Today's post is the beginning of a three-parter, inspired by an article I read last week - Do First Ladies Influence the Popularity of Baby Names? The answer is, incidentally, a little bit: names tend downward in the years after an American First Lady enters the public sphere, but they were going to trend downward anyway because of generational differences. In any event, their first names are no less interesting!
Because of the overlap in names, I'll be listing the first names in alphabetical, not chronological, order. Some presidents had multiple First Lady counterparts, too! If you're interested in their respective husbands, check out my past post on presidential last names: Throwback Thursday: Presidential Names #1.
Abigail (Adams, Fillmore)
This lovely classic needs no introduction - it's in the top ten in the US and the top 100 everywhere else! (English-speaking countries, of course). It's got nice nicknames, an abundance of namesakes, and an elegant sound. It's only drawback is its popularity! Still, this name could make it all the way to #1, next to Charlotte or Amelia - only time will tell.
Angelica (Van Buren)
While it hasn't reached the popularity of sister names Angela and Angelina, I think Angelica might be rising sooner than later. The fantastic character of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton is one reason, with the other being that Rugrats has been off the air for quite a few years now... (can you tell I'm a Millennial?) Angelica is currently at #425, and has ranked in the US since 1959.
A personal favorite (my mom's name is Nancy, so I tend towards the Ann names), Anna is the leading member of its family - save for the Hebrew original, Hannah. It means "grace", and it more than embodies its meaning with a melodic sound, simple structure, and historical usage. There are dozens of less popular variations with excellent qualities, too!
Another classic, but the prevailing opinion among name experts is that it's still too soon for the name to come back into fashion (I happen to agree). It still has a housecoat on, in my view. If you're looking for a way to honor a familial Barbara, try these on: Varvara or Varya, the Russian variants; Babette, a French diminutive; Elodie or Xenia, which include Barbara's origin meaning, "foreign".
We've got songs about its sweetness and a bunch of presidential street cred. Caroline currently ranks higher than both Carolina and Carolyn, and manages to stay timeless unlike decade-oriented Carol or Carly. It's a fabulous name that can be personalized with a million pet names: Carrie, Cara, Carla, Callie, Lina, you name it!
While the First Lady was better known as "Lady Bird", her actual prénom was the strong and feminine Claudia. As a fan of meanings, I was disappointed to find out the name means "crippled", but it might work for an uncommon type! Other finds - Gladys is a version of this name, and variants Claudina or Claudette might help the name express more individuality.
With Molly and Holly so widely used, it is unfortunate that similar Dolley has been tainted by the musical (and references to toys). It's a short form of Dorothy or Dolores, both of which look better on paper, admittedly, but it's so spunky and retro that I find myself liking it more and more. The extra E in the middle relates it directly to Mrs. Madison, too!
Edith (Roosevelt, Wilson)
Riding the wave of the vintage trend, Edith has been jumping up the top 1000 list since 2009. It's sturdy but stately, retro but refined, unmistakable but unpopular (all right, I'll stop). Edith could honor an Ed (-ward, -win, or -gar) in your family, or stand on its own as a substantial pick. Diminutives Eddie or Edie are also cute on a little girl.
Eleanor (Roosevelt, Carter)
Along with a few names listed below (and some not on this list), Eleanor is one of the names in the top 100 with the trendy Ellie nickname. If you want to choose this beautiful, independent-woman name, I recommend trying a different short form, like Nora or Leni. Eleanor has been my favorite for awhile, and I still haven't given up on it yet!
Elizabeth (Monroe, Truman, Ford) and Eliza (Johnson)
While I briefly considered giving Eliza its own entry, it really is too closely linked to its originator. Elizabeth, the era-less epitome of feminine names, is currently at #13. It manages to age with its wearer while not leaning too old or young, and offers a ton of nicknames and variations to help it achieve a sense of uniqueness. Eliza, one of those short forms, is upbeat and passionate, a lovely choice. This name will never go out of style.
It's been on the decline for awhile, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Ellen is the English form of Helen, and ranks a bit higher overseas. There are quite a few namesakes in the past and present to draw inspiration from - Ellen Degeneres, Ellen Page, Ellen Pompeo - as well as fictional idols, too!
As a lifelong bearer of the name, I highly recommend it. Yes, it was the top girls' name for about 20 years, and yes, you probably know about ten Emily's other than me. But it's so feminine, pretty, and friendly! (Not-so-subtle nudging to name your kid after me, friends who are reading this!)
Sidenote: I am realizing just now that my preferred name aesthetic for girls appears to be First Lady first names. More on this story as it develops.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2!