Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why "Tyrone" Is Considered A "Black Name"

Edited by Azizi Powell

former title: Cultural Influences On The Perception That "Tyrone" Is A "Black Name"

Numerous internet articles, blog posts, and comments about given (first and middle) names mention that "Tyrone" is a "Black" name. Here's one example of those internet posts:
"[Tyrone] was a relatively unknown name outside the Irish borders until a handsome Irish-American actor named Tyrone Power achieved fame in the gilded age of Hollywood (1930s-50s). Americans went gangbusters over this name starting in the late 1930s thanks to the matinee idol and romantic star of the silver screen. Later on the name was embraced among African-Americans who maintained its popularity in the 1970s. Today, sadly, Tyrone is largely a forgotten name. Although it still does remarkably well in New Zealand and Australia....

If you look at the chart below, you can see how Tyrone achieved almost instant success as a boy’s name in America. As mentioned above, this is all owed to the celebrity of actor Tyrone Power. The name came out of the woodwork in 1937 and soared up the charts with rapid-fire speed. At the end of 1936 a completely unknown actor named Tyrone Power made a name for himself in the film “Lloyd’s of London” – immediately he became a household name. His star power racked up more currency hit after hit and his box office clout in the late 1930s was surpassed only by Mickey Rooney. Parents across America responded by naming scores of baby boys Tyrone as the 1940s got underway.

Testament to the name’s appeal, Tyrone maintained a high-moderate position on the charts long after Tyrone Power’s career was over. In fact, the high point of the name’s success came in 1970 when Tyrone was ranked #132 out of 1000. Perhaps never a Top 100 favorite, Tyrone still saw impressive national usage. The name was particularly favored among African-Americans during the 1970s as evidenced by Tyrone’s consistent placement on the Top 100 lists in states where there’s the highest concentration of Blacks (Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina especially). Unfortunately the 21st century has been less kind to this ancient Irish moniker. Popularity has diminished greatly as Tyrone’s drops on the charts have become more pronounced in recent years. We still have hope for his resurrection, although we may have to wait a generation or two before he’s rediscovered. In the meantime, Tyrone is a super cool name that conjures up many positive adjectives for us: handsome, swashbuckling, immortal, magical, strong and confident."
I added italics to highlight those sentences.

This article began with information about the Irish origin of the male name "Tyrone" and the meanings that have been attributed to it, particularly “Tír Eoghain” meaning "land of Eoghan" and
“born of the yew tree".

I agree that the name Tyrone's popularity with Black Americans and non-Black Americans was the result of the popularity of the movie actor Tyrone Power. In addition to the general appeal that this highly popular movie star had in the United States and elsewhere, I wonder if some Black Americans admired Tyrone Power and chose the name "Tyrone" for their sons because that actor's physical appearance was the closest that Black (and Brown) people had in those days to an on-screen romantic hero. To that point, I've found several online comments in which Tyrone Power is described as having Black Irish looks. For example:
Saturday, August 25, 2012, "Remembering Tyrone Power" by Lady Eve
“There he was, dark-looking with black hair and eyebrows, and no man had a right to be that handsome.” ...

[comment exchange from that blog post]
whistlingypsy August 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM
..."I suspect it is a near impossibility to write about Tyrone Power and not mention his alluringly dark looks, but it is equally impossible to deny it was part of his legacy. My heritage is somewhat similar to his, in that I have French and Irish ancestry, and I can remember growing up hearing about “the Black Irish”. The term meant little to me until I learned more about Power, and I can almost imagine one of the crew of the Spanish Armada in Power’s lineage. I had a bit of “a Ty moment” this past week when, during a bit of a reunion, we began looking at family photos. We were looking at a particular photo of my grandfather and I remarked how he reminded me of a “matinee idol” with his dark wavy hair and blue eyes evident even in the black and white photo. My father responded, in what was a bit of synchronicity for me, “He looks like Tyrone Power”, which, with respect to my father and grandfather, wasn’t the actor I would have guessed, but there is that French connection. My attempt to make a personal connection aside, Tyrone Power’s life and career were fascinating and equally full of contradictions (can you tell I’m rather fond of him?). "

"The Lady EveAugust 25, 2012 at 3:18 PM
"Gypsy, I was thrilled to see that TCM was honoring Tyrone Power with a day this year - giving me the opportunity to finally write something about him (having been mad for him since about age 7). So, yes, we are sharing the Ty-love. As for "Black Irish," I've always thought him the epitome of the description (as well as "tall, dark and handsome")."...
That same blog post also mentions Tyrone Power's flight on a private airplane around the world, including to Africa, and his starring role in the stage production of the poetry reading "John Brown's Body".

