Celebrity Names Blog

Pee-wee's Big Adventure in Names

Pee-wee's Big Adventure in Names
Diane Cohen/Fame Pictures

Last week, we discussed the popular 1950s television program, The Howdy Doody Show. This week we jump ahead three decades to The Pee-wee Herman Show, which was created by comedian Paul Reubens in the early 1980s. Pee-wee is enjoying something of a revival at the moment; he made his Broadway debut earlier this month and a new Pee-wee movie is in the works (produced by Judd Apatow).

Reubens found inspiration in a 1950s' children television program, though one not nearly as well known as The Howdy Doody Show: The Pinky Lee Show. (Incidentally, while Howdy Doody had Clarabell the Clown, Pinky Lee hung out with Susabelle.) Host Pinky Lee was known for his plaid jacket, checkered pants, oversized bow tie, and his high-strung personality. Reubens tweaked the look, opting instead for a slim checkered suit and a tiny red bow tie, but Pee-wee's tempermental energy is all Pinky Lee.

On the show, Reubens also gave a nod to an earlier era of names--as certainly none of them were lifted from the 1970s or 80s. In addition to Pee-wee Herman, the cast included, most notably, Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis and Chairry (pronounced Cherry).

The names Yvonne, Curtis and Cherry were all popular in the mid-20th century. For twenty years, from 1930-1950, Yvonne was ranked either #120, #121 or #122 on the Social Security Administration's list of popular names. Curtis, interestingly, has never not been ranked, always managing to make the top 1000 since such things have been kept track of. But Curtis' real moment was in the 1960s when he hit #79. 

Cherry has also been around a long time, debuting in the 1880s at #989, shining briefly in the 1940s at #516, and currently unranked. 

We're pretty confident Pee-wee will never be a hit. Even Reubens has said he chose it in part because it sounds like a name "a parent would give a child that they didn't really care about." The name Herman, on the other hand, did have its day, once upon a time. From the 1880s to the 1910s, Herman was ranked between #47 and #56. 

Yvonne and Curtis in particular strike us as glamorous. It fits that the French Yvonne pops up repeatedly as the name of European actresses and artists such as Yvonne Arnaud, Yvonne Printemps, Yvonne Strahovski... we could go on. Curtis makes us think of the dashing 1950s and 1960s film star (and father of Jamie Lee), Tony Curtis. There are the cute Kurts, too: actor Kurt Russell, musician Kurt Cobain, quarterback Kurt Warner, wrestler Kurt Angle, and writer Kurt Vonnegut. Frankly, it wouldn't surprise us in the least to see Yvonne or Curtis creep back up the list of hot names.

What do you think of the names on The Pee-wee Herman Show? Would you name a baby Yvonne? What about Cherry, Curtis or Herman?




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November 23, 2010 2:58 PM
By Tanya (not verified)

I kind of like the name Curtis for a boy but I think, today, Cherry would be an unfortunate name for girl thanks to the slang term associated with it. I wouldn't name my daughter Virginia for the same reason - too likely to be teased by other kids.

November 23, 2010 8:22 PM
By lyllah (not verified)

I would consider Yvonne but not for that reason but for the actress Yvonne Strahovski who is in the show Chuck.

November 23, 2010 11:24 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

Yep, Cherry is a nice name, but done-for by popular slang. The name is now suitable only for prostitutes.

November 24, 2010 10:55 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Isn't Chairry a chair? I don't think that one has to do with names from an earlier time.

July 22, 2014 10:19 PM
By Sbobet (not verified)

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