Celebrity Names Blog

The Late Leslie Nielsen Made His Name Work For Him

The Late Leslie Nielsen Made His Name Work For Him
ANG/Fame Pictures

The obituaries for 84-year-old actor Leslie Nielsen, who died on Sunday while undergoing treatment for pneumonia in a Florida hospital, have focused on his mid-career switch from dashing leading man to goofy leading comic.

The name Leslie seems to have worked equally well for the actor both when he was known for his roles as the swashbuckling romantic hero and later when a new, younger generation came to know him for his deadpan delivery as a series of goofballs.

When Nielsen was born in 1926 the name Leslie was still a relatively popular choice for boys, ranking #119. Leslie for girls was far less popular then, ranking only #654. Nielsen's first name dipped somewhat in popularity during his childhood, but just as his early career was taking off, Leslie experienced a bit of a resurgence. The rise didn't last, however, and by the time Nielsen abandoned drama for comedy with the 1980 hit Airplane!, Leslie had become known as a girl's name. At the time, Leslie for girls ranked #71 whereas Leslie as a boy's name was down to #441. Eight years later when Nielsen made the first Naked Gun movie, Leslie for boys was down to #800. And by the mid-1990s, it no longer ranked at all.

In Airplane! when one character says, "Surely you can't be serious," Nielsen's character responds, "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley." His reply quickly became a popular catch phrase, and it made perfect sense, in the 1980s and '90s when Leslie reigned as a female name, that the man responsible for the line was named Leslie.

Interestingly, Nielsen shared his first name with another famous comic: Bob Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 when the name was at the height of its male popularity (#92). Hope flirted briefly in his teens with the name Lester but ultimately chose Bob in 1929.

Do you like Leslie for a boy? What associations does the name have for you? When you hear it do you think of Nielsen? Someone else?


--V.L.

Comments

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December 2, 2010 1:44 PM
By Lane

I actually knew a very nice young boy Leslie, so I think of that.

I think this post is right! Leslie on a guy may have been dapper once, but it's also perfect for comedy.

December 2, 2010 2:17 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

When I hear the name Leslie, I think of my sister, Leslie! She was born in 1963 and she likes her name; as do I. It's fairly unique, tho obviously most people have heard of it. She pronounces it "Lez lee." I think it's preferable to "Less lee," which to me is the male pronunciation. The nickname for the male version of Leslie (or Lester for that matter) is Les with an 's' sound. Not Lez.

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