Ask me to name a name I think we’ll see in the Top Ten soon and this ends-in-lyn choice would be my pick.
Thanks to Sara A. for suggesting the ever so fashionable Evelyn as Baby Name of the Day.
Go ahead. Shout. Yell. Through things at the screen.
“But Evelyn is a boys’ name!”
If that’s out of your system, follow me back in time. While many surnames indicate the father’s name – Jameson or Johnson, to name just two – others suggest the mother’s moniker. Evelyn is one such surname that comes to us via a female name, in this case Aveline. Parents today are rediscovering Aveline as something of an Ava–Adeline smoosh. But she’s actually related an old Germanic element, avi – desired, or possibly to the Latin avis – bird.
Avila, Avelina, Aveline, Evelina, and Evelyn were just a few of the variants in use for girls in medieval England. Evelina got a boost in 1778 when Fanny Burney’s debut novel used the name for its title character.
Between the Middle Ages and the bestseller, Evelyn had been adopted for boys, likely through the surname. The first one I found was born in the mid-1600s. Evelyn Pierrepont, the Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull. He passed his name onto a daughter, and a grandson, too.
His contemporary, John Evelyn, was among the world’s first conservationists. In 1661, he wrote about air pollution issues in London; he was also known for encouraging the planting of trees. Evelyn was one of the scientists who co-founded the Royal Society in 1660. His surname was used for Evelyn College, the women’s college at Princeton, as well as the corporate name Crabtree & Evelyn.
Then came the novelist Evelyn Waugh, born in 1903. Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945, is among his best known works. Here’s a trivia fact: his first marriage was to a woman named Evelyn.
Into the early twentieth century, we can find plenty of men named Evelyn. But by the early 1900s, the tide changed. Evelyn ranked in the US girls’ Top 100 from the 1890s through the 1950s, peaking at #10 in 1915.
Famous female Evelyns include:
- Evelyn Ay was 1954’s Miss America;
- Evelyn Brent was a silent film star – though she was born Betty Riggs;
- Evelyn Preer was an early African-American film star, crossing from silent film to talkies and the stage;
- There’s also actress Evelyn Keyes, who had a long career playing supporting roles in Hollywood successes like Gone With the Wind and The Seven Year Itch;
- Disco gave us Evelyn “Champagne” King;
- You might remember seeing runner Evelyn Ashford win gold in the 1984 Olympics;
- Soprano Evelyn Lear and ballerina Evelyn Hart add an artistic edge.
Artists, writers, academics, and politicians round out the list. No wonder – Evelyn has never left the US Top 1000, and even when she was out of fashion, she only fell to #289 in 1977.
Today, nearly any name with a V is in vogue. Evelyn appeals to parents who want something longer than Eve, Eva, or Ava, and like her gentle, antique feel. She’s also at home with respellings like Madelyn and nouveau coinages like Gracelyn. Variant Evalyn has some history, too, and is generating plenty of interest. (The heiress who donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian was Evalyn McLean.)
In 2002, she ranked #98; by 2009, #39. She’s often heard on discussion forums. And so Evelyn is almost certainly headed to a playground near you.