Thanks to Emily for suggesting Brighton as our Baby Name of the Day.
The first time I remember hearing Brighton as a given name was on 1990s sitcom The Nanny. Fran Drescher played the accidental – but surprisingly effective – nanny to a trio of well-to-do kiddos in a posh New York City townhouse on the Upper East Side. The kids’ dad was a handsome British widower and producer of Broadway shows; the kids’ late mother was American. The girls answered to enduring classics: Margaret and Grace. But the boy answered to the entirely unexpected Brighton. If the show ever gave an explanation, I’ve missed it.
Brighton does bring to mind England. There’s more than one place answering to the name. The most famous is a long inhabited settlement on the English Channel.
Originally known as Brighthelmstone, the town is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The name remained in use for centuries, even as the town evolved from a quiet fishing village to a fashionable resort. But ultimately, the contracted form Brighton became the preferred name. By the late 1700s, Brighton was a big deal – the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, was among those who frequented the resort. By the mid-1800s, railway access brought even more visitors, and the pier and amusement park that still stand today started to develop. You’ll find places using the name throughout the English speaking world.
Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach is nearly as storied as the original. Known today as an enclave for Russian immigrants, it also developed as a resort town. The Hotel Brighton and a rail line were opened in the 1860s, followed by a horse racing track, a music hall, and baths. By the 1920s, the community was inhabited year-round, and it became less of a resort destination and more of a day trip. That was the death knell for the hotel, but other attractions flourished.
Playwright Neil Simon put his hometown on the map with his Depression-era coming of age story Brighton Beach Memoirs. The Broadway production starred Matthew Broderick – a role for which he won a Tony. It was adapted for the big screen with Jonathan Silverman in the title role.
Besides fitting the two-syllable, ends-in-n pattern that we’ve embraced for boys’ names in recent years, bright is an attractive sound. All of the word’s meanings are appealing: shining, clear, and intelligent, too. To brighten is add luster, to make more cheerful. It lends him a hint of modern virtue name.
Is Brighton’s resemblance to the word coincidence? Maybe – or maybe not. The Old English word beorht is the forerunner of our word bright. One of the explanations for Brighthelmstone is that it was named for an early settler, Beorthelm, and his farm, Beorthelm’s tun, gave its name to the town.
Brighton has steadily increased in use for both genders since the 1980s – suggesting that Simon’s play gets credit for the name’s use. While you’ll find boys and girls by the name, Brighton leans blue – in 2012, 76 girls received the name, and 155 boys.
A handful of children have also been given the verb name Brighten, and alternate spelling Brightyn seems almost exclusively used for girls. Overall, he’s a handsome borrowing from the map, an unusual name that feels fresh, wearable, and upbeat.