRIE and SHERRY
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons’ 1962 “Sherry” became the band’s first hit. In 1984, Steve Perry left Journey and recorded “Oh Sherrie.” In the first case, the band just liked the way the name sounded in the song. (An earlier version was titled “Terri.”) But Perry took the name from his real-life girlfriend.
Fountains of Wayne’s 2003 single “Stacy’s Mom” remains the band’s biggest hit.
“Stella Blue” is a 1973 song from the Grateful Dead. It’s also that rare song title that would make a compelling first-middle combination for a real daughter now.
In 1957, The Everly Brothers hit #1 in the US with “Wake Up, Little Susie.” A few years earlier, in 1964, Dale Hawkins recorded “Susie Q,” but it wouldn’t became a hit until Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded it in 1968. In between, Dion warned us to keep away from “Runaround Sue” in 1961. And then there’s “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash’s 1969 quirky hit. It was the age of peak-Susan, a Top Ten name from the mid-1940s right through the 1960s.
“Oh! Susanna” is a staple of Americana. Both Journey and Leonard Cohen have written songs titled “Suzanne.” In the latter case, it’s based on a real person.
Fall Out Boy’s 2015 song “Uma Thurman” borrows the name straight from the actress.
This long-standing favorite occurs in more song titles than you might guess. The Monkees spelled it “Valleri” in 1968. One of the song’s writers was inspired by a real-life high school crush; at the time, the Monkees were starring in their hit television series and the producers like the idea of songs with girls’ names in the titles. Steve Winwood scored a hit with a very different “Valerie” in 1982. Again, there was a real-life inspiration, but Winwood has said little about her. British group the Zutons scored a 2006 hit with “Valerie,” but it became an even bigger success in the US when Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse released a 2011 collaboration.
Elvis Costello recorded “Veronica” in 1989. It’s a love song, but a very different kind. As the music video makes clear, Costello’s lyrics are about his aging grandmother, who is strugglign with memory loss. Paul McCartney collaborated on the single; it became Costello’s first real hit in the US.
The Kinks recorded “Victoria” in 1969 for a British television play called Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire). The lyrics are about the long reign of the former British monarch who defined an era. It’s satirical and sharp, a wry commentary on the extremes of the Victorian era, set to a thumping guitar riff.
Like any place name, it’s tough to untangle which songs are about a person from those about the place. Tom Petty’s 2020 “Leave Virgina Alone” is one. It followed the most famous song about Virgina, the name – Train’s 1998 “Meet Virginia.”
Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” became a pop culture staple as the theme song for The Lone Ranger television series. But it makes this list thanks to The Smith’s 1984 “William, It Was Really Nothing.”
What are your favorite baby names from song titles? What’s missing from this list?
First published on April 14, 2020, it was substantially revised and re-posted on February 2, 2023.