Baby Name of the Day: Greta


Greta Garbo in The Joyless Street. Alexander B...

Greta Garbo; Image via Wikipedia

She’s a Hollywood legend, but parents have mostly left her alone.

Thanks to Abbey for suggesting a choice that has long intrigued me. Our Baby Name of the Day is Greta.

Greta is a mini-Margaret, one of many short forms associated with that saintly, regal appellation. Gretel is trapped in a fairy-tale, while Greta feels more like an independent name. In German, she’s gree tah, but in English, she’s greh tah, a short and simple choice with more bite than Ella or Jenna.

If you prefer a longer form for your daughter’s birth certificate but find Margaret a smidge too workaday, plenty of European variants might suit: Margretha, Margareta, and Margaretta all come to mind.

But the most famous bearer of the name was born plain old Greta Gustafsson in Stockholm, Sweden, back in 1905. You know her as Greta Garbo.

She to fame in silent films, and was one of the few leading ladies to make the transition to talkies. Her first Hollywood production was in 1925. In 1930, Garbo earned an Oscar nomination for her first role with sound, as Anna Christie in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer-winning play of the same name. More nominations followed over the next two decades, for Camille and Two-Faced Woman, but she never took home the statue.

Garbo retired in 1941, and attempted to live a low-profile, if luxurious, existence. Her image is deadly wedded to a phrase she uttered in 1932, as a Russian ballerina in Grand Hotel: “I want to be alone.” Later in life, she’d quibble with the meaning, emphasizing that her character wasn’t looking for mere solitude, but a certain freedom from demands. In the film, Garbo’s character was rejecting the advances of a rather persistent fellow guest.

For all the success of Hollywood choices like Audrey and Ava, Greta has always been relatively uncommon. The evergreen Margaret was a Top Ten staple through the 1930s, and some of those girls may have been called Greta – though many more likely answered to Peggy and Maggie.

In the 1930s, at the height of Garbo’s popularity, Greta made it into the 300s. More recently, the name was unranked through the 1980s and 90s. She returned to the Top 1000 in 1999, and has since climbed to #666 – about as popular as Haven, Brinley, or Vera.

Greta’s return may be due to parents looking for the next Hollywood baby name. But she can also appeal to parents seeking a strong-but-feminine option. Other notable Gretas in recent years include:

  • Journalist Greta Van Susteren has been in the spotlight since the 1990s. She made headlines herself in 2002 when Fox News lured her away from CNN;
  • Actress Greta Scacchi;
  • Ingrid Bergman played Greta in Murder on the Orient Express;
  • Days of Our Lives included a storyline about the swamp girl, a young woman living in the wild who turned out to be the daughter of a princess. Oh, and swamp girl’s name was Greta. Hey, it’s a soap opera!

Greta feels more substantial than some short, nickname-proof options for girls. She’s a sophisticated name that isn’t too much for a child to wear. If you’re looking for a pan-European choice that’s familiar but uncommon, Greta could be the right choice.

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37 Comments

I was born in England just prior to WW2. My name is pronounced greetah but is spelled Greta. I was told that was the way it was pronounced in England. Having emmigrated to North America as a child with family, I have had to put up with being called Gre-tah since a child by those other than close firends and family.
I like my name but not the mispronunciation of it.

I watched the movie “Begin Again” this weekend and Keira Knightley plays a Gretta. I really liked the name in the film and have added it to my shortlist, though I prefer the more common Greta spelling.

Love this name. Sounds tough and sweet at the same time. I prefer Gretchen — one of my favorite girl names ever — but my wife hates it. So it never made any traction when we were discussing baby names.

Gretchen makes me think of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. It makes me really, really love the name. There was a rumor that they were adapting her book for television with Kristin Davis as Gretchen – wonder what ever happened?

I love Greta! Greta seems seems strong, elegant, classy, someone who gets things done and is not afraid of anyone.
Not my hubby’s style at all, so I’ll never use it in real life, but I have used it in a children’s story. Interestingly enough, Vera, which equals Greta in popularity, is the name of the girl in my new story. (Nothing I’ll ever publish, as I’m a terrible writer, but I enjoy writing for myself and my daughter.)

