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All-American Names: From Dixie to Franklin to Tallulah

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By Angela Mastrodonato of upswingbabynames

Often an inspiration for artwork and music, classic Americana is an untapped resource for baby names rich in history and culture.

These names have American roots. These names have an American image, but (with some exceptions) most aren’t even popular in America. But they have styles appealing to many American parents.

Girls

America Admittedly this is not a surprising pick. What is surprising is how long America has been around as a given name. America first came into use as a given name in America in the 19th century. The name first made the Social Security top 1000 list back in 1880, the earliest year for name rankings.

Betsy – A diminutive of Elizabeth that became popular in America. According to legend, Betsy Ross is credited with creating the American flag but this has never been substantiated.

Carolina – The name of two U.S. states, North Carolina and South Carolina. Carolina is a feminine form of Carolus, a latin form of Charles. The states were named for King Charles I of England.

Dixie – is a term referring to the southern U.S. and used in a folk song from the 1800s, called Dixie. The name could have also originated from the French term “Dix”, which means “ten”, and was used on 10 dollar bills issued by a New Orleans bank.

Georgia – The feminine form of George and the U.S. State which was named after King George II of England. A former top 100 name from the Victorian era, Georgia has been slowly gaining in popularity after hitting bottom over 20 years ago.

Nita – Means “bear” in the Native American language Choctaw. The name had been at the bottom of the top 1000 until 1969.

Savannah – One of the most popular names on this list, from the English word for “large grassy plain,” which was derived from the Native American word “zabana”. Also a place-name–a city in Georgia. Typical of a revival name, Savannah first came into use in 19th century America, disappeared mid-20th century, and was rediscovered 30 years ago.

Shenandoah – From unknown Native American origins, this is the name of a river, the surrounding valley, and county in Virginia.

Tallulah – The origins are from a Native American language, Choctaw. This is the name of waterfalls in Georgia and is most known from actress Tallulah Bankhead who was named after her grandmother.

Temperance – This name meaning, “restraint” was first adopted by the Puritans in the 17th century and entered the top 1000 for the first time in 2011.

Twila / Twyla – came into use as a given name in America. May be derived from the English word for “twilight” and/or the Cajun pronunciation of the French word, “étoile”, meaning “star”. Most known from dancer Twyla Tharp.

Virginia – This name’s roots are Roman, being the feminine form of the Roman Verginius or Virginius. Nevertheless, Virginia was popularized in America after becoming the name of a U.S. colony and the first English baby born in the new world, Virginia Dare. She was born in 1587 and named after the colony.

Winona – From the Native American language Dakota, and means “firstborn daughter”. This was the name of the daughter of the Sioux Dakota chief Wapasha III. Today the name is most known by actress Winona Ryder. The actress was named after a town in Minnesota near where she was born.

Boys

Chauncey – This surname-name may seem upper crust and British but became a given name in America. The name was often given in honor of Harvard president Charles Chauncey (1592-1672).

Franklin – Originated as a surname with Old English roots. Associated with early American statesman and renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin and 32nd U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Jefferson – An English surname meaning “son of Jeffrey”. Most known by the third U.S. President and Declaration of Independence signer, Thomas Jefferson.

Lincoln – Originally an English surname and city in England which could mean “lake”. Came into use as a given name in America in honor of 16th President Abraham Lincoln.

Tex – Derived from the U.S. State Texas, a name based on the Native American word “tejas” meaning “friends” or “allies”. The name originated as a nickname denoting someone from Texas.

Wilson – From an English surname meaning “son of William.”  This was the surname of 28th U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924).

Unisex

Cheyenne – Not coming into use as a given name until the 1950s, and not hitting the top 1000 (for girls) until the 1980s, this name is relatively modern but has deep American roots. This is the name of a Native American tribe which lived on the Great Plains.

Dallas – is most familiar as a city in Texas but originated as a surname. The city was most likely named in honor of U.S. Vice President George Mifflin Dallas. The name may seem modern, but has been around awhile. Dallas has never left the boy’s top 1000 since 1880 and started showing up in the girl’s top 1000 in the 1990s.

Tennessee – When Reese Witherspoon named her daughter Ava back in 1999 she helped propel a name that was already steadily trending upwards. Whether she will do the same for Tennessee, the name of her son born in 2012, remains to be seen. As a given name Tennessee is obscure but does have a brief history in the girl’s top 1000 back in the late 1800’s.

This list is as diverse as the American landscape and ranges from homey casual (Betsy, Dixie and Tex) to distinguished surnames (Chauncey and Franklin) to elegantly rustic feminine names (Shenandoah and Winona).

Revised for Nameberry from an article that originally ran on Upswing Baby Names: Uniquely American Names.

Angela created Upswing Baby Names to help parents find that different but not too different name. She muses about names on their way in and on their way out in her book, The Top 22 in 2022

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About the author

upswingbabynames

Angela Mastrodonato created Upswing Baby Names to celebrate names on the upswing. She is a big-time name watcher, and has a growing list of names she watches by tracking their popularity each year. Sign up here to get your copy of this Watch List.
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