Classic Girls’ Names: All about Alice
With a number of classic names taking a downward turn these days, it’s nice to see that a few are going in the other direction—William, James, Charlotte –and one that we’re especially happy to see making a return: our featured name of the day, Alice.
Alice is unique among the body of traditional, classic girls’ names. She’s more feminine and dainty than Mary and Helen, more substantive than Ann or Jane or Jean, yet with more lightness, sweetness and innocent charm than Margaret and Katharine.
From the late nineteenth century through the 1920s, Alice was an enormously popular Top 20 name–reaching as high as Number 8 several times—then slowly made its way down until 2005 when it suddenly reversed direction again. Tina Fey named her baby Alice the following year, and from then on its upward trend has accelerated, with the name getting to 142nd place last year.
One of Alice‘s assets is her plethora of wonderful namesakes, both real and fictional. For one thing, there are a disproportionate number of important Alices among modern women writers, as in Alice Walker, Alice Sebold, Alice Hoffman, Alice Adams, Alice Munro, Alice McDermott and Alice Elliott Dark. In the 1940s, there was Technicolor musical star Alice Faye, and then, in the art world, painter Alice Neel, plus food innovator Alice Waters, jazz pianist Alice Coltrane and many others. Historically, President Theodore Roosevelt had both a wife and daughter named Alice— a daughter who was a colorful Washington character through her long life—and there have been some British royals as well, in particular Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Alice Maud Mary, whose 1843 birth popularized the name in the UK..
When it comes to fiction, there is only one quintessential Alice. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and their early book illustrations by John Tenniel and others (later Disneyfied) gave many of us our image of the name—that of a young girl with long, flowing hair, sweet but spunky, curious and adventurous—and it was this character, based on the real life Alice Liddell, that sparked an even greater fad for the name. The old song Sweet Little Alice–Blue Gown, inspired by Alice Roosevelt, added to the sweet vision of the name. There have been Alices galore in other works from Shakespeare’s Henry V to The Last of the Mohicans to the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas.
Alice’s innocent young girl image went through some radical changes in the latter twentieth Alice -Doesn’t-Live-Here-Anymore century, embodied first by two hardscrabble, cynical working-class women in the TV sitcoms The Honeymooners and Alice, not to mention the housekeeper on The Brady Brunch, and then as a couple of rockers—the male Alice Cooper (born Vincent) and the heavy metal/grunge group Alice in Chains.
Etymologically, Alice has had a long and convoluted history. In its earliest form, it was Adalheidis, an ancient German word used as a royal title and also the source of Adelaide, followed by the French Adelais and Adelice, which was shortened by the twelfth century to Alicia, and then seen as Alison, in Chaucer’s fourteenth century Canterbury Tales.
The Alison/Allison form began to sound much more modern than Alice at a certain point: Allison entered the Top 50 in 1985, a year when Alice was only at 354. The Alicia version peaked in 1984 at Number 40, and led to the even more popular Alyssa, which reached as high as Number 11 in the 90’s. Other forms over the years have included Aleydis, Adaliz, Alaïs, Adelicia, Aliz, Aaliz, Alia, Alix, Aeleis, and Alys. We particularly like the Irish Gaelic Ailis, also found in the phonetic form Ailish.
At the moment, the deserving Alice is being revived all across the western world: she’s the top name in Sweden, a surprising Number 8 in Italy, and in the Top 50 in England and Wales, France, Belgium and Australia. In Italian, Alice is pronounced al-LEE-chay, while the French version sounds more like our Elise and the German is ah-lit-za.
So, let’s have a shout-out for Alice!
