Allison changed the way we name our daughters.
Top 100 month continues with this intriguing Baby Name of the Day.
Allison: Nobody’s Son
You’ve heard the criticism. Names ending with -son mean son of, and thus are meant for boys.
Allison reigns as the first ends-in-son name to strike it big for girls, long before we considered Madison, Emerson and Addison for our daughters.
The name claims two distinct origins:
- In the Middle Ages, Alice, also spelled Aalis and Alis, took the diminutive -on ending, and stayed very much a feminine name. As the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources notes, Alice ranks as one of the most popular names in medieval Europe.
- The double-L spelling sometimes evolved as a surname from masculine given names, like Allen. It might even be a matronymic – a surname derived from a woman’s name – in which case, it likely takes us right back to Alice again.
Allison: One L or Two
The single-L spell found favor beginning in the 1930s, and the double-L version followed a decade later.
Prior to that, Allison sometimes appeared as a surname, place name, and occasionally as a masculine given name.
Alison has ranked in the girls’ US Top 1000 every year from 1942 to the present day; the same is true of the double-L version from 1946 onwards.
What explains the rise?
A few things:
- Alice ranked #22 for the 1930s and #41 for the 1940s. As it faded, perhaps the longer version felt fresh but familiar.
- In the 1940s, girls’ names like Sharon, Carolyn, Marilyn, and Kathleen fared well. That might have boosted other ends-in-n options.
Or maybe Mary Jane Hayes gets the credit.
Born in 1930, Hayes won a beauty pageant in 1949, and made her way to Hollywood shortly thereafter. By the time she made her big screen debut, Hayes had a new first name – Allison. Hayes worked steadily in the 1950s, just enough to lift the name and make it feel feminine.
Allison: Peyton Place
Then came Peyton Place.
Here’s the set-up: Allison Mackenzie lives in the small town of Peyton Place, New Hampshire. Her mother, Constance, owns a clothing store. In the novel, her unusual name comes from her father – also named Allison. They change the dad’s name in adaptations, but the basic plot remains intact. He never married Constance, died a few years later, and the mother and daughter are going it alone – and keeping her illegitimacy quiet.
The bestselling novel was published in 1956. A sequel and movie adaptations followed. Then, in 1964, a young Mia Farrow appeared as Miss Mackenzie on television.
The show became an instant success, the stories of small-town drama and intrigue dominating the ratings.
Accordingly, the name spiked in use, entering the US Top 200 in 1964.
It faded post-Peyton, but only briefly.
Allison: Music & Lyrics
Elvis Costello recorded “Alison” in 1977. The Gin Blossoms and the Pixies used the name in song titles, too.
1985’s The Breakfast Club cast Alexandra “Ally” Sheedy as a character by the name – though she’s seldom referred to as such. Counting up fictional Allisons makes a nearly impossible task.
Mexican telenovela star Allisson Lozz introduced yet another possible spelling of the name in the early 2000s.
Allison: Modern Staple
All of this makes for a modern staple – a name in steady use for recent generations, though unusual a century ago.
If you’re torn betweens classics like Alice and newer options like Emerson, Allison splits the difference.
Do you think this name is dated? Or does it still work a child born today?
Allison feels both young and dated, if that makes sense. I imagine her as perpetually twenty-years-old, but it’s surprising that the name is still a top 50. Hmm…maybe the really young ones mostly go by Allie now?
The Mrs. says
Allison reminds me of Jillian and Mallory…1980-ish in style, but not too dated for current use.
Like Addison is the most common full name for Addie, Allison seems to be the most common full name for Ali. Sure, one COULD arrive at those nicknames via Adelaide and Alisa, but would that be our first assumption if we met Addie and Ali? The desired nickname of Ali also seems to keep Allison buoyant.
She’s a bit preppy, a bit my-parents-had-me-when-they-were-older.
A very brief correction — Al(l)ison is formed by adding the diminutive suffix -on to Al(l)is, not the diminutive suffix -son. The ‘s’ is already present in the root name!
Thank you, Sara – fixing!