The baby name Evelyn marries a tailored, sophisticated sound with plenty of vintage glam.
Thanks to Sara A. for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
BUT EVELYN IS A BOYS’ NAME
Go ahead. Shout. Yell. Throw things at the screen.
“But Evelyn is a boys’ name!”
Now follow me back in time.
While many surnames indicate the father’s given name – think Jackson or Roberts – a minority reference the mother’s name instead.
Evelyn comes to us via the Germanic Avelina, which the Normans imported to England. It may derive from avi, meaning desired, but that’s a little bit of guesswork.
That means that Avila, Avelina, Aveline, Evelina, and even Evelyn have history as feminine given names stretching back centuries.
But as a surname, it was sometimes used as a first for men.
There’s the seventeenth century Evelyn Pierrepont, Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull. He passed his name onto a daughter, and a grandson, too.
Even back then, unisex names were a thing.
In 1661, scientist John Evelyn wrote about air pollution issues in London; he was also known for encouraging the planting of trees. Evelyn co-founded the Royal Society in 1660, working to advance science.
The first women’s college at Princeton, Evelyn College, was named in his honor. So was Crabtree & Evelyn, a body care and fragrance company.
Then came the novelist Evelyn Waugh, born in 1903. Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945, is among his best known works. Fun fact: his first marriage was to a woman named Evelyn.
So … the baby name Evelyn is a girl’s name sometimes used as a surname that eventually became unisex, before returning to near-exclusive feminine use.
At some point, it was Evelina that became all the rage.
Credit Fanny Burney’s 1778 novel by the name.
The well-born Ms. Burney wrote her story at a time when even reading fiction was risque for women of a certain class.
But it made an impact. Evelina was a forerunner to Jane Austen’s work, and was a big hit in its day – enough that Evelina seems to have become a style star.
BRENT, PREER, KEYES
In the early twentieth century, the baby name Evelyn still belonged to boys some of the time. In the US, it appeared on the fringes of the boys’ Top 1000 in the early 1900s, and as late as 1930.
But the tide had turned. Evelyn clearly belonged to the girls. The name charted in the girls’ US Top 100 from 1894 onward. It peaked at #10 in 1915, but the baby name Evelyn spent over two decades in the girls’ Top 20.
Famous female Evelyns include:
- 1954’s Miss America, Evelyn Ay.
- Silent film star Evelyn Brent, born Betty Riggs.
- Evelyn Preer, an early African-American film star.
- Hollywood also gives us Evelyn Keyes, known for supporting roles in blockbusters like Gone With the Wind and The Seven Year Itch.
- Disco gave us Evelyn “Champagne” King.
- Athlete Evelyn Ashford won gold in the 1984 Olympics track and field competition.
- Soprano Evelyn Lear and ballerina Evelyn Hart add an artistic edge.
Artists, writers, academics, and politicians round out the list.
It’s enough to make the baby name Evelyn feel like a modern classic.
Always ranked in the US Top 300, a steady succession of women have answered to Evelyn.
In 2010, I wrote: 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.
After all, the baby name Evelyn returned to the US Top 100 in 2002. By 2010, the name ranked #39. And, sure enough, by 2017, it hit #9.
As of 2020, the baby name Evelyn ranks #9 – slightly higher than in the name’s previous heyday.
In many ways, Evelyn is a sister for Sophia. We don’t necessarily call them classics, but they share many qualities with Elizabeth or Katherine.
The baby name Evelyn benefits from our love of middle V names. Just ask Olivia or Avery.
But Evelyn also splits the difference between the two styles. It’s a tailored name, strong and elegant. And yet, it’s also clearly a feminine given name with history.
Other Ev- names are enjoying a moment – think Eva and Everly. That helped the baby name Evelyn rise, too, though Evelyn now outranks them all.
Spelling Evalyn looks a little more like Madelyn or Gracelyn. But it comes with history, too. Evalyn McLean was the last private owner of the Hope Diamond. (Jeweler Harry Winston bought it from the family in order to take it on tour; he later donated it to the Smithsonian.) However, Evalyn does not currently rank in the US Top 1000.
Evelynn – double the Ns – comes in at #327 as of 2020.
If you’re looking for a name that feels traditional, but also quite stylish, the baby name Evelyn might belong on your list.
What do you think of the baby name Evelyn?
