Feminist Baby Names: The First Wave
By Emily Cardoza
This past weekend, millions of women, men and children took to the streets to promote the fight for equal rights and social equity, especially in reaction to the recent rise in regressive politics and racism. Though it would be impossible to list every woman who has contributed to the fight for women’s rights all over the world, here are some of the “bigger” names from the first wave.
American Women’s Rights Activists
One of the crusaders whose work led to the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women suffrage in the United States, Carrie Chapman Catt also founded the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women. Despite these progressive activities, Catt also appealed to white supremacist notions in her campaigns. The name Carrie, popular in the late nineteenth century and mid-twentieth century, is now relatively rare.
Though she didn’t live long enough to see women’s suffrage enacted in her lifetime, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a tireless crusader for the movement. However, she didn’t support the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments (granting rights to African-American men, including suffrage) on the grounds that women weren’t included in the amendments. The name Elizabeth has long been an established classic, but the name Cady was given attention in 2003 as the main character’s name in Mean Girls – a nod to this first-wave feminist, perhaps?
Like her partner in activism, Stanton, Susan B. Anthony worked long and hard for a movement she wasn’t able to see to the end, and held her share of racially insensitive views. Her legacy today is that of the “incomparable organizer,” a true leader of a shifting and divided group of women. While Susan is another prominent women’s name throughout English-speaking history, it’s a bit dated today – Susanna and Lily are more contemporary options.
Born a slave in New York, Sojourner Truth did not achieve freedom until her early 30’s. She was the first black woman to win a case recovering her son from slavery in 1828. In addition to her activism in the abolitionist movement, Truth worked for the women’s suffrage movement, becoming famous for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” Though she herself chose the name Sojourner Truth in 1843, the name has since been used by many parents to honor such a remarkable woman.
One of the founders of the NAACP and a prominent author and activist, Ida B. Wells had a rich and multi-faceted career. She wrote about lynching as an investigative journalist, organized and marched in suffrage movement activities, and toured as a speaker in Europe. The name Ida, while currently off the top 1000, could move back onto the list with Ada and Isla getting popular. Another possibility – Wells wrote occasionally under the name Iola.
International Women’s Rights Activists
Táhirih (Fatima Baraghani)
An Iranian poet and religious leader, Táhirih (“the Pure One”) was educated and outspoken in her beliefs. She is known as the “first woman suffrage martyr” in the Bahai faith, and attended the Conference of Badasht in 1848 (the same year as the Seneca Falls convention), shocking male attendees by unveiling herself and speaking on Islam. Tahirih has been recorded in the United States a handful of times since 1967, and Fatima has long been a popular choice in the Arabic community.
A Swedish writer and feminist, Fredrika Bremer inspired countless other women in Sweden to join the fight for equality with the publication of her novel, Hertha. The book prompted legislation that led to legal rights for women, a women’s university, and one of the first national women’s magazines. While Fredrika may not mesh with modern trends, variants Frida or Frederica may work a bit better.
A cofounder of the major women’s suffrage group in Denmark, Line Luplau was also an activist for Socialism and class equality. A sweet, uncommon name in the US, Nicoline may unfortunately be mistaken for “nicotine.” Nickname Line (or to use the native pronunciation, Lena) is pretty and timeless.
Haru “Raicho” Hiratsuka
Writer and activist Raicho Hiratsuka accomplished a great number of feats during her lifetime – she founded the first all-women Japanese literary magazine, led and won the fight to allow women in political participation, and championed pacifism during the Korean War. A unisex name in Japan, Haru has been used sporadically in the United States.
The most famous suffragette in New Zealand’s history, Kate Sheppard‘s work helped many following suffrage movements across the globe. She was elected the National Council of Women’s president in 1894, and continued to write on behalf of women’s issues until the end of her life. After years of Caitlins and Katherines topping the charts, short and sharp Kate could rise up the ranks.
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on January 25th, 2017 at 8:18 am
Don’t forget the Famous Five from Canada! Emily Murphy,
Irene Marryat Parlby,
Nellie Mooney McClung,
Louise Crummy McKinney,
Henrietta Muir Edwards
on January 25th, 2017 at 10:40 am
I was thinking also of Emmeline & Christabel Pankhurst, & Inez Mulholland.
on January 25th, 2017 at 10:49 am
Before reading the list I wanted to suggest Fatima for another reason. Fatima Baci is an important figure in Turkish history. She lived in middle aged Seljuk Empire and she was a very successful business woman, who founded Baciyan-i Rum, Women of Anatolia, to support women in working field. She wanted them to be equal to their male counterparts, fight against domestic abuse and protected the victims, she also supported girls’ education and opened schools!
on January 26th, 2017 at 11:54 am
I love that you compiled such a great list of such inspiring women! It’s always fascinating to learn about women in history.
I’m curious if there are enough notable male figures to make a list of men who fought for women’s rights? It would certainly be interesting to see name from the other side of the coin. 🙂 Just a thought.
on January 31st, 2017 at 2:38 am
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