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.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

C in DC December 14, 2012 at 3:11 PM

Given that the first notable use was someone born on Halloween and then it pops up as a witch’s name, I wonder if it isn’t somehow connected to Samhain.

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Frances September 12, 2011 at 6:38 AM

My parents decided to have the variation to Samantha, they are both from Chile and they decided to call my sister Samanta. I do like it alot more than Samantha, has a better ring to it. I’m not entirely sure if they just made it up though haha. I still like it more

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Lady Gwyn February 10, 2010 at 3:46 PM

I almost ended up a Samantha…sometimes I wish that I had been given that name, because it was less popular than the name I was given.

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Sebastiane November 11, 2009 at 6:21 PM

Samantha has a very interesting history, I didn’t know till recently that it was an American made name. I like Samantha, but she is a bit worn.

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Panya November 11, 2009 at 6:37 AM

I’ve always liked the name Samantha [probably from watching Bewitched reruns constantly], but not Sam or Sammy/Sammie — I don’t like Samuel either. I think it’s that I dislike the sound of ‘sam’ with a short /aa/ sound [like in cat] — but Samantha is usually pronounced with a schwa in the first syllable, so it sounds different enough to me.

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Laura November 11, 2009 at 3:52 AM

I’m not a big fan of the name Samantha, or nn Sam, But I am a big fan of Bewitched! (Have the Dvd’s and all). I love watching it which inforces the fact that on a certain person who love the name. Elizabeth Montgomery could be nothing else that Samantha, which suits her and her character.

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Bewildertrix November 10, 2009 at 4:32 PM

I don’t know what it is with this name and men but I’ve noticed it gets the ‘sexy’ or ‘sexpot’ label a lot.

It’s pleasant enough, although I prefer plain Sam but would never put an androgynous stand alone short form on my own child.

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Christina Fonseca November 10, 2009 at 4:28 PM

Samantha is “just” okay; I wouldn’t mind meeting a Samara or two.

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Kelly November 10, 2009 at 4:00 PM

I have an interesting story about this name: I once wrote a story in which one of the characters (someone who is notoriously greedy) was named $amantha (with the dollar sign instead of the normal “S”). I am also a fan of the game show Jeopardy! and I once mentioned on that show’s discussion forums that $amantha would be a good idea for a “joke wager” if I was a contestant on there and I was in a position where how much I wagered in Final Jeopardy! didn’t matter (you can’t actually do that, as someone who was a former contestant on that board said that they won’t let you bet anything other than a numerical amount that is at least $0 and no more than your score at that time).

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jillian November 10, 2009 at 3:02 PM

Samantha was my favorite American Girl and I simply adored the name.

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Charlotte Vera November 10, 2009 at 12:06 PM

Samantha is a name that I’ve never been too fond of. I couldn’t tell you why because I actually don’t have any negative connotations with the name, I’m just really not a big fan. If I want a little girl “Sam” I’d go with variants like Samara or Samaya.

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photoquilty November 10, 2009 at 11:13 AM

I had a dog named Samantha. That’s always the first placemy mind goes. Also, I tend to think of slightly snotty girls. I guess I don’t have such great associations with the name. Well, actually, I loved the dog! Our new son is going to be named Samuel – we’ll call him Sam – so it’s not the sound of the name I don’t like. It also sounds very 1980s…maybe the influence of Who’s the Boss? “Samant’a!”

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appellationmountain November 10, 2009 at 12:41 PM

Ethan and Sam – what a great sibset!

And what is it with dogs called Samantha? My grandmother had a dog named Samantha, too – which is why this one was always a non-starter for me.

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JNE November 10, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Samuel is a great name choice!

I’m envious of you for being so decisive! We are still waffling around all non-committal (I think I’m waiting for some epiphany, even though I’d swear I’ve looked at every possible boy name at least 3 times)… 8 weeks left, give or take, and we’ll actually have to make up our minds…

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photoquilty November 10, 2009 at 1:15 PM

Thanks, you two. Decisive? How about the fact that I don’t actually like any boys’ names! Haha. This was the only one that I thought I could handle.

By the way, growing up, we also had a cat named Sammy (named for the dog, incidentally) and my in-laws had a dog named Sammy, too. So our Sam will be in some good company, albeit the furry kind. This is also why our dogs now have place names, not people names…well, one of our dogs is Brooklyn and the other is Annapolis, but we call her Annie. Still kind of people names, though when we named Brooklyn, it was a very lowly ranked girl name!

Off subject much? Sorry! ;)

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