Given names pop up an awful lot in popular music. They provide subjects of songs, refer to current or past loves, refer to normal or famous people, or have another use entirely – in Slint’s case, their debut album Tweez has song-titles of various family members of the band – oh, and a dog – simply as they couldn’t think of any other way to title their mostly instrumental songs (or, at least, the lyrics were essentially unimportant). In other cases, ordinary people have been immortalised thanks to their appearance in other people’s songs, such as a certain Marianne (I resisted the temptation to include Leonard Cohen for the third time in the past three months).
/Tuesday Ten/383/Boys Boys Boys/Given Names/Masculine
/382/Girls Girls Girls/Given Names/Feminine
So a couple of weeks ago, while listening to Fiona Apple’s most recent album – and specifically the exceptional track Jonathan – I mused whether I could really make an interesting Tuesday Ten out of given names. Clearly I should never doubt my army of contributors these days, as they really outdid themselves here. It took me a week to record all the suggestions, which across both masculine and feminine given names, totalled no less than 517 – well beyond 50% more than any other set of suggestions I’ve ever solicited.
As a result, I split this post into two, and for this second week, I’m looking at songs featuring or about masculine given names. There were 203 such songs suggested, with eight of those featuring more than one name. There were 122 unique names or variations of names, and 173 unique songs by 135 different artists. Said songs were suggested by eighty people – and the name John had the most unique songs (eight). Needless to say, this meant that some thought had to go into the song selection, and once again most of them feature the name of someone I know. However, this does not include my name, as the options (terrible Marilyn Manson or Blink 182 songs) were not worth bothering with!
Much like last week, what was interesting was that a number of people went for notable people (be that in music or politics, or whatever). As I noted last week, I’ve already done Notable People in Song (/Tuesday Ten/268), and that very much wasn’t the point of this post. I wanted songs named after normal, everyday people (or fictional constructs of people). That one of them turned out to be about another notable person was again, entirely coincidental.
Anyway, thanks to everyone that did suggest songs, and I’ve added some origin information to the names used in the post, as well as where possible, I’ve noted how popular the name was for babies in the year of release in the UK, and in the last recorded period (2018), by using this really useful data source. I may have got some of this wrong, and I’m open to corrections.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Geoffrey is a French and English masculine given name. It is the Anglo-Norman form of the Germanic compound *gudą ‘god’ and *friþuz ‘peace’. It is a cognate of Dutch Godfried and German Gottfried.
It was introduced to Norman England alongside the form Godfrey. It was also Anglicised as Jeffrey from an early time. Popularity of the name declined after the medieval period, but it was revived in the 20th century. Modern hypocorisms include Geoff, Jeff, or ned. [Wiki]
/1999 (UK) 1082nd
/2018 (UK) 1533rd
I know a few Geoffs (and a few Jeffs, too, one of whom is my father-in-law), but this song is perhaps unique here in that I’ve actually met the subject of it, at one of the artist’s occasional live shows. Seeing as the song is twenty years old (at least by release), he’s clearly a long-time friend of the Brel-esque singer, and the song is a humourous, slightly absurd song where Jeays fantasises about taking over his (apparently better) life, starting with his house, followed by his car and his wife (!). I’ve often wondered quite what Geoff thought of this song when he first heard it, anyway. It was pointed out, too, that I wasn’t short of choice with Jeays’ songs when it came to names (the fabulous, seething jealousy of Ed is at the Ritz was a close second to being featured here).
/The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
/Jonathan (Hebrew: יְהוֹנָתָן/יוֹנָתָן, Standard Yonatan / Yəhonatan Tiberian Yônāṯān) is a common male given name meaning “YHWH has given” in Hebrew. The earliest known use of the name was in the Bible, one Jonathan was the son of King Saul, a close friend of David.
Variants of Jonathan include Jonathon, Johnathan, Jonothon, Jonothan, Johnathen, Johnathon, Jhonathan, Jonatan and Jhonnathan. Biblical variants include Yehonathan, Y’honathan, Yhonathan, Yonathan, Yonatan, Yonaton, Yonoson, Yeonoson or Yehonasan. In Israel, “Yoni” is a common nickname for Yonatan (Jonathan) in the same way Jonny is in English. [Wiki]
/2012 (UK) 170th
/2018 (UK) 238th
See, I was genuinely trying to avoid songs about notable or famous people, but seeing as this song was the one that inspired this two-part post, of course I’m including it. That, and I make the rules here, so I can break them, too. Oh, and that this is a fantastic song from an album I’m still listening to regularly some seven years on from release.
