Who Knew? Born Too Late to Appreciate My Name!

It’s been five years since I first published a blog on disliking my name. I heard from other Arlenes that they too grew up hating their name. In those days past, if you hated your name, there was not a thing you could do about it. We were not empowered to change our names, though I know a few people who used family nicknames not even related to their given name such as “Sissy.” Later on in life, some used their middle names in place of a disliked first name. My middle name is Debra, a beautiful name and I once considered switching to it, but only for a moment. (Debra would have been so great to have as a child, because there was the great nickname of Debbie available.)

I grew up with all kinds of girls who had absolutely adorable names (or nicknames) that mostly ended in an “i” (or “Y” or “ie”) that I loved because they were so feminine and appropriate for little girls. Think Bonnie, Jodi, Marci, Randi, Joni, Wendy, Debbie, Patti, Cathy, Janie, Sherrie, Vicki, Nancy, Judi, etc.

My name seemed more appropriate for an old lady, and there was NO nickname for it. Any name that tried to abbreviate just made it seem more awkward: “R” was an example. I was called that letter of the alphabet all through high school in an attempt to abbreviate the clunky Arlene. In the meantime, Barbara was Barb or Barbie, Susan was Sue or Susie, Andrea was Andi, Sandra was Sandi. Are you getting the pattern here? Any name could be made a lot cuter with an abbreviation, except my name. Or so it always seemed.

During my era, the only famous person with my name was Arlene Francis, a regular on a game show, and a very old lady.

Worst of all, I was a music buff from the age of five years old and on and noticed a huge amount of the love songs through the sixties and seventies with girls’ names in them. It seemed that every girl had a love song devoted to her and her name, except Arlene. There was Layla, Michele, Windy, Sherrie, Linda, Barbara, Rhonda, Eleanor, Susan, Bernadette, Eileen, Maggie, Valleri, Judy, Denise, Diane, Carol, Caroline, Mary, Amy, Mandy, Cecilia, Beth, Cherry, Brandy, Gloria, Lucy, Melissa, Rosanna, Angie, Annie, Sheila, Suzy Q, Marianne, Carrie Ann, and many more. The list of girls names in love songs goes way beyond anything I could come up with here on this blog.

And yet, none with Arlene. I grew up singing to songs with everyone else’s names in them except my own. Was Arlene an unloveable name, I often wondered?

So I published a blog about wanting a custom made love song with my name for a previous big birthday. Little did I realize when I published that blog that my readers would point out how very wrong I was in saying there were no Arlene love songs. Immediately, someone sent me the Marty Stuart song of the 80’s titled “Arlene.” It never placed on the pop charts, but was a big country hit so I did not know of it. Then a reader sent in that a Bo Diddley song from way back, that happened to be one of the first pop songs ever called “Who Do You Love” contained the girl’s name Arlene in the original song and song lyrics. I looked it up and sure enough, the original girl Bo was singing about was named Arlene. (Subsequent covers by popular artists left out the Arlene and substituted it with honey, further proving my unloveable Arlene stance.)

But then, but then…. a reader who is much older than me and was a fan of the original American Bandstand program while it was still in Philadelphia, wrote me to tell me that the most popular girl of all of the Bandstand regular dancers was named Arlene and that there were a bunch of Arlene love songs for a while in that era due to her popularity. Of course this happened in the late fifties, before I would be aware of a young cool teenage girl who was admired by millions of viewers, and who even had a fan club, and was featured in teen magazines all the time. (I did my research- this was all true and the film Peggy Sue Got Married, even has a dialogue where the characters are discussing “Arlene” while watching American Bandstand. How did I miss that when I loved watching that movie?) For a while there, Arlene was just about the coolest name a girl could have and as a matter of fact, two popular Arlenes followed the original Bandstand Arlene. (Names were Arlene Sullivan, then Arlene DiPietro, then an Arline whose last name I could not find, all featured in teen magazines in the late fifties and early sixties.)

Possibly due to the Bandstand Arlene teen idols, there were at least five love songs crooning to Arlene during this era. I would not have known about these either, unless a reader hadn’t sent them to me. A reader sent the first two love songs named Arlene by The Tokens and the Titans, and my husband took those adorable Doo-Wop style songs and put them in a custom made video for my big 65th birthday. (Linked here if you want to watch it. The first Arlene song mentions teenage dream, so it is used for my youth photos, and A Girl Named Arlene at the end with photos of my husband and I together because it ends with a HUGE flourish, “I Love ARLEEEENNNNEEEEEEEEEE!”)

