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!