"[aviator Bob] Buck, enlisted by his boss Howard Hughes, the owner of TWA, to pilot Power on a tour of South America, Africa and Europe, would spend three months with the actor and a small retinue on a trip that was set to begin in September 1947. The group would travel in Power’s plane, The Geek, named after a character in his latest film, Nightmare Alley. At the time, at age 33, Tyrone Power was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, an adored “matinee idol,” but his straightforward, unassuming manner instantly disarmed the skeptical Buck....

Wherever The Geek landed, they were mobbed and sometimes pursued. Even landing in a jungle in Liberia and greeted by only two natives, one of the two pointed to Tyrone Power and said, “I know him.” When they arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, Power’s group was welcomed by a crowd so large and enthusiastic that their driver commented, “they didn’t do this for the king and queen.”...

He [Tyrone Power] toured the U.S. very successfully in John Brown’s Body and took it to Broadway in 1953 with Raymond Massey and Judith Anderson."...
My guess is that both of those expriences added to his popularity among Black Americans. Given the prominence of Black American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1940s, it would be surprising if that paper didn't publish any articles about Power's trip to Africa or any reviews of the highly successful "John Brown's Body" stage productions. However, I haven't found any such articles online.

I looked up statistics for the popularity of the name "Tyrone" from 1920s to 2014. []. That United States Social Security Administration website provides name data from Social Security card applications for births that occurred in the United States, with #1 being the most popular ranking. 1937 was the first year that the name "Tyrone" was on the list of the top 1,000 names [#719]. In 1938 it was #393, and in 1939 it was #271, in 1941, "Tyrone" was #312 and in 1955 that name was #201.

Tyrone Power, Jr. died in November 15, 1958 [] In 1958, the name "Tyrone" was #185, but in 1959 the name was #171. I believe that spike in the number of people chosing the name "Tyrone" was a result of Tyrone Power's death.

For much of the 1960s, the name "Tyrone" was ranked around in the #170s or #180s. In 1968, it was #180, but it jumped to #138 in 1969, and reached its highest point of #132 out of 1000 in 1970. I believe that the reason for those high usages were that African Americans were reminded of the name "Tyrone" as a result of two hit R&B records by Tyrone Davis.
"Tyrone Davis (born Tyrone Fettson;[1] May 4, 1938 – February 9, 2005) was a leading American blues and soul singer with a distinctive style, recording a long list of hit records over a period of more than 20 years. He had three no. 1 hits on the Billboard R&B chart: "Can I Change My Mind" (1968), "Turn Back The Hands Of Time" (1970), and "Turning Point" (1975)."
For most of the 1970s, the name "Tyrone" ranked in the #140s and #150s. Unlike in 1969, there wasn't any real bump in that name's popularity as a result of Tyrone Davis' 1970 hit record - In 1975 and 1976, the name "Tyrone" ranked #146.

With the exception of 1985, the name "Tyrone" was ranked in the #200s. In 1981, Eddie Murphy performed what many consider a very funny segment on the television show Saturday Night Live about the winner of a maximum prison's annual poetry festival. That winner was "Yyrone Green" was was described as "the occupant of the maximum security cell: Tyrone Green, psychotic young African-American male." "Saturday Night Live transcript:"Prose and Cons". The use of the name "Tyrone" in that sketch may have had some effect on the selection of that name. In 1980 and 1981, the name "Tyrone" was ranked #206. In 1982, that name was ranked #195 and in 1983 it was ranked #207.

1991 [#281], 1993 [#305] and 1994 [#312] were the highest rankings for the name "Tyrone" in the 1990s. After those years, that name was ranked in the middle to high #300s and the middle #400s.

In October 1997 singer Erykah Badu released the song "Tyrone" [also known as "Call Tyrone".]According to, "The song was recorded professionally during a Badu concert, and is the version sent to radio. The song has been referenced in other media, most notably in the film Next Friday (1999), when Tyrone (Deebo's accomplice) is making a fake call at a restaurant. The song title is also referenced by Beyonce in the song Kitty Kat off her 2006 sophomore album B'Day.

