She’s a Baby Boomer staple with a surprisingly steady history of use.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Deborah as Baby Name of the Day.
In the Old Testament, Deborah is a female prophet, the one who urged Barak to lead an Israeli uprising. Barak eventually agreed only if Deborah would go into battle by his side. She did, and the Israelites triumphed. Forty years of peace followed.
There’s another Deborah in Genesis, but most Puritan parents were likely thinking of the courageous prophetess when they chose the name.
Plenty of early American Deborahs can be found:
- Appropriately enough, Deborah Sampson was a woman who went to war. Disguised as Robert, she served in the Continental Army for seventeen months and earned an honorable discharge;
- Deborah Read was Benjamin Franklin’s common law wife;
- Deborah Wharton was a Quaker, suffragette, and one of the founders of Swarthmore College.
Some Puritan picks fell out of favor and are only now being rediscovered. But that’s not Deborah’s story.
The aristocratic Mitford family was ahead of the curve with the names they chose for their six daughters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity Valkyrie, Jessica Lucy and youngest sister Deborah Vivien. (There was also a Mitford brother, Thomas.) Debo was born in 1920, and given the press generated by their family and her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire, it’s a safe bet that she gave Deborah a boost.
A year later, Deborah Kerr was born in Scotland. She’d become one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, six times nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, appearing in films like From Here to Eternity and The King and I.
Then along came Mary Frances Reynolds. Born in 1932, she signed a contract with MGM and became a star while still in her teens. The stage name she chose? Debbie. Her singing and acting career took off in the early 1950s. Among other roles, she played Kathy in Singin’ in the Rain.
The combination of English society figure, accomplished actress and rising star pushed Deborah into the Top Ten. She ranked #7 in 1950 and peaked at #2 in 1955. Add in all the girls named Debra, and she’d be more popular than Mary.
Notable Deborahs born in the twentieth century include:
- Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry;
- Late 80s pop sensation Debbie Gibson;
- Emmy-winning journalist Deborah Norville;
- Actresses including Debra Winger and Debra Messing.
Athletes, judges, politicians, filmmakers and more have answered to names beginning in Deb- There’s even a brand of snack cakes named after a real life Little Debbie. Some of Deborah’s appeal might come from nickname Deb – also short for debutante. Deb conjures up images of well-bred young ladies waltzing in ballrooms.
Debbie’s long since lost that air of sophistication, though she lives on as the name of many a small screen character, from Dexter to Drop Dead Diva. You’re unlikely to meet a little Debbie outside the snack food aisle. Debra left the US Top 1000 after 1998 and Deborah is just hanging on at #814.
Had she not been such a hit in the 50s, Debbie might be a logical successor to all of those girls called Abby right now. But today she’s more likely to be the grandmother than the newborn baby girl. But give her a generation or two, and tons of girls called Emma and Madison will discover Deborah anew.