Oh yes, I’m a solid Fiona Apple fan. Many of her songs are little curios that demand closer listening, closer examination to discover the details within, and this last album – with it’s entirely acoustic-and-found-sound production – is an utter joy on that front. This song, anchored by piano but with a whole host of odd goings-on in the background, is a song about her ex-boyfriend (the writer Jonathan Ames), and for a kiss-off to an ex-partner, is actually a surprisingly warm-hearted song about someone who she clearly parted with on relatively good terms.
The continual popularity of this name means that I know an awful lot of people with variants of this name – at least twenty, maybe more.
/Me and Bobby McGee
/Bobby or Bobbie is a masculine and feminine hypocorism, given name and occasional nickname. It is usually a variant of Robert (male) or Roberta (female). It can also be short for the male name Roberto. The female version is also sometimes spelled “Bobbi” or “Bobi”.
“Bobby” is a diminutive of “Bob”, itself a diminutive which most likely originated from the hypocorism Rob, short for Robert. Rhyming names were popular in the Middle Ages, so Richard became Rick, Hick, or Dick, William became Will or Bill, and Robert became Rob, Hob, Dob, Nob, or Bob. [Wiki]
/1970s (UK) 14th
/2018 (UK) 73rd
One of a few names that I’ve featured in these posts to be used as both a masculine and feminine name, interestingly this song has flipped between being about either gender dependent on who was singing it. I’ve opted for the outstanding, probably definitive take by Janis Joplin, who had sadly died by the time this was released – one of the early members of the so-called “27 Club”. Her life, even by that point, had been tragic, difficult and drug-ridden, and like so many troubled stars, it’s hard to see how she could have lived much longer regardless (particularly based on her reported heroin intake). Her voice, was something else, and owns this song as she recounts a tale of love and lost love across America.
In terms of this name (in the masculine sense), I know two Bobbys, four Bobs, four Robs and three Roberts, at least…
/Paul is a common masculine given name in countries and ethnicities with a Christian heritage (Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism) and, beyond Europe, in Christian religious communities throughout the world. Paul – or its variations – can be a given name or surname. [Wiki]
/1980s (UK) 9th
/2018 (UK) 343rd
It has long been reckoned that the original Pixies output (between 1987 and about 1991) is a couple of songs away from being pretty much flawless – something that the post-reunion material could never lay claim to (although that said, the new album is a whole lot more satisfying and at least sounds like it could be the old band). One of the missing elements now, of course, is Kim Deal, who stars on this song, a highlight in even their star-studded catalogue. Said Paul is a lover in the song, and it would appear that said character is, to the narrator, larger than most.
Another popular name, it’s also popular among my friends and family – I know at least eighteen people with the name.
/The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
/Peter is a common masculine given name. It is derived from Greek Πέτρος, Petros (meaning “stone, rock”, via Greek petra) [Wiki]
/1990s (UK) 54th
/2018 (UK) 196th
One of the later, great XTC songs, it was arguably their US breakthrough, even if their time in the mainstream had rather passed in the UK by 1992. When you listen to it – those huge drums, the harmonica, the massive chorus – it’s certainly not surprising, either, and it’s a remarkably cynical song under the surface. An imagined “near-perfect” character, he does exactly what everyone wants, and needless to say makes “too many enemies” serious enough to depose him, and return everything to the status quo. It’s tempting to wish that we had someone similar to rule politics right now, but going on the past few years, perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.
Yet another popular name among my friends, I know at least ten Peters, and four more Petes.
/Jack in Titanic
/Jack is a unisex given name. Since the late 20th century, Jack has become one of the most common names for boys in many English-speaking countries. While Jack is now a proper name in its own right, in English, it was traditionally used as a diminutive form of John. It can also be used as a diminutive for: Jacob, Jason, Jonathan, Jan, Johann, Johannes, Joachim and sometimes for James, from its French form Jacques. It is also used as a female given name (often a shortened version of Jacqueline or Jackie) and as a surname to a lesser extent. [Wiki]
/2018 (UK) 5th
I was a big fan of this album when it came out – and still am – a smart, snappy post-punk indie-dance album that is very much a product of it’s time (2018) and location (Brooklyn, New York), dealing with issues of our time around living in cities like New York (and indeed my home of London). Here, Ben Hozie considers himself up against the titular character, seeing that character as a benchmark for his own accomplishments in life (which I’m not totally sure is an appropriate life goal, but each to their own I guess).
