It was the “huh?” heard ’round the world. For half a day, reports spread that actress Halle Berry had been cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. The response was global bafflement. Some was surely directed at Berry’s race (though “outrage” over a black Ariel turned out to be largely the product of troll farms). But the biggest surprise was about a 52-year-old, non-singing actress playing young, golden-voiced Ariel. What would it mean for a mature woman to play the ultimate ingénue? Could Berry sing at all? Why would Disney make such a move?
As it turns out, they wouldn’t. The African-American mermaid-to-be is, like Ariel, a singer and a teenager: 19-year-old Halle Bailey.
The confusion was a natural one. Even the Wikipedia result for Bailey starts with a note, “not to be confused with Halle Berry.” Beyond the name match, Berry has been a Hollywood star for three decades while Bailey is half of the young surname-free R&B duo “Chloe x Halle.” The chatter about African-American casting fit Berry as well. So thousands of people read the name wrong. Once the mistake was cleared up, the world had a good chuckle at itself and went back to its daily business.
That leaves it to us name obsessives to point out the missing part of this story. Berry and Bailey don’t just happen to share the name Halle. It’s no coincidence. One owes her name to the other.
Berry was born Maria Halle Berry in Cleveland, Ohio in 1966. Her parents took the extremely rare middle name from Cleveland’s landmark Halle Brothers department store. A smattering of Halles were born in the ’60s—especially in Ohio—after British actress Hayley Mills put every Hayley variant on the map. While names like Haley kept rising, though, Halle remained at obscurity level until Berry hit Hollywood in 1991. Then, boom:
The name’s popularity graph is a snapshot of Halle Berry’s career. You see the initial leap sparked by her first flurry of films; a second leap when she won an Emmy in 1999; and a third in 2002 when she won an Oscar. In between those awards, Halle Bailey was born. While I’ve heard nothing to suggest that Bailey was named after Berry, she was surely named because of Berry. An African-American Halle born in 2000 (and in Atlanta, following Halle Berry’s high-profile marriage to an Atlanta Braves star) was born into Berry’s world.
Today the name Halle is just modestly common, the 895th most popular choice for American girls. That gives it plenty of room to rise. If the new Little Mermaid is a success, watch for Halle to join the likes of Kylie as a double fame-boosted name, a trend inspired by a celebrity whose name was inspired by a celebrity. Baby name fashion, just like Disney, keeps finding ways to breathe new life into something you’ve heard before.
She will be a great Ariel.