Name of the Day: Samantha

by appellationmountain on November 10, 2009

She’s been a steady favorite since Elizabeth Montgomery twitched her nose on television half a century back.

Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Samantha as Name of the Day.

Plenty of parents declare that they heartily dislike modern names. Then they declare an affection for Samantha. Stylistically Samantha keeps company with choices like Alexandra and Isabella, but her history is quite brief.

You’ll find Samantha linked to the Old Testament Samuel, from the Hebrew for “God has heard.” Samuel has been in the boys’ rotation since the Reformation. But a feminine version didn’t emerge for years.

The first notable Samantha was Samantha Bumgarner, born on Halloween 1878 in a tiny North Carolina town. She followed in a family tradition and took up the fiddle, eventually becoming a folk music legend.

There were a smattering of Samanthas as early as the eighteenth century. It may be a mash-up of Samuel and Antha, from the Greek anthos, or flower. In the 1880s, Samantha ranked in the 500s – about as common as Easter, Mahala or Merle. By the 1900s, she was unranked. For generations, Sammie charted instead. (Billie and Bobbie also fared well into the 1940s.)

By the 1950s, even Sammie had disappeared from the US Top 1000.

Then came 1964’s Bewitched. The series ran until 1972, and can still be seen in re-runs all over the planet. If you’ve never turned on a television, here’s the Cliff Notes: witches walk among us, but are careful to keep that on the down low. Until one – Samantha – falls for a bumbling mortal and agrees to go cold turkey on the spellcasting – except for once or thrice an episode.

The writers must’ve been going for unusual when they picked Samantha. At the time, she wasn’t ranked in the US Top 1000. Fellow witches were named Endora, Serena, Enchantra, Hagatha and Esmerelda. They’d later christen her daughter Tabitha/Tabatha. (Both spellings appear in the production notes.)

The year Bewitched hit the small screen, Samantha re-entered the rankings at #473, and jumped to #179 a year later.

At the same time, the UK’s Top of the Pops featured Samantha Juste, the “disc girl” who put the needle down on the record. (Remember those?) Juste was born Sandra, so Samantha must’ve sounded like a romantic, unusual choice in the 60s.

In 1976, Samantha entered the Top 100 at #85. By 1986 she was #21. She peaked at #3 in 1998.

It wasn’t all witchcraft. Samantha was all over television – from Tony Danza’s tomboy daughter on Who’s the Boss to Kim Catrall’s ambitious cougar on Sex in the City. There were soap opera Samanthas. An American Girl doll who wore the name. Schoolgirl Samantha Smith made headlines in 1982 when she wrote a letter to Soviet ruler Yuri Andropov and later visited the country as a Goodwill Ambassador.

After decades of heavy use, Samantha has faded slightly, slipping to #11 in 2008. She still ranks in the Top 100 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and Germany.

In recent years, celebs have flocked to simple Sam for their daughters. (Think Tiger Woods and Denise Richards.) Exotic variants Samiah, Samira and Samara are also options for parents seeking a fresh take on Samantha.

While there’s nothing unexpected about Samantha, she still wears well today – even if she can’t quite claim to be a classic.

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