Why do men name women in song?

One thing that struck me using Napster: sooooo many songs are made with men crooning about specific women, moreso than women singing about specific men. Beatles easily have close to a half-dozen or so (Michelle, Lucy in the Sky, Elanor Rigby, etc.) as do pop singers like Michael Jackson (Billy Jean, Dirty Diana), jazz impressarios like Miles Davis (Stella by Starlight) and hip-hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest (Bonita Applebaum and even Eminem (Kim – easily the least flattering.)

In fact, Toni Basil (Mickey) is the only woman singer who sings about a guy I can think of, offhand. R&B female singers do a lot of general songs (My Guy, Whatta Man, Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Roughnecks, Thugs, Smooth Operators, etc.) but they rarely name names when it comes to lost loves or whatever. Even Erykah Badu doesn’t really sing about a Tyrone in Tyrone. (Well… maybe Lil’ Kim in How Many Licks)

Is there a commercial reason for this? Are lesbian singers like K.D. Lang any different? Or does all this fall into the vague realm of gender-based behavior?

If the latter’s the case, I apologize for not posting this in another forum.

Napster should by no means be considered an authoritative database. People make available only those recordings that they have on hand, purchased or otherwise.

Beyond that however, I would suspect that a male composer would be more likely to voice his complaints/dissatisfaction in a song based on one example of a poor experience, whereas a female songwriter would be more inclined to express herself or voice her opinion, based on a number of unpleasant experiences/relationships.

Just my 2 cents.

(but my oldest penny is from the fifties…)


Because of my mom, I grew up listening to music from the fifties and sixties. It seems as though a lot of women mentioned men by names in songs. I remember wondering once whether Johnny was an unusually common name in the fifties or whether it was just generic enough for songwriters. “Johnny Angel” is the first example that comes to mind, and I think the male character in “Leader of the Pack” was called Johnny. However, the only recent song I can think of that mentions a man by name is Reba McIntyre’s (spelling?) “She Thinks his Name was John.”

It does seems as if you have to be called John to get a woman to mention you in a pop song. In addition to “Johnny Angel” there’s “Johnny Loves Me” and “Johnny Get Angry”. Other guys are named only when another guy is singing about his girlfriend. Remember “Bobby’s Girl”, “Jessie’s Girl” or “Jimmy’s Girl”?

Joni Mitchell may be an exception, although her songs with guy’s names in the titles were never big hits. There are even two on a single album - “Carey” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard” on “Blue” On the same album, on the other hand, there’s the usual anonymous guy in “My Old Man”.

I have no good explanation, however, for why many women singers tend not to include guy’s names in the titles of their songs. Maybe they think men don’t deserve the recognition.

I think it’s because men have traditionally used music to woo women, while we don’t have a tradition of women singing to their lovers to express love. Love songs by female singers tend to be the “I’m in love and it’s great” kind, not the “I love you” kind.

My $0.02 is that in the case of men they visibly seek lots of partners and so need names to distinguish them, while women visibly have only one partner and so need no name.

That is, recent studies (ha and do you think I could find the ref on my desk when I wanted it) show women and other femal mammals are attracted to males that are “spoken for”. One interpretation - and there are many - is that it makes mate searching easier, this male has already demonstrated he can be a good mate [except of course he is unfaithful]. i.e. sexual selection by women has been and may still be a signifigant factor in human evolution. (Darwin wittered on about this for nearly 900 pages in The descent of man and selection in relation to sex).

That is a short version of the arguments about the incidence of and reasons for “extra-marital sex”. See, for example, Jared Dimaond, Rise and Fall of the Thrid Chimpanzee" for the full argument.

And even this one gets an asterisk–the song was originally titled Kitty, and Basil changed the name to a male when she recorded it.

I agree with the overall theme–I’ve even heard radio stations run special programs of just “songs with women’s names” but never a men’s names special–but I can add a few more females-singing-about-specific-males songs: Joey by Concrete Blond (1990); L. David Sloane, a minor hit for Michelle Lee in 1968 (also a candidate for Angriest Female Pop Song–“get off my… back!”–pre-Alanis Morrisette division); Luka, Suzanne Vega, 1987 (also had Tom’s Diner–not sure if that counts); Chuck E.'s in Love, Rickie Lee Jones, 1979; Mr. Lee , the Bobettes, 1957; Sweet William, Millie Small, 1964; Nathan Jones, The Supremes, 1971; Eddie My Love (three different top-40 versions in 1956); and Frederick, Patti Smith Group, 1979.

