Some authors have a genuine knack for character naming, usually spread over their entire oeuvre. In the case of Margaret Mitchell, it was all focused on her only novel–Gone With the Wind–whose character names still resonate today. The 1933 book (almost titled Tomorrow is Another Day) was an unprecedented smash, selling 30 million copies and winning a Pulitzer Prize, as was the movie, released in 1939 and receiving a then-record ten Oscars. Its frequent revivals and TV screenings have kept it alive for later generations. So how have its characters’ names fared for babies over the years?
SCARLETT O’Hara. For four years following the debut of the film, Scarlett sneaked onto the bottom edge of the Social Security list. It took a glamorous young, modern movie star–Ms. Johansson–to propel it to the upper echelons. A stylish color name, it’s now in the Top 300 and sure to move higher.
RHETT Butler. So closely connected to the Clark Gable persona, it took Rhett a long time to make it into the mainstream, which it finally started to do in the fifties, along with similar names like Brett and Brent, all of which have pretty much faded.
ASHLEY Wilkes. At the time of the book’s writing, Ashley was very much a Southern gentleman’s name. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that it really crossed the genderline, when it started to appear as female characters on soap operas like The Young and the Restless. Margaret Mitchell would have been shocked to see it beome the #1 girls’ name in America in 1991.
MELANIE Hamilton Wilkes. The name of this sweet and noble character inspired a generation of Melanies. It jumped onto the list in 1938, no doubt because of the novel’s colossal success, and remains viable today.
INDIA Wilkes. The name of Ashley‘s sister is one of the most distinctive in the book and movie. Heard to some extent during the Civil War period of the story, it dropped off the charts, coming back with the resurgence of place names in the 1980s and is still an exotically appealing choice.
BEAU Wilkes. The name of Ashley and Melanie‘s young son was another strictly Southern name, hardly heard in the rest of the country despite its handsome image. It’s been picking up some steam in the last few years, chosen by several celeb parents.
BELLE Watling. Another name with an attractive meaning, it was for a long time associated with slightly wanton women like this one and Mae West-type seductresses, but now with the growing popularity of Bella, it has been making a comeback, especially as a middle name.
BONNIE BLUE Butler. Although this wasn’t her given name, everyone thought of it as that of Scarlett and Rhett‘s little daughter, and Bonnie–yet another GWTW name that means pretty–had a long run on the pop charts, reaching #32 in 1942, and still hanging on in the Top 1000.
CARREEN (born Caroline Irene) and SUELLEN (Susan Elinor) O’Hara, Scarlett‘s sisters; Suellen began to be used the year after the film’s release, and came back split in two–as Sue Ellen on the popular nighttime soap, Dallas. Carreen, with all its double letters, never caught fire.