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on August 29th, 2012 at 11:28 pm
Alice is an all time favorite of mine, I just wish it wasn’t rising the popularity charts at the rate that it is.
on August 29th, 2012 at 11:48 pm
This is my favorite name of all time. It’s my almost six-year-old daughter’s name!
on August 30th, 2012 at 12:13 am
Alice is eternally sweet. I could very well imagine a children’s book about best friends named Alice & Lucy. Adelise is my favorite spin off (could do without all the Alicia/Alese names). Certainly no grunge was left on this classic name by Alice in Chains.
on August 30th, 2012 at 2:23 am
Alice is one of my favourites. Love how it’s so versatile; young and old together!
on August 30th, 2012 at 5:46 am
I adore the name Alice! I just think it’s beautiful!
My only issue with it is the lack of nns, I dislike Allie and Lissy, and unfortunately they seem to be the only viable ones.
I realise that Alice doesn’t NEED a nickname, but I like them, so I’d like to know I had the option.
on August 30th, 2012 at 6:37 am
Maerad: That’s funny because one of the aspects I like about Alice is that it doesn’t nickname easily.
My husband finally has come around to Alice which must mean it’s getting really mainstream. It was his grandmother’s middle name so that helped. It goes off and on my list.
on August 30th, 2012 at 7:13 am
I love the way the name looks, and I ADORE Elise (which is so darn close to Alice), but for whatever reason, I cannot stand Alice. I think it screams “old lady” to me because I have only known Alices who are very very old. Maybe if I met a few young Alices, it would freshen the name up to me.
on August 30th, 2012 at 8:18 am
My mother thought she was really ahead of her times when she named me Alyssa in the mid-80s, and for most of my childhood I never knew anyone else with my name (could never find my name on those personalized mugs or license plates or anything, either). By the time I was a teenager, though, it felt like half the little girls I baby-sat were named Alyssa, or loved to tell me they had cousins/friends/sisters named Alyssa, etc. and I started to wish my mother had just stuck with the classic Alice. I don’t really ever think about it now and have accepted the increase in popularity in my name. Probably when I’m an old lady everyone will think of Alyssa the way they thought about Alice until a few years ago.
on August 30th, 2012 at 8:26 am
When I was a child, I was kind of ashamed of my middle name Alice (no one else had it as it was deemed too “old-fashioned” I guess). I was named after my aunt and godmother Alice so I’m glad I got over my childhood nonsense. It’s nice to hear that more people have fallen in love with Alice’s sweet vintage charm. Now, I wish it was my first name.
on August 30th, 2012 at 8:29 am
Alice is one of those names where I can like almost everything about it but not like the actual name itself. I understand Alice’s appeal, but I just don’t feel it. I prefer the related Adel- names and spinoffs like Alison (my name, in the interest of full disclosure). I’d love to use Adele or Alix as a middle name.
I like Alys more than Alice, even though it’s easily mistaken as a kree8tiv spelling; the “lice” in Alice really jumps out at me.
on August 30th, 2012 at 8:55 am
I love Alice!
on August 30th, 2012 at 9:02 am
We considered Alice as a first name or a middle name for our daughter born in 2005. My Nanna had a sister named Alice, so I think that’s where we picked it from.
We ended up not using Alice – mainly because my brother in law is named Alan and my husband’s cousin already had a daughter named Alanna. And we had a friend with a young Alyssa and it just seemed too much “Al”. I ended up wanting to avoid A names altogether, as there were so many of them that we already knew.
We considered “Lucy Alice” until we realised that it sounded like “Loo Cialis” – as in the ED drug that was being advertised on the TV a lot at the time.
I don’t think I’ve met any Alices locally, which does surprise me.
on August 30th, 2012 at 9:05 am
My daughter dressed as Alice (from “Through the Looking Glass”, she insists) today for her school’s Book Week character parade. She was so great.
