Baby Name of the Day: Grace

by appellationmountain on May 14, 2010

She’s the ultimate virtue name, a choice that is both simple and versatile.

Thanks to Melissa for suggesting Grace as Baby Name of the Day.

What’s not to love about Grace?

She was a nineteenth century staple, ranking in the US Top 20 from 1880 until 1908. This puts her in the company of other vintage picks like Emma and Ella, Clara and Alice. But she shares her -ay sound with nouveau choices like Jayden and Kaylee.

That’s enough to make Grace a winning compromise choice, but then there’s her meaning.

Let’s start with Greek mythology. A trio of goddesses responsible for beauty, joy and creativity were referred to the Charites. They answered to Aglaea, Euphrosyne and Thalia. Homer cast them as Aphrodite’s BFFs. Other traditions gave them significant roles in the underworld. The Romans called them the Gratiae, from the Latin gratia – grace. Botticelli and Raphael were among the many to paint the three.

Grace has encompassed many a virtue since ancient days, and multiple meanings have evolved since:

  • The conventional Christian view ranges from the straightforward grace as a synonym for a simple prayer, usually offered at the dinner table, to a weighty theological matter;
  • Perhaps the best known hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace” was written in the eighteenth century;
  • We’ve been describing ballerinas – and types of geckos and rats – as graceful in movement since the 1400s;
  • You can grace someone with your presence;
  • The musical term grace note means an embellishment;
  • And, of course, any number of phrases with appealing meanings are attached – from scapegrace to grace under fire,

She can appeal to a devout audience or a secular one. Her sister is just as likely to be Eleanor or Nevaeh.

Parents who prefer single-syllable names might also like Grace’s flexibility. She’s as spare as Jane, Brooke, Bryn or June. But adding an -ie results in the girlie Gracie, a pleasing short form.

And we can’t forget Grace Kelly, a silver screen queen who became real-life royalty in 1956 when she married Monaco’s Prince Rainier III. Kelly was no mere starlet when she retired from acting to reign in the tiny European nation. She’d won a Best Actress Oscar in 1954’s The Country Girl. Other notables include:

  • Singer Grace Slick, of 1960s legendary rock group Jefferson Airplane;
  • Model/actress/singer/Bond villain Grace Jones;
  • Comedienne Gracie Allen, wife and performing partner of George Burns.

Comb through the history books and you’ll find many more. I’m particularly fond of Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who helped her dad rescued thirteen people from a shipwreck in 1838 at considerable risk to her own life.

The 17th century Puritans get credit for first using Grace as a given name. She’d fallen out of favor by the 1970s, but re-entered the US Top 100 in 1995 and stood at #17 in 2009 – a few places down from earlier in the decade.

Today parents might also put Gracie (#115 in 2009) on the birth certificate or even the compound Gracelyn (#572 in 2009). The latter hews slightly close to Elvis’ Memphis estate, but also looks like a cousin for popular respellings à la Madalyn.

With all this going for Grace, why does she make the list of Most Regretted Baby Names? It’s just a hunch, but I’d bet plenty of parents are disappointed to discover that many other parents have chosen the lovely, classic Grace, too.

If you don’t mind sharing, it’s hard to go wrong with Grace.

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