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?