Editor’s note: This post was originally published on August 26, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on June 24, 2013.
The most famous bearer of this name is a style icon and a noted humanitarian, too.
Thanks to JNE for suggesting Audrey as Name of the Day – and to C in DC for pointing out that the post needed a refresh!
Sixty years after her star-making turn as princess-on-the-lam Ann/Anya in Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn remains the face that many of us picture when we hear her first name.
But there have been plenty of others. Audrey has ranked in the Top 300 names for girls throughout the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 30s she made the US Top 100. Since 2002, she’s returned to to the Top 100, this time reaching an all-time high of #41 in 2012.
And why not?
Besides the Hollywood connection, Audrey fits right in with borrowed-from-the-boys choices like Ashley, Avery and Aubrey.
But there’s something ladylike about her, too. Audrey could be a sister for Emily or Mary.
Her history runs deep, all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon name Æthelthryt, from elements meaning noble and strength. She’s also recorded as Etheldred and Etheldreda.
Saint Æthelthryt was a seventh-century princess longing for the religious life. She agreed to a political marriage instead, but when things went whopperjawed, she ended her days at an abbey in Cambridgeshire. Visit London and you can tour England’s oldest Roman Catholic Church, St. Ethelreda’s, built in 1290.
Æthelthryt was her formal name, but the princess might have answered to Awdrey. Or maybe Awdrey evolved from Ethelred over time, like Maud from Matilda.
Either way, the annual fair near Æthelthryt’s abbey became known as St. Awdrey’s Fair. The inexpensive lace goods – St. Audrey’s lace – on offer at the Fair are the origin of the word tawdry – cheap.
All versions of the name become rare after the Norman invasion, though a few uses remain:
- Shakespeare’s Audrey in 1599’s As You Like It, a ditzy goat-herd in the Forest of Arden.
- An illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII was born in the 1520s, and served as one of the future Queen Elizabeth’s attendants.
Then came Mary Johnston’s 1902 novel Audrey. It became a silent film in 1916. She may not be a household name today, but Johnston was a bestselling author at the turn of the twentieth century. She also penned the hit 1900 novel To Have and to Hold.
The name jumped from #251 in 1901 to #176 in 1903, suggesting that Audrey inspired plenty of parents.
Actresses and fictional figures include:
- Actress Audrey Meadows, best remembered as Alice on television’s The Honeymooners.
- French actress Audrey Tatou, known for her turn as Sophie in The Da Vinci Code and the title character in 2001’s Amélie.
- Some of today’s parents could’ve been influenced by Sherilyn Fenn’s wicked Audrey Horne on Twin Peaks.
- There’s also Kim Raver’s Audrey Raines from 24.
Audrey manages to be both current and timeless, more enduring than Kylie, less granny chic than Agnes. She’s a great compromise choice for parents after a straightforward, nickname-proof feminine name with history. Ms. Hepburn lends the name tremendous style, too. The only possible hesitation is that Audrey is very popular in 2013, and your daughter may have to share her stylish name with another Audrey or two.