She’s gone full circle, from buxom pin-up girl to grey-haired granny, and back again to the nursery.
Thanks to Claire for suggesting Betty as our Baby Name of the Day.
From 1928 through 1934, Betty ranked #2 in the US, right behind Mary. I’d guess that Betty was also the most common short form of Elizabeth, a Top 20 staple in the era.
Elizabeth is among the most evergreen of girls’ names, enjoying centuries of use. The Biblical original was closer to Elisheva, from the Hebrew phrase “My God is an oath.” She’s the mother of John the Baptist, and a saint in her own right, too.
The spelling Elizabeth first surfaces in England in the 1200s, and really picked up steam when Queen Elizabeth I took the throne in the sixteenth century. The name has rarely been out of favor since, and all of those Elizabeths necessitated a long list of short forms: Tibby, Bess, Elsie, Eliza, Liza, Lizzie, Libby, Betsy, and Beth are just a few.
Famous real life Bettys include:
- Hollywood legend Bette Davis won two Best Actress Oscar and racked up scores of nominations;
- Born Elizabeth, actress Betty Grable was the iconic pin-up girl in World War II, her photo so iconic that LIFE magazine included it in their list of 100 Photos That Changed the World;
- Lauren Bacall born was born Betty, and it is said that she much preferred her given name;
- Former First Lady Betty Ford is best known today for lending her name to a treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction, the Betty Ford Center;
- Comedienne Betty White is the last of the Golden Girls, a talented actress who scored her first Emmy in 1951, and her most recent one last year.
The list of fictional Bettys is just as extensive:
- Animated pin-up girl Betty Boop actually predates Grable by a few years – Boop debuted in 1930. She was modeled after Clara Bow. Today’s parents might not recognize Betty Grable, but the animated bombshell has become an enduring figure;
- Fictional homemaker extraordinaire Betty Crocker was created by a woman named Marjorie Childs, and was portrayed by an actress named Adelaide. She’s been promoting a host of General Mills products since the 1920s;
- The girl next door in the Archie comics was blonde Betty Cooper;
- Fred and Wilma Flinstone’s neighbors and BFFs were the Rubbles, Barney and Betty, from the 1960s debut of The Flinstones;
- The small screen also gives us Mad Men’s desperately discontented housewife Betty Draper;
- We can’t forget ugly duckling-turned-fashion-mag staffer Betty Suarez of Ugly Betty.
Like many a mega-popular choice, Betty fell fast in the 1950s and 60s, leaving the US Top 1000 entirely after 1996. In 1989’s Heathers the stereotypical good girl was called Betty Finn.
Today she sounds appealingly vintage but Betty has an indie edge, thanks to:
- Betty, who recorded the theme song for The L Word, among other things;
- The companion to Avril Lavinge’s “Sk8tr Boi,” was once called a skate betty.
Add it up, and Betty emerges as a little bit rebellious, a whole lot retro. The ever-so-stylish Design Mom has a Betty, and many other parents may soon follow suit. The question isn’t whether girls will answer to Betty – with Elizabeth ranked #11 in 2009, surely many do – but whether she’ll return to the US Top 1000 any time soon.