Baby Name of the Day: Blythe

She’s as cheerful as Felicity, as brief as Blair.

Thanks to Rocking Fetal for suggesting Blythe as Baby Name of the Day.

Blythe has never ranked in the US Top 1000, but she may be more familiar than some names that have ranked, thanks to:

  • Gilbert Blythe, who we meet as a boy in Anne of Green Gables. Anne and Gilbert, of course, eventually live happily ever after;
  • Blythe Danner is an accomplished actress, and also mom to Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow;
  • All of that explains something about Gwyneth’s daughter’s name. While everyone talks about Apple, her full name – Apple Blythe Allison – honors both grandmothers;
  • While we’re in Hollywood, Drew Barrymore’s middle name is Blyth. Just like her first name, this one was plucked off the family tree. Maurice Barrymore, patriarch of the clan of actors, was born Herbert Blyth – he’s Drew’s great-grandfather;
  • Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown is married to a Blythe;
  • Long-running medical drama House follows the work of Gregory House, MD, a brilliant, but difficult, doctor. Gregory’s parents appear in a few episodes, and mom’s name is Blythe;
  • In 1972, Kenner sold Blythe dolls for just one year, but enthusiasts continue to collect and customize the big-headed dollies with eyes that change color.

It’s the Barrymore and Green Gables references that hint at Blythe’s origins. Before she was a given name, she was a surname, derived from the word for joyful, pleasant, kind, or carefree. Either your ancestor was the happiest man in his village, or he came from a place named Blythe. (The River Blyth flows through Northumberland into the North Sea, and there are at least three other rivers England bearing some version of the name.)

The root in Old High German was blidi – friendly. Blythe (and Blyth and Blithe) persisted in use until the 1500s, but ultimately fell into that catalog of words used mostly by writers. There’s Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithdale Romance, and Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark” inspired the Coward play title; William Shakespeare used the word, too. Remember the song from Much Ado About Nothing? The lyrics urge women to be blithe and bonny.

Nancy tells us that 86 girls were named Blythe in 2009; the variant spellings didn’t rank. Blair, Brooke, Blake, Bree, and Brynn were all more popular. Bliss comes from the same root word, and has popped up in birth announcements recently, but she seems far more daring than the subtle Blythe, and so far, she’s less popular.

Boys have worn the name in recent years, too. Given’s Blythe’s surname status, that’s inevitable. In the nineteenth century, it appears to have been slightly more common for men, though it was worn by both.

Blythe fits so many trends: she’s a frills-free virtue name with surname roots. Her -th ending puts Blythe in the company of favorites from yesteryear, like Ruth, Thelma, and Ethel. In the last decade, there’s just Elizabeth, Samantha and Katherine with the -th sound and in the US Top 100. In the 1920s, there would’ve been more than that in the Top 25, and as many as a dozen in the Top 100.

But that’s not really a strike against Blythe. She’s straightforward, unusual, literary, and her meaning can’t be beat!

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17 Comments

I prefer it spelt Blithe (the same way I prefer Scarlet over Scarlett – word names that aren’t spelt like the actual words bother me), and I like to think of Blythe as the masculine form. Anyways, I find it really nice. It also reminds me of the lovely & underappreciated Blanche.

I probably have mentioned this before, but Blythe has connotations of dreamy blissfulness, while Joy implies active bursting with happiness. Honestly, name meanings seem to fall away for me in everyday use, even for word names. I associate the name with the person rather than its

Thanks so much! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this for months (you’re so booked up!). 🙂 I LOVE this name. The only hang up is my husband really doesn’t care for it, and the not-so-tiny fact that we pronounce it differently. One of us says it like writhe and tithe and the other sort of like life. Blythe Beatrix is the como I really liked, so it’s funny to see other people mention Beatrix with it.

I’ve seen it mentioned several times before by different people. More often Beatrix Blythe, not the other way, which is lovely also. Given that I find people generally dislike alliteration in names, it surprises me. I tried for almost two years to get Beatrix Blithe “fully, no going back, approved”. It was a definite for me but there’s that little thing called compromise. It was all in vain *sulks*

I’m not a fan of Blythe. The sound of it just doesn’t work for me. Also, that Youtube video was playing the creepiest song I’ve ever heard. *shudders* Seriously, no wonder those dolls were only sold for a year.

I wanted to use Blithe/Blythe as a middle for my second girl. Like JNE, Beatrix and Blithe worked extremely well together and I wanted both as middle names. It would have been exceedingly bad taste with having used Bonnie. I suppose it’s slightly more preferable than using Clyde, perhaps 😛

I also like Blythe for a boy. Although, I was bitter that the only feedback that seemed to elicit here was “Oh, um, like that gay jockey. That guy?” followed by a screwed up look of disapproval. Yes, the accomplished equestrian, Blyth Tait. Jeez, people. Grow up! I assume it would be harder to live with than Kelly here (which I also love) and that’s saying something. Again, it probably would have been a middle.

Thanks for your write-up on Blythe, Abby! I will be forwarding it on to the naysayers in the family! As I told you, Blythe is a frontrunner for Phoebe’s (as yet to be conceived) sister. I love these types of uncommon, frills-free names. Blythe seems the perfect antidote to the overwrought, multisyllabic names that abound these days. I think Phoebe and Blythe sound like such a happy pair! Blythe does pop up frequently on nameberry message boards, but it doesn’t seem like many people are pulling the trigger, though I have heard it in the middle spot recently.

I like the meaning and like it (and Bliss) for the mn spot. I toyed with it a little when I had my daughter, mainly for the meaning, but it didn’t work with the fn we chose… and I didn’t love it enough. I do like that it’s frills-free and I kinda dig that it has a really subdued sound, despite its joyful meaning – it’s a quirky juxtaposition. I do like it with one of our top fn choices – Beatrix Blythe. I have a vowel-starting last name, so it actually flows rather well…. I still prefer Beatrix Fern, but it shouldn’t be an issue either way – we are fulfilled with the two kids we’ve got!

I’ve played with the idea of suggesting Blythe as a middle name. However, the “bl” is a little hard to say, so I find the name doesn’t flow terribly well with most first names. If I did use Blythe, it would be in honour of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

I think the “Bl” sound combined with the “th” sound just don’t do it for me. Still would be fun to spot a Blythe on the playground though. I bet if I met / knew a little girl with the name, I’d get to like it more.

I love Blythe! The meaning is such a pleasant one. I much prefer this name to Blair, which I’ve been hearing about more and more. Blythe sounds more feminine to me, and I like that the virtue is a little more hidden than in Bliss.