With a happy birthday to my darling daughter, today’s Baby Name of the Day is Caroline.
We think of the regal Caroline as a classic, and she has ranked in the US Top 1000 in every year since the first year data was collected, 1880.
But she hasn’t always been a popular pick, even in recent years. In the 1950s, Caroline was eclipsed by variant spelling Carolyn, a name that reached the Top Ten in 1942. From 1936 to 1950, Carol was a Top Ten option for girls.
The Germanic Karl is the starting point for all of these, and his meaning is usually given as simply man. Sometimes you’ll see Caroline’s meaning listed as womanly; that’s a stretch. Karl’s descendants range from Charles and Charlotte to Carlos and Carly. A surprising number of them are big today, in the US and elsewhere.
Caroline is the French feminine form, but the woman who brought the name to English was a German princess. Born Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach in 1683, she was quite the smart cookie. Caroline refused several marriages to Catholic monarchs to make a match with King George II of Great Britain. A new queen is enough to make any name catch on, but Caroline was especially influential, supporting writers, artists, and intellectuals. (That’s her in the portrait.)
The royal couple passed her name on to a daughter, and well-born Carolines have been around ever since. A second German-born Caroline was queen consort to King George IV of the United Kingdom in the early nineteenth century. In more recent history, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is from the famous presidential family; she was named after her maternal aunt and maternal great-grandmother.
Add it all up, and Caroline feels like a good girl – privileged, preppy, maybe even pearl-wearing. Nameberry includes her on their Names Headed for Harvard list.
Plus, today’s parents grew up with Caroline:
- We’ve all sung along with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”;
- Ma Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie was Caroline;
- The author of the Nancy Drew series was called Carolyn Keene – even though that was just a catch-all for a group of ghostwriters;
- Lea Thompson played a single cartoonist in Caroline in the City, which ran as part of the Friends block in the 1990s;
- But the Caroline in New York City who really made an impact was Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw.
Plenty of modern Carries wear the nickname as their full name, like country singer Carrie Underwood and actress Carrie Fisher. Stephen King’s Carrie was born Carrietta.
There were also a host of notable Carolines in the nineteenth century, like First Lady Caroline Harrison, the wife of 23rd US President Benjamin Harrison and feminist writer and reformer Caroline Healey Dall. There was also the aristocratic Lady Caroline Lamb, remembered for her scandalous affair with Lord Byron.
Parents are embracing Caroline for dozens of reasons today. She’s the kind of classic name that will always rebound. She’s nickname-rich, but doesn’t need one.
Possible pronunciation woes come with any of the -line names, but it seems to be the KARE oh line pronunciation that’s much in favor now. Blame it on Neil Diamond – whoa, ho, ho.