An exceptionally popular given name in the UK, I know six people with the masculine form of Jack, which is perhaps less than I might have thought.
/The Best of Fad Gadget
/Ricky is a male given name in English and Spanish-speaking countries, often a diminutive form (hypocorism) of Richard, Frederick, Derrick, Roderick, Patrick, Ricardo or Eric. [Wiki]
/1980s (UK) 75th
/2018 (UK) 1235th
Just the second single from the industrial-quasi-pop oddity that was Fad Gadget, it helped to solidify both his sound and fanbase swiftly, as it became obvious that this was a sardonic, clever artist who was doing something rather different to others. The thumping pulse of this song is accompanied by an electric drill and odd synth noises, while the vocals preoccupy themselves with the titular character. Said character drives while drunk, crashes the car, and ends up severing their hand…
A name that has very much fallen out of fashion these days (although the root form Richard remains popular), I know five people with the variant Rick, and another fifteen Richards.
/Henry is an English male given name and Irish surname derived from Old French Henri/Henry, itself derived from the Old Frankish name Heimeric/Ermerijc, from Common Germanic *Haimarīks (from *haima- “home” and *rīk- “ruler”). In Old High German, the name was conflated with the name Haginrich (from hagin “enclosure” and rich “ruler”) to form Heinrich. [Wiki]
/1996 (UK) 58th
/2018 (UK) 13th
The other swooning duet on Murder Ballads – the other being Where The Wild Roses Grow, which has previously featured on /252/Inappropriate Wedding Songs, and was indeed the first dance at my wedding – this one sizzles in a very different way. Here, the male character is the victim, in a song adapted from old Scottish folk standard Young Hunting. Said Henry Lee scorns a young woman for someone “he loves more”, and then is lured to his death by the furious scorned woman. In the Nick Cave version, Polly Harvey takes on the role of the unnamed female protagonist, and swoons and seethes her way through the song, eventually seeing Henry Lee die down a deep, deep well.
The most popular name for a British Monarch alongside Edward (both have had eight uses), Henry has remained in common use for as long as records hold in Britain, and interestingly has become more popular than ever in recent years as a given name. That said, I don’t know anyone with the name that I can think of…
/What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
/Kenneth is an English given name and surname. The name is an Anglicised form of two entirely different Gaelic personal names: Cainnech and Cináed. The modern Gaelic form of Cainnech is Coinneach; the name was derived from a byname meaning “handsome”, “comely”. The name Cinaed is partly derived from the Celtic *aidhu, meaning “fire”. A short form of Kenneth is Ken or Kenn. A pet form of Kenneth is Kenny. [Wiki]
/1994 (UK) 345th
/2018 (UK) 1324th
A song I’ve long been curious around what on earth it really means, and the song wiki delivers – in effect it’s a song about the generational divide, trying to understand what the fuck younger people are doing. That divide kinda applied to this song, too, as it was the first song released from the band’s rather divisive album Monster in 1994 – where the band went with the times and turned up the guitars and distortion, which some people loved, and others fucking hated. I must confess it took me a while to love parts of it, and I still don’t love some of the songs on it twenty-five years on…
Not an especially common name in this part of Great Britain, I know one Kenneth and one Kenny, both of whom are unsurprisingly not English – but the two Kens that I know are English…
/50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
/Still Crazy After All These Years
For the final song on this two-part post, I’ve decided to include one of the many songs suggested that actually features more than one name. Although it doesn’t detail fifty ways (only covering five in the chorus), and it only features five names, too (Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus and Lee), but it is a humourous way of Paul Simon dealing with his, at the time, recent divorce. Humour, sometimes the best way of dealing with tribulations in life.
Thanks again to everyone who offered that record number of song suggestions that has taken me weeks to sift through and select twenty songs from. More next week when I’m back to wrapping up the best tracks of September.