She’s a modern smoosh of two twentieth century staples.
Thanks to Deanna for suggesting Amberly as our Baby Name of the Day.
The obvious explanation for Amberly is that she’s a combination of Amber and Kimberly.
Amber refers to fossilized tree resin, though the word comes from the Middle Latin ambar from the Arabic anbar – which originally referred to a waxy substance harvested from whales, once used in perfume. (Really!) The resin has been valued since ancient Greece, where it was related to the sun god Helios.
Back in 1880, Amber was already in the US Top 1000, and she appeared most years through 1916. Then Amber disappeared, resurfacing in 1945 thanks to a scandalous novel about opportunistic, beautiful Amber St. Clare – named for her unusual eye color. Forever Amber was a sensation, describing the travails of a young orphan determined to make her place in society circa seventeenth century England. A 1947 film adaptation followed, and despite Amber’s preference for affairs over marriage, the name quickly caught on.
By 1974, Amber entered the Top 100. By 1982, she hit the Top 20 and stayed for a decade. Today Amber ranks #260.
Then there’s Kimberly. She debuted in the Top 1000 in 1946, shot into the Top 100 by 1956, ranked #2 in 1966 and 1967 and spent 1964 through 1967. That’s a meteoric rise, and she remains in the Top 100 today. Strictly speaking she’s an English place name of debated origin – each place may have a different backstory. Extinct feminine personal names and the familiar -leah – clearing – might be a part of it. The Earls of Kimberly come from Norfolk; they’re also the reason the South African town shares the name. The British fought a decisive victory at Kimberly during the Second Boer War, propelling Kimberly into use as a given name.
Some accuse Kimberly of being stolen from the boys. Maybe in the UK, but in the US, Kimberly caught on for both genders at the same time. Actress Kim Novak – born Marilyn– helped push it into wider use as a girls’ name in the 1950s.
But as you can guess from the photo, Amberly has independent origins, too. Amberly is a place – three places in the UK, and some elsewhere. It’s in very sparing use as a surname, but I can’t confirm the name’s origins. There should be a case for Amberly as a given name. It does appear sparingly in Census records prior to the 1970s, but in those cases, Amberly is likely to be male – making it a safe bet that it’s a family surname.
Amberly’s trajectory as a given name for girls follows the rise of Kimberly and Amber, rising from the 1960s into the 1990s, with between 100 and 200 girls receiving the name each year from the 1980s through the present. John Jakes – best known for North and South – used Amberly as a character’s surname in 1974, possibly giving her a boost.
Call her a modern discovery with some precedent in history. She strikes me as too close to Amber and Kimberly to feel truly original today, and yet she’s not common, either. If you’re looking for an update to Amber, she’s a candidate.