Tyrone was played in heavy rotation on radio, although the song failed to chart on either Billboard's R&B or pop singles chart. The song reached #1 on R&B's airplay chart.[1]"
In 1997, the name "Tyrone" was ranked #365. However, in 1998, that name was ranked #399, and in 1999, "Tyrone" was ranked #424.

In 1999 the American movie Next Friday, the sequel to the 1995 film Friday, featured a Black ghetto character by the name "Tyrone". In 2000, the name Tyrone was ranked out #410 out of 1000. In 2001, that ranking was #460, in 2002, it was #507, and the name "Tyrone" never regained its former popularity. In 2014, the name "Tyrone" ranked #844 of of 1000 male names.

I believe that the use of the name "Tyrone" by Eddie Murphy's "Prose And Con" sketch, Next Friday, and Erykah Badu has reinforced the image among non-African Americans that "Tyrone" is a Black name. Furthermore, since the Eddie Murphy and Next Friday depictions are of criminals or "ghetto characters", the name "Tyrone" probably has that connotation for a considerable number of non-Black and Black Americans. But, in and of itself, the suggestion that a name is considered to be "Black" is often considered probable cause for White people to abandon that name.

Here are a few comments from "Origin of American names twofer: Lori and Tyrone?"
An Gadaí10-11-2010, 08:20 PM
..."He [Tyrone Power] died in the late '50s and it [the name Tyrone] reached its peak in the '70s. Could that one celebrity count for every Tyrone born since 1950? Am I right in my perception of Tyrone as a predominantly African-American name?"

Thudlow Boink10-11-2010, 11:05 PM
"The first "Tyrone" I thought of was Tyrone Green, Eddie Murphy's "C-I-L-L my landlord" character on Saturday Night Live."

ruadh10-12-2010, 12:41 AM
"Am I right in my perception of Tyrone as a predominantly African-American name?
Well, you're not alone in that perception. I can't find a link now, but I remember reading a few years ago that Irish immigrants to the US were being warned not to name their child Tyrone because he would be likely to face discrimination from potential employers who would assume he was black.

(That's what the article said. Don't shoot the messenger.)"

Wendell Wagner10-12-2010, 02:46 AM
"I suspect that what happened was this:

Tyrone Power became famous. Tyrone was a somewhat rare first name in Ireland that was traditional in his Irish-American family.

Americans started naming their babies Tyrone because of the actor Tyrone Power.
The name became moderately common in the U.S., even among those who didn't much care about Tyrone Power.

It became particularly common among African-Americans for some reason.

At that point other Americans quit naming their babies Tyrone.

There are other cases of this happening where a name that has no long tradition among a particular ethnic group in the U.S. for some odd reason suddenly becomes particularly popular in that ethnic group. Other Americans then quit using that name for their babies. Often then the members of that ethnic group later quit using that name themselves for their babies also because it now seems too obviously tied to that ethnic group."

Nzinga, Seated10-13-2010, 02:49 PM
"All the Tyrones I know pronounce it tie-RONE, with the emphasis on the second syllable.
I am 36. Most of the Tyrones I know are about 10 years older than me at least. I guess many of the black community has abondoned the name. Kids of my own generation were more likely to be named Tywan or Tyquan or Tyrell or some other such made up name."

foolsguinea10-14-2010, 06:24 AM
..."And I'm about the same age as Nzinga & agree that Tyrone is pronounced "tie-RONE.""
These comments were partly in response to comments posted by "Irishgirl" and "ruadh" that the American pronunciation of "Tyrone" is different from the Irish pronuciation:

irishgirl10-12-2010, 03:29 AM
"There is a pronunciation difference.
The name "Tyrone" seems to be pronounced "TIE-rone", while the county name is always pronounced "tuh-RONE or "t'RONE" with the stress firmly on the second syllable.
First generation Irish immigrants might call their son Tyrone if they were especially patriotic- but they wouldn't prononce it the same as most Americans."

Wendell Wagner10-12-2010, 04:06 AM
"It used to be fairly standard in the U.S. to pronounce it like this:
> "tuh-RONE or "t'RONE" with the stress firmly on the second syllable
It's only in more recent years, and it's mostly among African Americans, that it has been more common to pronouce it like this:
"TIE-rone" "
Note: As an African American, I agree with Nzinga and foolsguinea10 (both of whose names suggest that they are Black, particularly "Nzinga") that Tyrone is pronounced "tie-RONE" and not "TIE-rone" as irishgirl and Wendell Wagner indicated above.

This concludes this pancocojams post on the name "Tyrone".

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