I did a quick tally to see how many of my own Area Resident songs have a person’s name in the title. The answer is three: Louise, You Can’t Hold Rick Danko Down and Pray For Wendell. I have 77 songs, so that’s nearly four percent of my songs (3.9%).
If you look at the Billboard Hot 100 from 1960 to 2014 — as Slate did — the percentage of hits with a name in the title is about the same (3.6%). Again, according to Slate, there were 700 of them among the 19,000 songs they looked at. So, as someone who twice had to choose a baby name — and countless pets — I wondered what the most popular ones were.
As in life, the most popular name was John and its variants — John, Jon, Johnny. No surprise. Just off the top of my head I can think of several examples, even non-hits. Johnny Smoke by The Butthole Surfers, for example. Dear John by Elton John. John I’m Only Dancing by David Bowie.
But female names are slightly more common in song titles — around 52%. I say “around” because sometimes we don’t really know for sure, and sometimes names are non-binary or ambiguous. Elton John’s Nikita, for example — it can be either a male or female name. Lola by The Kinks is about a transvestite and Martha My Dear by The Beatles is about Paul McCartney’s English sheepdog.
The most popular female name in song titles is Mary. You may have guessed this. Mary, Mary by The Monkees, Mary-Ann With The Shaky Hands by The Who, Cross-eyed Mary by Jethro Tull, to name a few. But, this also includes Mary and Maria derivatives — Mariana, Marlene, Marie, for example.
After Mary, the next common female name seems to be Susan, which is what my parents were prepared to call me, had I been born a girl. Off the top of my head there’s Wake Up Little Susie by The Everley Brothers, A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash and Suzy Creamcheese by The Mothers Of Invention.
Then there’s Jennifer or Jenny. I already have the Tommy Tutone song in my head. And then Angela, which includes Angie (The Rolling Stones) and Angel (so damn many).
When you look at just a list of the most common song titles of all time, you won’t find any in at least the first 50 which have a given name in the title, unless you include Amazing Grace. What are those song titles? Well, apart from things like intro, outro, overture, bonus and interlude — the most common song titles are Home, Time, Hold On, Summertime and Tonight. There aren’t many songs with my name in the title — just one, I think — but we did name both my daughters after songs — Lucy Sky and Ruby Tuesday.
This week’s playlist has a human name-in-the-title song for every letter of the alphabet. I spared both my girls from including them in it. They’re pretty tired of people singing their name to them, like nobody’s ever done that before.
Could be worse. They could have been called Karen.
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.