|Mike Vogel plays Dale "Barbie" Barbara
in the CBS TV adaptation of Stephen King's 'Under The Dome'
There may not be anything particularly dazzling about the name Dale, but this little name certainly packs a lot of punch. Dale (pronounced dayl) is an Old English nature word name meaning 'valley'. It first came into use as a surname, but has long been accepted as a given name for both males and females. This places it among other one syllable unisex nature names such as Brook/e, Bay, Glen, Lake, Rain, Sage, Sky and Wren. However, while some of these names (Bay, Sage, Wren) have enjoyed a burst of popularity in recent years, and others remain perennial favourites (Brooke, Rain, Sky), Dale has been losing ground quickly.
Looking back 100 years to 1912, Dale was positioned at #847 for girls and #159 for boys in America. By 1962, Dale had peaked for girls at #237 ten years earlier, and positioned at #497 was on the decline. For boys however, it was positioned at #62, in the midst of it's 48 year long run in the American top 100. But in 2012 Dale didn't even register on the charts for girls, and for the boys has it's 11th consecutive drop, positioned at just #1122.
So why the massive drop? Well, it probably doesn't help that there aren't currently any "trendy" Dales in the global spotlight.
For girls, Dale was at it's most popular when actress and singer Dale Evans was at the height of her fame. The years immediately following her marriage to high profile singing cowboy Roy Rogers were the years that this name ranked the highest for girls. Flash Gordon's love interest and "fellow adventurer" Dale Arden also helped add a feminine image to this name. She was described as beautiful, capable and independent, qualities that are often appreciated when looking for a girls name.
But for many Dale is considered to be solely a boys name. It has always felt like a bit of a cowboy name, and NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt (and subsequently his son) likely helped keep Dale a more masculine name in most peoples minds. Unfortunately Dale has also come to be seen as somewhat of a redneck or hillbilly, largely helped by a redneck character called Dale in the cartoon 'King of the Hill'. This is also the way the writers of the 2010 movie 'Tucker and Dale vs Evil' must see the name, as they gave this name to one of the two hillbilly lead characters.
And then of course there were those lovable Disney chipmunks Chip and Dale, stars of the 1989 TV series and movie 'Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers'. Dale was the goofy one. Real life Dales could expect to be asked "Where's Chip?" regularly. I can see how it would be fairly off putting. Anecdotes from people named Dale also lament the fact that their name rhymes with so many other (and not always flattering) words, such as whale, snail, pale, stale and fail, to name a few.
As I see it, Dale currently suffers from one major problem. It's seen as an outdated, almost boring name, but is not quite in the same league as other "vintage" revival names that are currently finding a new appreciation amongst new parents. Instead, I prefer to think of it as more of a retro name.
I possibly think of it this way because most of my associations with Dale are from TV shows and movies from the 80's and 90's. Yes, 'Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers' is one. But my favourite is Andie MacDowell's alluring, sophisticated Dale Biberman in 'St Elmo's Fire'. She's that charming Doctor that Emilio Estevez's character Kirby spends his time trying to impress. Then there's the role that made Kyle MacLachlan a household name in the 90's - Special Agent Dale Cooper, lead investigator into the death of Laura Palmer in 'Twin Peaks'.
In fact, there have always been plenty of great Dales on our screens. Recently we've seen character Dale Hovarth in AMC's 'The Walking Dead', who was often the voice of reason and compassion within their group of survivors. Or if you are looking for a younger example, the lead character in the TV adaptation of Stephen King's 'Under The Dome' is named Dale "Barbie" Barbara. Maybe this young hero will see people reconsidering Dale.
Dale remains a sleek, understated but potentially stately choice. For a girl, it has a similar feel to preppy choices Greer and Sloane. On a boy, it can be likened to modern classics Reed, Blake and Logan. It would be a shame to see Dale fall further into disuse.