In the words of Louden Wainwright III:

“The bed’s so soft, the sheets are clean,
Your girlfriend said you were ninteen,
I’ll write a song for you, and put it on my next LP.
Come on up to my motel room, and sleep with me.”

Now how’s she gonna feel when you can’t even remember her name to put into the song? Huh?


How about Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee”? I’m not much of a country fan, but the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” is another one (You gotta love Dennis Franz as Earl in the video).

*Originally posted by whitetho *

Isn’t “Luka” a woman? “My name is Luka/I live on the second floor…” etc.

Written by Kris Kristofferson.

Another girl-group song naming men that sprang to mind was “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas (although written by Holland/Dozier/Holland).

This, by the way, is another example of a song which underwent a “sex change”. Roger Miller had the original country hit version, “Me and Bobbie McGee”, two years before Janis Joplin recorded it.

From One Hit Wonders: “‘I didn’t want Luka to be a self-pitying song about a boy sitting on a stoop feeling miserable,’ said Vega… All I wanted to do was reveal his point of view.’”

Hmmm…well, there are lots of other songs with men’s names in them? Not necessarily written by women, either. In fact, some women write songs with OTHER women’s names in them, sort of like a friend, or a lover or something.
Billy Bailey
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Billy Don’t Be a Hero
Bad Bad Leroy Brown
Richard Corey (a poem, set to music by Simon and Garfunkel)
Johnny B. Goode
Hey Jude
Hit the Road Jack
Vincent (Starry Starry Night-LOVE that song!)

I think there WERE some cheesy love songs by female singers, (don’t know who wrote 'em)
Eddie My Love
In the song Wedding Bell Blues, you have the 5th Dimension singing, “Bill! I love you so I always will.”

The underlying premise of the OP having been shown to be in error, I’ll move this thread to IMHO to see if an exhaustive list can be compiled.

How did we forget Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 classic, Ode to Billy Joe? Also, Abba’s 1975 Fernando, Annette Funicello’s 1959 Tall Paul, Ann Murray’s 1973 Danny’s Song, and Carly Simon’s 1980 Jesse.

But don’t let anyone tell you Olivia Newton John’s 1977 Sam was about a man–that one was an ode to her dog.

I’ll go quietly…

Poe has “Angry Johnny”
There’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”…
“Jim Dandy (to the Rescue)”
“Lessons” by Brownie Mary mentions a guy named Johnny.

Manhatten: My underlying theme has hardly been shown to be in error. I NEVER said there weren’t specific songs about men – just that women don’t sing that many songs about specific men. You can cobble all the female country singers and doo-wop girl groups all you like, but you can still come up with more warbling-men-singing-about-women, than the reverse. But I’m glad you moved the thread.

Guinastasia: I haven’t heard all the songs you’ve listed, but Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode and Jim Croche’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown and ANYTHING by Simon and Garfunkel don’t count, because they’re just men singing about men. I’d let it slide if they were love songs, tho. :wink:

Teach: Not just the omission in the titles of songs, but in the lyrics, too. I mean, I’ve heard a few rap ballads were women were mentioned by name but omitted in the title - (Slick Rick and Snoop Dogg both did turns with Sally and her Moms in Lodi Dodi, Stevie Wonder croons about his daughter Iesha in Isn’t She Lovely?) - but I don’t hear it as much in women’s songs.

More men-singing-about-specific-women songs:

Lou Vega: Must go through a few dozen in Mambo no. 5
Puff Daddy, the Police, and UTFO: Roxanne
Carlos Santana: Maria, Maria
Billy Paul, Luther Vandross: Me and Mrs. Jones
Cab Calloway: Minnie the Moocher
Chuck Berry: Maybelline
Four Tops: Bernadette
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons: Sherry
Nat King Cole: Mona Lisa, Ramblin’ Rose
O’Jays: Brandy
Outkast: Ms. Jackson, Rosa Parks
Ready For the World: Oh, Sheila
Rick James: Mary Jane (buuuut that could just be about weed)
Toto: Rosanna
Whispers: Olivia (buuuut re-listening to the lyrics, its definitely not a love song)

Any more?

There’s always “Alfie” (Jack Jones?) and “Jeremy” (Pearl Jam). As for females singing about a certain man… who sang “Ben”?

“Ben” was sung by Michael Jackson…and the song is about a rat, according to the Billboard book of Number one Hits.

Both Alfie and Ben were movie theme songs.

NEITHER of them were sung by women! One’s about a rat!!