If I were to have another little girl and I asked Bianca what to name her, Alice would be a name she offered up. That and Imogen, probably.
on August 30th, 2012 at 10:03 am
My great-grandmother was named Allison, and that’s my name too, so I prefer it to Alice. Although, I am a fan of Alice in Chains, and have loved Alice in Wonderland since I was a toddler. …I guess I should admit that I thought it was “Allison Wonderland”!!
on August 30th, 2012 at 10:42 am
My mn is Allison and I love it! Have pretty much always loved it. It’s taken me awhile to warm up to Alice, tho I love Elise too. I do think Alice is pretty, it just still feels old lady to me. Like a pp, I think meeting a young child with the name would freshen it up for me too. Right now I vastly prefer my own Allison, and I also happen to know a little girl named Allison, which seems slightly unusual now, but I think it’s great. They call her by the full name. I also don’t care for Ally or any of the other nns.
on August 30th, 2012 at 11:40 am
Oh, how I love Alice :3 Such a lovely name! What I enjoyed most about this post, though, are all of the potential namesakes one could derive from the name Alice. But one left off that list is the determined, intelligent, girl-power icon of the early 20th century – Alice Paul! She was one of the foremost leaders of the Suffrage Movement, and even was jailed and tortured for her beliefs! So maybe Alice isn’t as innocent as we think 😉
on August 30th, 2012 at 2:39 pm
William and James have never left the top20, what are you talking about?
I say they need to go away for a long time, bring back OTHER classic boy names that are underused. William and James, along with Michael, define BORING boy names.
on August 30th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
Actually, Alice in German is pronounced Ah-lit-za. I have an aunt who’s german named Alice and this is how we pronounce her name. My German relatives also pronounce my name this way (Elise)
on August 30th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
Thanks, Elise! I changed it. I get my pronunciation information at Forvo — http://www.forvo.com/word/alice/ — and the ah-lit-za pronunciation is actually given for the Czech pronunciation of the name. But I will take your word for it, especially since the two German versions on Forvo are different from each other.
on August 30th, 2012 at 4:10 pm
Alice is an all time favourite of mine. It’s a real shame it’s rised in popularity but it really shouldn’t bother me seeing as I used a very popular name for my daughter myself. I think Alice is extremley sweet and just beautiful it’s absolutley gorgeous!
on August 30th, 2012 at 4:27 pm
I was almost named Alice, after my great-great aunt Alice- a woman who was a nurse during the Depression and took in homeless teen girls. My mom despised the name Alice, though, she just didn’t like it, and didn’t think of using a variation like Alicia or Alison (If I had been named either of them, I’d go by Alia). I like it much better then my actual first name.
on August 30th, 2012 at 5:00 pm
I’m an Alix and I love it now (hated it when I was young because it was unheard of). I have sent an email about this, but I notice that the origin and meaning of Alix in the name section of this site is incorrect. It’s not from Alexandra at all. Would be great if it could be updated.
on August 30th, 2012 at 7:06 pm
Oh, I do love Alice. If only it wasn’t so popular!
on August 30th, 2012 at 9:16 pm
I liked this post! My favorite variation is Alicia.
on August 31st, 2012 at 1:05 am
My name Addie is also derived from the German Adelheid/Adelaide. I may use my favorite old world version, Adelice, for a future daughter’s middle name. I am not particularly fond of Alice or the other “Al-” variations.
on August 31st, 2012 at 4:57 am
We have a 6 month old called Alice and we LOVE the name. There is nothing I don’t love about it. After she was born we realised it is her great-great grandmother’s name (on my husband’s side) which makes it all the more special. Before we named her I worried about the lack nicknames but it doesn’t bother me now that she’s here. We call her Lizzie sometimes (not Lissy) which I think is kind of cute even if it’s a little stretch.
on August 31st, 2012 at 7:59 pm
Please pick a boys name next!
on September 6th, 2012 at 2:47 am
Alice is one of my personal favourites. It will rise as an alternative to Alicia and Alyssa
on September 15th, 2012 at 6:50 pm
I’m a 23yo Alice and I’m loving the love for my name on here 🙂
@GoodHope Alys isn’t a made up spelling, it’s the Welsh equivalent. I’m Welsh and the “lice” way of spelling it is less common here.
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