By Lauren Der
Olivia has been the second most popular girls’ name in the US for the two years running, and Golden Age Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland was one of the first people to bring it to prominence here decades ago. The last surviving star of Gone With the Wind, we salute her as she celebrates her 100th birthday today.
The name Olivia has long been popular apart from the actress’s fame. De Havilland’s actress mother named her after Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, began calling her Livvie as a child, a nickname that stuck throughout her life. Despite the star’s popularity, her name didn’t spike through the height of her fame in the 30s and 40s, reaching the Top 10 only in 2001.
Here, a look at the names of the characters Olivia De Havilland played. Are any of them as appealing as Olivia itself?
After being a huge bestselling novel, Gone With the Wind was as anticipated as a new Star Wars movie today, and it sent the name Melanie skyrocketing more than 500 places in one year. When asked how she felt about playing second fiddle to Vivien Leigh, Olivia responded, “Women wanted to be Scarlett, but they named their daughters Melanie.” While a bit dated today, it has endured in popularity, in the Top 200 for more than 60 years.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1939)
The legend of Robin Hood and the name of Maid Marian have been around for centuries. Quite popular in the 1930s, Marian today feels classic and stylish and would appeal to parents seeking something familiar but not too popular. Sarah Jessica Parker used the Marion spelling for her twin daughter.
Catherine Sloper, The Heiress (1949)
An Elizabeth in 1941 was more likely to go by Liz, Liza or Beth, but Libbie was not unheard of. Today’s parents are more likely to opt for Ellie or Eliza, but Libbie would be a spunky and fun choice. Elizabeth Allard’s moniker Smokey is best left for a pet.
Lady Margaret Loddon, Libel (1959)
Olivia played various forms of the name Margaret. Meg—not usually used on its own– feels sweet and down-to-earth, via children’s book heroines Meg March and Meg Murry. Margie was modern and trendy in the 1940s, but has since become dated. The full Margaret is more commonly heard today, ranking at 154.
Josephine feels as classic as Catherine, Elizabeth and Margaret, but her popularity has been less constant. Popular in the early 20th century, it was falling by 1946, seen more on adults than children. It has reemerged as an on-trend vintage pick today. Jody was a new and cutting-edge name in the 1940s, but feels outdated and tired today.
Virginia Cunningham, The Snake Pit (1948)
Virginia was quite popular in the early 20th century. By 1948 it was no longer in its heyday but still in common use. Nowadays Virginia is quite uncommon and feels old-fashioned, not showing signs of revival yet.
Germaine has never been common in the US, but was at the height of its usage in the 1920s and 1930s. Its foreign, aristocratic sound befits an 18th-century Parisian countess. Today it is associated primarily with feminist writer Germaine Greer.
Linnett is an English surname with practically no use as a given name. It would have seemed odd and unfeminine to 1950s audiences, but with today’s trend for surnames and unisex-sounding names, Linnett would fit right in.
Roy Timberlake, In This Our Life (1942)
This is one boys’ name unlikely to go to the girls, especially without feminine nicknames. Roy and her film-sister Stanley’s name (borne by President Obama’s mother –and also unlikely to catch on for girls) were popular for boys in the 1940s, but are now out of fashion.
Rachel, a biblical classic, was familiar but not commonplace when My Cousin Rachel came out, and for decades afterwards. It now feels dated to the 1980s and 1990s when it was most popular, and is more likely to be seen on an adult than a baby today.
Though rarely seen on birth certificates, Emmy has long been used as a nickname for Emily and Emma. It definitely works as a standalone name, but though not popular itself, Emmy would blend in with all the other Em– names and nicknames.
Elsa felt dated, obscure and foreign for decades, and Olivia’s Elsa Campbell did little to help shed its fusty German image. It was the popularity of Frozen that made Elsa a smash hit—it jumped to Number 286 after the film’s release: parents of an Elsa can expect comments about the Queen of Arendelle.
Popular in the Georgian and Victorian eras, Arabella was seen little by the 1930s. Its use in older literature made it feel suited to a historical film. Now it has risen again, but is still rare enough to feel distinctive. But with the trend for frill, feminine names, and nickname options of Bella, Ella and Elle, we could be seeing more of Arabella.
Rarely seen before the 1930s, Penelope was very fashionable and of-the-moment in 1939. Penelope Devereux, born in the 16th century, is thought to have been the first bearer of her name in England, in line with the time period of the movie. Some recent high profile celebrity picks have brought Penelope to an all-time high of Number 34.
Miriam has never been popular nor out of fashion, never cracking the Top 100 nor falling below 400. While traditionally chosen by Jewish parents, Miriam would be a refreshing choice for any parent looking for something familiar but unexpected.
Lauren Der is a Canadian journalism student who loves names, reading and old movies. This is her first blog post for Nameberry.