Is “Tyrone” REALLY A Black Name? And If So, Why?
Edited by Azizi Powell
This pancocojams post provides information and comments about the male name “Tyrone” and the influence of actor Tyrone Power and singer Tyrone Davis on the selection of the name “Tyrone” in the United States.
This post also provides information and comments about how singer Erykah Badu’s 1997 song “Tyrone” and some other cultural associations negatively affect people’s attitudes about the name “Tyrone” and probably result in that name being selected by fewer people in the United States, if not elsewhere.
The content of this post is presented for cultural and onomastics purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
This post was originally published on pancocojams in 2015, but it has been extensively revised since that date.
Click https://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/07/old-and-new-american-names-beginning-in.html for a closely related pancocojams post entitled “Old And New American Names Beginning In “Tyr” and “Ty” Besides “Tyrone”.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE POPULARITY OF THE NAME “TYRONE” AMONG AFRICAN AMERICANS
Online sources for names in the United States that provide statistics about race attest to the fact that -in proportion to our population in the United States, more African American males have been given the name Tyrone than any other racial/ethnic population. However, particularly since the late 1990s, because of its negative cultural associations, fewer Americans of all races/ethnicity have given the name “Tyrone” to their male children. However, more African Americans than other Americans have given their male children other names that begin with “Ty” such as “Tyree”, “Tyresse”, “Tyrell”, and “Tyron”.
This post provides some speculation about why that is the case, but first here’s some statistical information about the name “Tyrone” in the United States.
STATISTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE NAME “TYRONE”
TYRONE is ranked as the 989th most popular given name in the United States with an estimated population of 35,897.
This name is in the 99th percentile, this means that nearly 0% of all the first names are more popular.
There are 11.26 people named TYRONE for every 100,000 Americans.
This name is most often used as a first name, 95% of the time.
Based on the analysis of 100 years worth of data from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Baby Names database, the estimated population of people named TYRONE is 70,553.
The SSA data also shows that TYRONE is used as a boy’s name 99% of the time.
The race and Hispanic origin distribution of the people with the name TYRONE is 66.0% White, 3.1% Hispanic origin, 26.7% Black, 1.6% Asian or Pacific Islander, 1.8% Two or More Races, and 0.8% American Indian or Alaskan Native. These figures should be considered only as a rough estimate.
The vertical blue bars [of the graph that is shown on that page] represent the race distribution of people that have the name. The yellow horizontal lines represent the race distribution of the general population. The amount by which the blue bars extend past the yellow horizontal lines determines how likely a person with the name will be part of a given race or Hispanic origin group.
On this basis, the people with the name TYRONE have a higher likelyhood of being Black and a lower likelyhood of being Hispanic origin.”
REASON #1: THE TYRONE POWER EFFECT
THE TYRONE POWER EFFECT- PART 1
Every article about the popularity of the name “Tyrone” in the United States indicates that that name became popular in that country due to the actor Tyrone Power.
Here’s one article about actor Tyrone Power that mentions the name “Tyrone” being considered a “Black name”:
“[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.”…
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”. However, that name’s meaning has nothing to do with its popularity or why this name may be considered a “Black name”.
THE TYRONE POWER EFFECT & AFRICAN AMERICANS
If-as statistics- appear to show, the name “Tyrone” was or is more popular among African Americans than Americans of other races/ethnicities, in may have been because in addition to the general appeal that this highly popular movie star had in the United States and elsewhere, some Black Americans may have 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, read this comment exchange from http://eves-reel-life.blogspot.com/2012/08/remembering-tyrone-power.html
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.” …
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 Eve, August 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….
Tyrone Power, Jr. died in November 15, 1958 [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrone_Power.]
My guess is that both of those experiences 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.
Read additional comments below about the belief among Americans that “Tyrone” is a “Black name”.
REASON #2 THE TYRONE DAVIS EFFECT
REASON #2- THE TYRONE DAVIS EFFECT
https://names.mongabay.com/baby-names/application/rank-M-US-tyrone.html uses the United States census to document the popularity of names from year to year. The more children who are given a particular name, the higher the rank that name has, with #1 being the highest ranking.
According to that website, in 1968 the name “Tyrone” was ranked #181 for male names in the United States. However, in 1969 the name “Tyrone” ranked #137 and in 1970 the name “Tyrone” ranked #132. #132 is the highest is the highest ranking for the name “Tyrone” on that chart which goes up to 2011.