After seeing the above two sent to me, I searched You Tube and found three more – all from the Doo-Wop era and genre and pictured here. So the guy who wrote me about there being a bunch of Arlene love songs in the fities era was exactly right.

So it is not that I had an unloveable name. It was that I was born too late to appreciate my given name as I was not aware of music during most of the Doo-Wop era. In fact, there are two of these Arlene love songs by the Tokens, so I am thinking that the writer of the Tokens’ songs had a thing for an Arlene. Possibly the famous one on American Bandstand.

The thing about each of the above songs that was so delightful to me, was that the emotions just gushed love for the girl named Arlene in the song. I had love songs with my name in it all along, and did not even know it. One croons,”I’m in love with Arlene, my teenage dream.” Another says “Arlene I want you for my steady girl, you got my head in a whirl..”

So here and now, just past my big 65th birthday, I can finally put to rest that my name was not loveable. My source of musical angst is gone now, and as a person in real life, I feel very loved by family and friends, and that is the most important thing. And more to the point of this blog, is how generous readers are in response to my blogs, who share wonderful things with me and sometimes send me on a discovery of something completely new to me. I am very grateful for them and for that.


  • I enjoyed your essay about the name Arlene, as Arlene Sullivan of American Bandstand fame was and still is, one of my all-time favorites. I don’t think you mentioned a beautiful movie star of the 1950’s named Arlene Dahl.

    • Thanks for reading and writing in Kay. I vaguely remember Arlene Dahl but never saw her until she starred with her son Lorenzo Llamas in the 70’s. That would not have helped in my era of 1960 on. My mother mentioned that she was the inspiration for the name, but not available to me as a child of the 60’s.

  • Love this blog Arlene! And your birthday video was awesome! Love your Philly photos too! I was at the 1980 World Series with my Dad & Sis. And I never knew there were “Arlene” songs either! My older sisters actually named me “Arlene” but I never really knew why! I figured my parents gave them the list of names and they only went through the “A” names or they knew Arlene Francis from the game show, “What’s My Line!” I liked my last name “Kelly” better than my first name, and wished my first name was Kathleen or something cute! However, I did like that I was the only “Arlene” all throughout school. It made me unique and went with my non-conformist, dare-to-be-different attitude. It wasn’t until years later, as an adult, when I was in a Coaches Training Program that there was another “Arlene” (how dare she be in the same class?!!!) and so to differentiate from her, I went by A.J. (Arlene Joy). When I was in real estate near Philadelphia,, there was actually another Realtor in the same town named Arlene Kelly, so I stuck with A.J. Kelly for a few more years. Many people would be surprised when they learned A.J. was a woman!!! That was fun! After relocating to Hawaii, I went back to Arlene but still have good friends who call me A.J. I embrace them both now!

    • Thank you so much for reading Arlene! This struck a chord with many Arlenes who I have heard from. It was a common name for my Philadelphia neighborhood and time, I graduated with 10 or more of them!
      I have never had a nickname that stuck. “R” through high school was torture.

  • Iva Newman Voorhees

    Fun article, Arlene. Try being named Iva. Not even your readers or anyone else will find an Iva love song. That’s alright, though. I made peace with my name years ago and my life is full of love…just no lva love songs.

  • Interesting reading. Thanks

  • Great research, Arlene! I never thought of Arlene as being old-fashioned! I however, was the only Elizabeth from K-12! I wanted a name like Debbie, Nancy, Karen, Marcy, etc. When I got to junior high, people started calling me Liz, which I liked much better!

  • always loved my name and tried to give my daughter a name she would love. By the way I hate the nickname Renee without the accent

    • Thanks for stopping by – I always think of the song “Just Walk Away Renee” when I hear your name! Great song, great name. I only know one person who is Reeeeknee, without the accent, she graduated with us.

  • It is still an old lady name.

    • True, it IS still an old lady name and I posted this on neighborhood sites where people commented about their mothers’ being named Arlene. Our peers moms having our name confirms it was an old lady name. But the point of this blog is that I discovered the name was very cool once upon a time, not during our era, but once it was the ultimate. I mean five love songs titled Arlene in the late fifties? That is pretty impressive.

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