Girls’ names: Olivia or Olive, Sophia or Sophie?

August 29, 2016 Linda Rosenkrantz

By Linda Rosenkrantz

Many girls’ names come in two forms: a straightforward version ending in e and a more romantic variation with a final a. And these tend to move in and out of fashion as a group, reflecting the tenor of the time.

Right now, we are in a relatively elaborate era, with few parents picking girls’ names like Julie over Julia or Diane over Diana.

But I have a hunch that we’re moving into a more evenly divided time, with the rising of names like Olive and Sophie and Sylvie.

Let’s take a look at some more examples.

Caroline vs Carolina: Caroline was a Kennedy Era staple, and is still looked on as an elegant classic with royal overtones, ranking in 2015 at Number 62. The pared-down Carol, on the other hand, once in the Top 10, has completely fallen out of use, and the phoneticized Carolyn isn’t doing much better. Carolina has a completely different image—-Southern, rich and romantic—and is now at Number 430

Clare/Claire vs Clara: This is an unusual case, in that Clara doesn’t seem any more feminine than Clare—they both seem stylish but relatively serious. Right now the Claire spelling is way ahead, at Number 49 (by far its highest ever), Clara is 98, and Clare is down at 729.

Diane vs Diana: Dating to the Cheers era and before, Diane today—though it was a Top 20 name in the fifties—has lost virtually all its charisma. But Diana remains elegant and princessey, and somewhat underused at Number 295.

Dorothy vs Dorothea: Though the Wizard of Oz/Golden Girl stayed stuck in its time frame for decades, it is now showing signs of life again, reentering the Top 1000 in 2011 and rising more than 200 spots since then. Other contemporary parents prefer the more flowing and romantic Dorothea, with its plethora of great nicknames, from Dot to Thea.

Joanne vs Joanna: Poor Joanne, which was a Top 50 name in the 1930s and 40s, dropped completely out of sight at the beginning of the millennium, while the more graceful Joanna, though it peaked in 1984 at Number 88, is still at a respectable 305.

Julie vs Julia: Julie was once a popular cheerleader/Class President name, in the Top 25 from 1961 to 1977 (there were more than 15,000 Miss Julies born in 1971 alone), and though she’s lost most of her luster, still ranks at #453– though way down at 1527 on NB! Then along came Julia Roberts with her dazzling smile (which she has insured for $30 million), bringing new life to her vintage name. Julia is still at Number 89, down from 30 in 1999, a few years after Pretty Woman.

Louise vs LouisaBoth these classic names are inspiring baby namer interest, thanks to their trendy Lou beginning and family resemblance to popular cousin Eloise. Louise is Number 119 on Nameberry, Louisa 136 (much higher than the national number)—look for both of them to keep rising. Meryl Streep named her youngest daughter Louisa.

Olive vs Olivia: Here’s a case where the popular Latinate-ending Olivia has been bringing the less ornate Olive along in its slipstream. Olivia has been a smashing success across the English-speaking world—now Number 2 in the US, in the Top 3 in England, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, and the very top name on Nameberry.

Sophie vs Sophia: With Sophia the third most popular name in the country, it’s no wonder that many parents are turning to her more downhome-sounding French version (and also the Italianate Sofia). Sophie is now a Top 10 name in England, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia and 104 in the US, up over 800 places since the 80s.

Susan vs Susanna: Susan, now hanging on by a thread at #929, was one of the most popular midcentury girls—she was the second highest girls name from 1957 to 1960, when everyone knew a Sue, Susie or Suzie-Q. Now parents would prefer the softer, more lyrical, biblical Susanna(h)—though surprisingly it hasn’t yet reentered the Top 1000.

Sylvie vs SylviaSweet, sylvan, French-accented Sylvie had never made much of an impression in this country until it began to take off among hip urban baby namers in the last few years; it has jumped to Number 209 on Nameberry, though it’s never made it to the nationals. At the same time, the English version Sylvia has been making a comeback, now at Number 484 and 229 on Nameberry. Though she still has a way to go to reach her 1930s high point of #48.

Some other pairs to compare and contrast: Adrienne vs Adriana, Ann vs Anna, Eve vs Eva, Isabel vs Isabella, Marie vs Maria, Rose vs Rosa.

In general, which versions do you prefer—the simple and more serious or the slightly more ornate?


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