Can you hear Madea singing “Happy Birthday, Dear Tyler” to her creator?
Director, producer and actor Tyler Perry turns 50 on Friday. (Perry changed his name from Emmitt to Tyler at age 16 to distance himself from an abusive father.) He’s portrayed Madea, a feisty older black woman who gets even with those who wrong her in comically outrageous ways, in 12 films. The latest, “A Madea Family Funeral,” premiered in March.
Tyler is an English surname indicating one’s medieval ancestor made or laid floor tiles. There were 66,056 people with the last name Tyler in 2010, making it the 509th most common surname in the United States.
When the custom of turning surnames into first names began in the late 18th century, boys named Tyler appeared. In the 1840s, many were named after John Tyler (1790-1862), the 10th president.
Tyler had been elected vice president in 1841 under William Henry Harrison, the first President to die in office. Many thought Tyler should be “acting president,” but he insisted he was president, with all the powers of the office.
Tyler remained a controversial figure after his term. He sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War, being elected to the Confederate Congress shortly before his death.
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Perhaps as a result, Tyler was never a common first name in the 19th century. In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly name lists started, it ranked 802nd. It wasn’t even among the top thousand between 1912 and 1944.
Tyler revived along with the Baby Boom. Ranking 933rd in 1946, it was 454th in 1964. Entering the top 100 in 1981, Tyler almost tripled between 1986 (when it ranked 40th), and 1994, when the 30,477 born made it No. 5.
Remarkably, Tyler accomplished this without help from a celebrity or fictional character with the first name Tyler. It did fit in with fashionable sounds. Similar sounding Kyle had peaked in 1990.
Tyler also was helped by TV cowboy stars named Ty. Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr. legally changed his name to Ty Hardin (1930-2017) in 1958. He starred as the title character in “Bronco” (1958-62).
In 1989, “The Young Riders,” based on the Pony Express, premiered. Ty Miller (born 1964) starred as “The Kid,” whose name was never revealed during the three years of the series.
Ty has been among the top thousand names for boys since 1955 — the shortest name ever on the list. Its biggest jumps came while “Bronco” and “The Young Riders” were on the air.
Most parents, though, won’t put a short nickname on the birth certificate. So Hardin and Miller may have helped Tyler even more than Ty.
In 1990 and 1991, when Tyler increased the fastest, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler was at the top of his rock star fame. Since “Steven” was identified with Boomer-age men, perhaps Aerosmith fans turned to Tyler instead.
As a top name for men now in their 20s, Tyler is borne by scores of professional athletes — as well as Tyler Knott Gregson (born 1981), a poet famous through social media for posting daily haiku on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter.
Though it fell to 119th for newborns in 2018, famous Tylers in all fields will be with us for the next 50 years.