First published on October 18, 2010, this post was revised and re-published on November 16, 2021.
I can second that Aveline means hazel nut or large nut, Source: Les Canadienes-Français: Origine des Familles, Published 1914. Alternately Avelin (no E) is listed as a diminutive of avel, defined as desire, joy, or frequented path.
Love the name Evelyn…Eve is becoming a more popular name..love it and all its derivatives Evangeline….Evangelina…Evangelia…Evie…Eva…
I waver between “blech!” and “meh”. I don’t like -lyn names. Exception: Marilyn.
While it’s not my bag on either sex, I do get a kick out of seeing it as middle on a few male “Telegraphian” babies along with Vivian and Jocelyn.
Lady Gwyn says
I adore Evelyn! I think it is beautiful, feminine and old fashioned-three of my most important name traits. I also like Evelina. I love Evie as a nickname, too. All of the Evelyn’s I know are female, so it took me a long time realize that Evelyn Waugh was a man! *blush* I would use Evelyn in a heartbeat, and it isn’t at all popular where I live. Everyone here is still fixated on ‘created’ names and Ava/Olivia/Isabella, et al.
This is one of the few names I view as being genuinely unisex. I still only like it for a boy/man though.
I love Evelyn! But she’s just TOO popular for me now. I had a great-aunt Evelyn that helped my parents get married when her sister (my grandmother) refused.
Now THAT is a story!
There is a little Evelyne Claire in my son’s play group. I quite like it. Fun fact: Aveline means ‘hazelnut’ or ‘filbert’ in French, though the more commonly used name is noisette.
My great grandmother’s name was Mary Evelyn. For years, I had Evelyn towards the top of my list to honor her. Now it’s just too common for my preferences. It has all the markings of name on the rise. I do love Aveline, though.
British American says
The name sounds all girl to me – with the ‘Eve’ beginning and then -lyn ending. Plus I know a 30ish Mom Evelyn and an (unrelated) 3 year old Evelyn.
I do like the old fashioned vibe. Though the -lyn names, aren’t my favourite, what with people using the sounds in their own favourite mash-up sound combinations. I spotted a Belynn and an Adilyn recently – both age 2, at the library. (They weren’t related.)
I used to really like the name Evelyn, until I mentioned that to my mom. Since she acted as if I like was planning to name her grandchild Beulah or Etheldreda and she rarely reacts that way to a name, I’m steering clear of Evelyn.
I still like Evie as a nickname…
Despite being one who supports names like Kelly and Robin for boys, Evelyn is one that I have conceded to the girl’s side. Overall it’s not a favorite of mine, nor is it one that I dislike.
Evelyn is not in the top ten yet? 😉
I agree, this is one I can definitely see rising, I have already run into several little girls with this name.
I know it may have been used on males occassionally, but it sounds female to me. Could you imagine a boy called Evie? Not, definitely better on females, and the fact that it actually started off as female makes me rest my case 😉
I first started loving the name when KAte Beckinsale played the beautiful Evelyn in the much-publicized ‘Pearl Harbor.’ I’m betting that the film had some influence in bringing the name back.
Charlotte Vera says
I love the name Evelyn and would put it on my list if it weren’t becoming so popular. I generally pronounce the name “EV-e-lyn”, but I believe Waugh’s name is supposed to be said “EVE-e-lyn”. Is this a British/North American difference, or is the distinction somehow connected to gender?
C in DC says
I *love* the character of Evie (Evelyn Carnahan) in The Mummy (1999) as played by Rachel Weisz.
To me it reads masculine because its the name of my great grandfather, and it’s the only Evelyn I know. And I’ve always hated the trend, so yeah, same situation here.
You know how I feel about boy names on girls, but Evelyn doesn’t read masculine to me at all. I know the cutest four year old named Evelyn Corrine. She’s got this adorable curly blonde hair and the best manners from a preschooler that I’ve ever seen. I adore Evelyn, both the name and the girl!
I like Evelyn, and in my mind it is absolutely feminine, not a bit like a boy’s name. Maybe because of ‘Eve’ in the beginning. Maybe because I have a friend named Evelyn. Maybe simply because it seems like a girl name to me.
But it does seem a little older fashioned, at least to me. I much prefer Aveline, but how do you say it? Ayv-uh-leen? Ay-ve-leen? Ay-ve-line?
In English, I would say AY-ve-LINE