Little Women Sets New Name Trends
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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:
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
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.
About the author
View all of 's articles
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
on December 28th, 2019 at 6:56 am
Love Hiram and Amos.
on January 2nd, 2020 at 10:11 pm
At Louisa May Alcott’s home, there are some letters she wrote that she signed ‘Louy’!
leave a reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.