The Spellings of Classic Name Katherine
As I reveal in my book, Name-alytics, there are three spellings of Katherine that have been in the Top 100… Catherine, Katherine and Kathryn (the Big 3). Catherine reached its peak in 1914, Katherine reached its peak in 1988, and Kathryn reached its peak in 1951. That alone is quite fascinating to those interested in the history of name popularity, but it is not enough to satisfy my detail-specific thirst.
How have each of these spellings fared over the years in comparison to each other as well as to other spellings of the name? The graph below shows each spelling’s percentage of use from 1938 through 2013. (My database only has the percentage of use information from 1938 onward because the raw data from the SSA is not available prior to that year.)
If I only wanted to prove that the Big 3 were and are the dominant spellings over the years, you can see it here. But even more interestingly, you can see where exactly the spelling preference changed from Catherine to Katherine. In 1973, parents made the switch from C to K, which probably goes along with the trends of the time.
Another impressive pattern you can recognize in the graphic are the two humps. In the 1940s and 1950s, there is a swelling of usage for all of the Big 3, with Catherine taking the lead, followed by Kathryn, and then Katherine. The 1960s and 1970s brought a decrease in usage, and then another boom occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s, this time with Katherine taking the lead, followed by Kathryn, and then Catherine, who only seemed to go down from its peak in the 1950s.
To take this observation even further, I present the next graph. Because they are Top 100 names and therefore subjects of my Name-alytics research, I have the percentage of usage data for the Big 3 from 1880 through 1937…
Do you see the slight hump in the 1910s? And Catherine and Katherine may very well be coming down from another hump occurring off-graph prior to 1880. You can also see exactly how popular Catherine was at its peak… 8 out of every 1,000 girls were named Catherine in the mid-1910s. Catherine was more popular at its height than Katherine or Kathryn ever were at theirs.
But let’s move on. Referring back to the first chart, starting in the late 1990s, and continuing currently, you can see the trend is moving away from Katherine, no matter how you spell it. Katherine is still the most popular of the Big 3, but Catherine overtook Kathryn at the turn of the century.
As for the non-Big 3 spellings, the upswing of Katherine and Kathryn in the 1980s helped Katharine have a rise in popularity during that time as well. Katharine still has the highest popularity out of the rest, followed by Katheryn, Cathryn, Catharine, and Catheryn. (There are plenty of other spellings of Katherine that have been used… I just chose to concentrate on these for the purposes of this post.)
So, what does all of this mean? Well, Katherine has shown to be quite a roller-coaster of a name. Making this discovery leads me wonder if the wave will continue and another influx of Katherines will appear in the next decade or so. If so, I wonder which spelling will take control then? What do you think? Will Catherine join the trend towards older favorites and come back into the forefront?
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on March 26th, 2015 at 11:11 pm
My favorite spelling is Katharine, but it’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of the spellings in general. I think this generation will see more of the Catherine spelling. I think K-names are unfairly misaligned on Nameberry, but in the wider world too it’s seen as a passe, trendy letter. The Kardashians do nothing to help its image. However, there are lots of names spelled legitimately with a K, not least of all Katherine, with its Greek origins. The Greeks would have used a K because there is no C, unless I’m mistaken? (Feel free to correct me if you’re knowledgable on the topic!) But I think right now, Catherine is seen as the more classic choice.
on March 27th, 2015 at 12:41 pm
I prefer Catherine, it looks classier to me.
on March 27th, 2015 at 12:48 pm
I’m a Katherine “Katie” born in 1987 right in the middle of Katherine’s hay day (although I was named after a Katherine born in the 1940s. I wonder if part of the switch from Catherine to Katherine had to do with nicknames and the switch from Cathy to Katie as the preferred option.
on March 27th, 2015 at 12:54 pm
I like Katherine more, mostly because I prefer Kate to Cate. I don’t care for Kathryn too much though.
on March 27th, 2015 at 4:58 pm
Kathryn in by far my favourite spelling. The other all look very clunky. However, it is one of those names I’ve always disliked, so Kathryn may be my favourite but by no means will I be considering it for my own daughter.
on March 27th, 2015 at 8:46 pm
Prefer Katherine- it seems fresher to me. Catherine is old, and Kathryn is a little tacky IMO…
on March 29th, 2015 at 11:28 pm
If our bun in the oven is a girl, we have chosen K/Cather(y)ine. We currently have no spelling preference. I have started to poll people as to how they would write it out if someone said the name. That poll paired with this article makes my head hurt! We plan on calling her K/Cate which further complicates things!
on March 31st, 2015 at 9:27 pm
Fascinating article, and I also like KatieNana’s suggested theory for the changeover in preference from C to K – that might be right on the ball!
I’vw always preferred the K version – I think because the C version reminds me of the word “catholic” and I frefer to differentiate, but also because the K version was the one in most of the history books which made me fall in love with the name in the first place (all those queens!) and not least because the Kate nickname is less likely to be confused (I don’t think Cate looks authentic!)
Kathryn was sometimes used in medieval and Tudor times when spellings were more fluid – for this reason it seems fair to consider it historically authentic although it does look modern and perhaps even slightly tacky.
I have a Welsh friend called Cassie whose real name (only ever used on formal documents) is Catherine. I think Cassie is a lovely nn for Catherine – she’s not the only one I’ve encountered.
on April 1st, 2015 at 8:09 pm
I’m a Kathryn (“Katy”), born in 1970s, named for my grandmother Kathryn (“Kay”) who was born in 1910s. My mother is a Katherine (“Kathy”) who was born in 1940s and was named for her grandmother Katherine (“Katie”) who I think was born in 1880s. The ebbs and flows of the various spellings make my family tree make sense! If I could have thought of a nickname I liked I might have named my little girl Katherine. Cassie is a great suggestion for a nickname for Catherine!
on April 16th, 2015 at 6:56 pm
I prefer Katherine. It seems far more timeless to me then Catherine which automatically conjurs up Cathy. Then again,I would prefer Katerina more than both Katherine or Catherine, it is a family name for me too. I’m curious about Kathryn. Why the spelling was changed, maybe to modernise it? When names like Joyce became popular? I don’t know, very interesting.
on June 19th, 2017 at 4:23 am
My niece (due in October) will be Katherine Anne (nickname Kate).
I think Catherine looks prettiest, but I like Kathryn because that’s how Captain Janeway spells it.
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