I believe that the reason the number of male babies in the United States who were given the name “Tyrone” increased in 1969 and 1970 was because 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; 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 1971, the name “Tyrone” was ranked #142 in popularity. In 1972 it was ranked #144. In 1973 & 1974 the name “Tyrone” was ranked #139. In 1975 “Tyrone” was ranked #145′ and in 1976 it was ranked #146. By 1980, “Tyrone” was ranked #204 in popularity and by 2011 “Tyrone” was ranked #809. My position is that negative or belittling cultural associations with the name Tyrone are partly the reason for the decrease in popularity of the name “Tyrone”.
REASON #3: SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY WHERE NON-BLACK PEOPLE DON’T SELECT NAMES FOR THEIR CHILDREN THAT ARE CONSIDERED “BLACK NAMES”
“Self-fulfilling prophecy” refers to the socio-psychological phenomenon of someone “predicting” or expecting something, and this “prediction” or expectation comes true simply because one believes it will, and their resulting behaviors align to fulfil those beliefs. This suggests peoples’ beliefs influence their actions. The principle behind this phenomenon is people create consequences regarding people or events, based on their previous knowledge toward that specific subject. Additionally, self-fulfilling prophecy is applicable to negative and positive outcomes.self-forfulling prophecy”
In the context of this subject, given the racism that is prevalent and deeply embedded in the United States, if non-Black people think that a name is a “Black name” that in and of itself would deter non-Black people from choosing that name for their children.
Here’s a comment about this subject:
“How did certain first names that are not African in origin become associated with African American culture in the United States? E.g. Tyrone, Tyrell, Antoine, Jerome?
Adrian Marshall, My most knowledgeable subject, ironically not my most up voted or viewed.
Updated Nov 4 [year not given]
“I’ll be my normal unpopular self on Quora. The answer is simply racism (I’m not saying overt bigotry). Most of the older names like the names you mentioned are European names. They became popular with black people and once that happened, they fell out of favor with whites.
It’s the same reason why GM is currently struggling with the Cadillac brand. When black people like something in the US it becomes a stereotype for some reason. Cadillac is now a “black man’s” car and whites have stopped buying them. White guys with the name Tyrone invariably go by “Ty” because otherwise they get chided sometimes even by their black friends. I went to school with a white guy named Malcolm, guess what, he went by his middle name and in no way was anyone to call him Malcolm. (I went to a backward, rural southern highschool by the way).
You’ve heard of “white flight”. Well when blacks moved closer to whites, the whites moved away. That seems to be true for housing, name trends, and automobile status symbols.”
AN AESTHETIC PREFERENCE FOR THE BEGINNING SOUND “TY” IN THE NAME “TYRONE” AND OTHER NAMES LIKELY DOESN’T COME FROM AFRICAN AMERICAN’S AFRICAN ANCESTRY
From Proud Heritage: 11001 Names for Your African-American Baby by Elza Dinwiddie, first published
March 1, 1994
Chapter: African Names: Male, p. 201
Tyehimba – Tiv: We stand as a nation
“Tyehimba” is the only traditional African language name beginning in “Ty” that is included in that book. That is also the only name beginning with “Ty” that was included in the 1972 book Names From Africa, Their Origin, Meaning, and Pronunciation (Johnson Publishing Company). In that book the male name “Tyehimba – tah-ee-heem-BAH – we stand as a nation” is found on page 73 and is said to come from the Tiv language of Nigeria.
This definitely doesn’t mean that there are no other traditional African names that begin with “Ty” (or “Ti”), but it does suggests that the “Tyr” and “Ty” sound preference* for African Americans didn’t originated in Africa.
NEGATIVE CULTURAL ASSOCIATIONS OF THE NAME “TYRONE” DECREASING THE SELECTION OF THAT NAME SINCE 1981
Over time, negative depictions of fictitious characters and negative publicity about real life males named “Tyrone” decrease the number of people of any race who would give that name to their sons.
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 “Tyrone Green” who was described as “the occupant of the maximum security cell: Tyrone Green, psychotic young African-American male.” Source: http://snltranscripts.jt.org/81/81aprose.phtm “Saturday Night Live transcript:”Prose and Cons”.
In 1980 the name “Tyrone” was ranked #204 and in #1981, the name “Tyrone” was ranked #206. In 1982, that name was ranked #195, but by 1983 it was ranked #207. [All of the rankings in this section are according to https://names.mongabay.com/baby-names/application/rank-M-US-tyrone.html. Remember, the lower the ranking number, the higher the name’s rank is- with #1 being the most popular name by gender for that year.]
The years 1991 [#281], 1993 [#305] and 1994 [#312] were the highest rankings for the name “Tyrone” in the 1990s. After those years, “Tyrone” was ranked in the middle to high #300s and the middle #400s.
