About Names: “Tammy” is now a Rare Name for Newborns

Tammy Wynette (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 5th column, he discusses the name “Tammy”.

“Stand By Your Man.” “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Country singer Tammy Wynette (1942-1998), who made these songs huge hits, was born Virginia Wynette Pugh 82 years ago today.

Tàmhas is a Scottish Gaelic form of Thomas (Aramaic “twin”). Lavinia Derwent’s children’s stories about slippery talking fish “Tammy Troot” have helped keep Tammy a male nickname for Thomas in Scotland.

In medieval England, Thomasin, a feminine form of Thomas, developed into Tamsin, which remained popular in southwestern England long after disappearing elsewhere.

In 1841, England’s first census found 68 female Tammys, all but one born in southwestern England’s Devon or Cornwall. Though Tammy might also come from Old Testament name Tamar (Hebrew “date palm”), only three of England’s 840 Tamars in 1841 were born in Devon and none in Cornwall, so Tammy was surely from Tamsin there.

In 1850, the first United States census listing all free residents’ names found 79 female Tammys. Checking other records on Ancestry.com, some Tammys were Tamsins, but others, especially in New England, were officially Tamar, Tama or Tamma — the last two perhaps from how Tamar was said in 19th century New England accents.

Many of 1850’s Tammys, though, are “Tammy” everywhere, including on their tombstones.

When Social Security’s baby name data starts in 1880, not even five Tammys a year were being born. In the 1920s Tamara, Slavic version of Tamar, began appearing. Perhaps this brought Tammy back in 1934, when five arrived.

Tammy slowly grew along with Tamara, reaching the top thousand in 1947. Then in 1948, Cid Ricketts Sumner published novel “Tammy Out of Time,” about a rural Mississippi girl falling in love with a professor’s son whose plane crashes nearby.

Tammy says her full name is Tambrey, found in the book “Ladies’ Names and their Significance together with their Floral Emblems,” which says “Tambrey or Ambrey. Significance — immortal. Floral emblem — amaranth.”

In 1852 Sarah Carter published “Lexicon of Ladies’ Names With Their Floral Emblems,” one of the first American name books, which has just such an entry for Ambry — but Tambrey is purely Sumner’s invention.

In 1957 the novel became film “Tammy and the Bachelor” starring Debbie Reynolds. Its theme song, where Tammy’s “heart beats so joyfully, you’d think that he could hear,” was a hit for both Reynolds and the Ames Brothers, whose version was heard during the credits. Soon book and movie sequels appeared.

There were 256 Tammys born in 1956, and 9,987 in 1958 — over 39 times more. Tammy peaked in 1968, when 20,060 arrived, ranking it eighth. When spellings Tammie, Tami, Tammi and Tamie are added in, it ranked fifth. Tamara also took a big jump, though Tammy vaulted over it in popularity.