Little Women Sets New Name Trends

December 26, 2019 Pamela Redmond
Little Women names

Greta Gerwig’s new Little Women, the latest remake of the beloved 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, is sure to launch a range of style trends, including a fashion for its most celebrated names.

            Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy must be one of the most famous all-girl sibsets in history. At least that’s the name nerd’s view of Little Women, which is definitely one of the less conventional lenses through which to view the movie of the 2019 holiday season.

            Alcott based the story of the four March sisters – March stands in for May, Alcott’s mother’s maiden name – on her own family of four girls. And Gerwig (who has an infant son named Harold with fellow filmmaker Noah Baumbach) clarifies the connection between Alcott’s own family and her fictional one in the film.

            The eldest fictional sister, sensible Margaret called Meg, was drawn from Alcott’s oldest sister, Anna Bronson Alcott.

            Heroine Josephine, famously called the boyish Jo, was modeled on the author herself. The first name Louisa is, like Josephine, a feminization of a traditional male name, Louis, itself enjoying new visibility thanks to Britain‘s young prince. (There’s no indication that Louisa May Alcott was ever called Lou, though I can’t help but think she was, if only by herself.)

            Gentle, sickly Beth, short for Elizabeth, was based on Alcott’s sister of the same name, called Lizzie.

            And the youngest, spoiled Amy, was a stand-in for the youngest Alcott sister Abigail May, who was first called Abby, then Abba like the mother she was named after, and finally May. May died young, leaving her infant daughter Louisa May called Lulu, who was raised by her namesake author aunt.

            The fictional Jo is named after her Aunt Jo March and has two sons, RobinRab” Bhaer and TheodoreTeddy” Illmker.

            The book’s Meg has twins, MargaretDaisy” and JohnDemi”, named after his father. Later she has a baby daughter Josephine, called Josy. Anna, the real-life Meg, had two boys, Frederick and John.

Top Girl Names 1880

The Civil War era of the book predates the earliest government statistics on baby names by more than a decade. The first SSA popular names list is drawn from babies born in 1880. Here are the most popular names of that year.

  1. Mary
  2. Anna
  3. Emma
  4. Elizabeth
  5. Minnie
  6. Margaret
  7. Ida
  8. Alice
  9. Bertha
  10. Sarah

            Anna and Elizabeth, the names of two of the March sisters, were Numbers 2 and 4 in 1880. Louisa was down at Number 130. There were only a dozen baby girls born in 1880 named Abigail, but that was the sisters’ mother’s name so it’s immune to the winds of fashion. (Alcott Pere’s first name was Amos.)

            Josephine was a Top 50 name in 1880 and Amy lay just outside the Top 100. Other names used for about the same number of baby girls as Josephine were Pearl, Daisy, Fannie, Dora, and Rosa. Amy had similar popularity as Henrietta, Ollie, Rachel, and Sara.

Most Popular Names 1860s

Looking back further, to the 1860s and the actual era of Little Women, we can cobble together a list of the Top 10 girls’ names from unofficial records. They were:

  1. Mary
  2. Ann
  3. Elizabeth
  4. Emily
  5. Ellen
  6. Sarah
  7. Margaret
  8. Catherine
  9. Ada
  10. Jane

Boys’ names most popular during this time were the usual roster of traditional male names — John, William, Charles, James, George – but there were a few outliers that were widely used. Elmer, August, and Oscar were all Top 50 names. Other boys’ names widely used in the 1860s include Moses, Hiram, Amos, and Cornelius.

Little Women Names Today

Names from Little Women, both of the fictional March sisters and the real Alcott family, stand a good chance of becoming more widely used based on the popularity of the movie.

            Josephine was ranked among the US Top 100 Girls’ Names in 2018, while short form Josie was in the Top 200. Josephine and Josie have both always stood among the US Top 1000 girls’ names and have both been on an upward trajectory since 1987.

            Jo stood among the Top 1000 girls’ names from 1880 until 1985, when it dropped off the list. Jo ranked among the Top 100 for a quarter century, from 1933 to 1958, peaking in the late 40s and early 50s. Jo could well follow the pattern set by Josephine and Josie and be heading upward again, propelled by the movie and by a fashion for gender-neutral nicknames such as Charlie and Frankie.

            Margaret and Elizabeth are both traditional favorites, though short forms Meg and Beth are out of favor today. And Amy was too popular too recently – it was a Top 10 name in the 1970s and early 80s – to be revived as a hot baby name.

            Louisa may be the most fashionable of all the Little Women names, heading straight up the charts since reappearing in the Top 1000 in 2014 after being off the charts for more than 40 years.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles


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