In 1997, the name “Tyrone” was ranked #365. However, in 1998, that name was ranked #399, and in 1999, “Tyrone” was ranked #424. My position is that the song “Tyrone” by Neo-Soul singer Eyrkah Badu negatively influenced the selection of the name “Tyrone” in the United States. Here’s information about that song from https://genius.com/Erykah-badu-tyrone-lyrics “About ‘Tyrone’
…”Erykah has had enough with her no-good, do-nothing man and is kicking him out of the house. Tyrone isn’t actually the boyfriend here: Tyrone is the boyfriend’s homeboy, and Erykah suggests that he “call up Tyrone” to help him move his sh&t* out of her house.
The boyfriend put his friends above her, disrespected her, and basically acted like a scrub. Since he loves Tyrone so much, maybe Tyrone can help him carry his things out: but he can’t call Tyrone on Erykah’s phone, because he never helped her with the bill.”…
*This word is fully spelled out in this sentence.
Reading several YouTube comment threads about Erykah Badu’s song, a number of people think that Tyrone is the no-good boyfriend and therefore have negative associations with that name. The negative associations with this name aren’t limited to this hit song. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrone_(song)
…The song [“Tyrone”] i has been referenced in other media, most notably in the film Next Friday (1999), when Tyrone (Deebo’s accomplice/younger sibling) is making a fake call at a restaurant. The song title is also referenced by Beyoncé in the song “Kitty Kat” off her second album B’Day and in the rap of 3LW’s hit single “No More (Baby I’ma Do Right),” as well as R. Kelly in the song “When a Woman’s Fed Up” from its 1998 double album R.
I believe that the use of the name “Tyrone” by Eddie Murphy’s “Prose And Con” sketch, by Next Friday, and Erykah Badu have reinforced the image among non-African Americans that “Tyrone” is a Black name. However, instead of the name “Tyrone” being positively associated with an actor (Tyrone Power) and a singer (Tyrone Davis), Erykah Badu’s dissing use of that name and Eddie Murphy’s and Next Friday’s use of that name to refer to criminals or other men in the “hood” would decrease the number of people of any race who would give their child that name.
According to mongabay.com/baby-names, 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.
Instead of the name “Tyrone”, (mostly) African Americans who like the “Ty” beginning sound in names, have selected other names with that beginning. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/07/old-and-new-american-names-beginning-in.html for the pancocojams post entitled “Old And New American Names Beginning In “Tyr” and “Ty” Besides “Tyrone”.”
ADDENDUM: SELECTED COMMENTS ABOUT THE NAME “TYRONE
From http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-581528.html “Origin of American names twofer: Lori and Tyrone?”
(numbers added for referencing purposes only)
1. 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?”
2. 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.”
3. 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.)”
4. 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.”
5. 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.”
6. 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:
7. 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.”
8. 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:
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.
“My name is Tyrone Smith and being a white male in the south (Atlanta, Ga) hasn’t been easy and I say that because the whites think you’re black before meeting you and the blacks feel like you’re trying to trick them when they do meet you. But I love my name, its meaning is strong and powerful- absolute ruler or tyrant/(sovereign). It’s also been a great tool to sort out and avoid the racists. The name was passed down through the Irish side of my Irish/Cherokee family.
― Tyrone smith 1/11/2018
Erykah Badu has a song called “Call Tyrone”. It is essentially about Erykah having a boyfriend who always hangs out with his friends, including one called Tyrone. She is dumping him and tells him to ‘call Tyrone’ to take him somewhere other than her house.
― bibi66 3/6/2009
Erykah Badu – Tyrone (Live)
1. Raymel Shaw, 2014
“My middle name is Tyrone and my mom never let this go smh! lol”
2. Ana Nabi, 2014
“It’s a good thing it’s just your middle name.. hehehe. :)”
3. Angie B, 2014
“I think guys name Tyrone still get flashbacks from this classic song!!..LOL”
4. Freuds Frills, 2016
“Most women have been with a tyrone at some point!”
5. IFYOULETGINATELLIT!!!, 2016
“Most of yall are missing the point of the song…. TYRONE is not her man he is the FRIEND of her man…. Her boyfriend is the loser and she is telling him ( her man) she tired of his mess and she wants him to call his friend TYRONE to come and get him…
Alot of yall keep referring to Tyrone in this song as if that is who she is talking to in the song… Uh No….”
6. BlaqueViolet, 2017
“I thought everyone BEEN known that since the song first came out. R. Kelly even references it in a later song: “Now I’m on this telephone, calling Tyrone.” “
7. Tyrone Pauline, 2016
“Every day I go to work I have at least one customer that sees my name and has the urge to sing part of this sone lol.”
8. Sharon Haywood, 2019
“I feel sorry for the men named Tyrone”
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