My 1 year old is a darling little Greta! I was obsessed with the name when a friend (who has a Margaret, nn Maggie) mentioned it before I was even pregnant. Unique but not weird, and I love the German roots. And it took me quite awhile to not automatically type Great instead, which perfectly describes our Greta.

It’s always fun to write about a name that seems relatively underused and hear that it is being worn so well by real-life people!

Thanks for such a wonderful write up (and for selecting such a gorgeous photo of the Greta of all Gretas (swoon!)). Interesting–but not terribly surprising–that there’s such strong love and hate for this name. But, despite my dislike of the name Gretchen (for the exact reasons identified by some of the negative responders above), I’m still loving sweet Greta and it remains our first choice if our second is a girl.

I like Greta, and I like Margaret. I also like some of the variations that Abby mentioned in the beginning. My favorite Margaret nickname would be Margot, followed by Daisy and Pearl. I would love to meet a little Greta, and wouldn’t hesitate to use it if my future husband was dead set on it. Nice choice, Abby!

I like Greta, though I don’t like that the T is pronounced (at least in my accent) closer to a D. That said, I would love to meet a little Greta!

A lot of 2-syllable-ends-in-A girls names are getting pretty tired. Choices like Greta and Vera would be breaths of fresh air 😉

I like Greta. Makes me think of fairytale Gretel and the name Grace. I’ve never known a Greta, so that gives it plus-points to me. And I do like girls names ending in ‘a’. Plus it does have a ‘strong’ image in my mind, which is nice for a girls name.

Having lived in the US for 10 years, I don’t have the negative word associations of grotty and grit anymore.

I guess I’d never actually use the name though, since we already have a G named child and I’d prefer to not repeat initials.

I have a 10-yr-old cousin named Greta, which I also always type as great. 🙂

I’m not a big fan of G- names in general (don’t much care for that letter), but Greta has lots of qualities I like in girls’ names – short, snappy, lots of consonants.

Count me in as a ‘yea’ for Greta. I prefer Marjorie as a Margaret derivative, but Greta definitely is the more exotic twist, rather than the sweet, girlish, botanical side of Marjorie. I really like Greta and the possible use of it as a nickname might even persuade me to consider the Margery spelling (then you get *both* names – score!)

Put me in the “fan” column. I find it classic but quirky, feminine but very strong, uncommon but not weird. Personally, I would use it, though it’s not at the very top of my list. I think the main thing holding it back, along with the sort of counter-cultural nonvowel-ness, is that it never completely dropped off the face of the earth. Unlike Ava, everyone probably knew at least a couple of Gretas, or at least Gretchens. So it’s one of those names that just sort of hovers around the same popularity level.

I know a tween Greta, and I have a set of friends who seriously considered it. I like it a lot, better than Gretchen.

I like Greta, though wouldn’t use it. The classic charm is appealing but it’s a little too clunky to want to yell it across a playground.

It is actually pronounced GREH-tah in German as well (it’s my native language).

I also like Greta because it sounds tough and also old fashioned and sweet. It’d be a nice way to honor my grandmother with out calling a daughter “Gertrude” which I like but my husband doesn’t. “Greta” also sounds like a name to me unlike our previous front-runner “Goldie” which always sounded like a nickname no matter how much I said it.

I think part of the reason that Americans like Greta is that we tend to pronounce our Ts differently depending on where they’re placed in the word. Middle Ts like “Greta” and “mutter” tend to get pronounced as Ds or somewhere in between a T and a D. Ts in the beginning, end, or middle following a consonant get the soft brittle T sound such as “talon”, “cat”, and “dentist”.

This pronunciation difference is a good point. When I imagine a British person saying it I hear them doing that ‘r’ thing at the end that they sometimes do…Gretter. Yuck. Definitely closer to those gritty, grotty, gutter words.

I love the name Greta. I am currently pregnant and if it’s a girl we are planning on naming her Greta Jewel. Greta to honor our German heritage and Jewel after my Grandmother.

Thank you! Now we just need to find a boy’s name we both like. I have been reading EVERY post and have scrolled down the master list of boys names but nothing is clicking. Any suggestions:) Our last name is German–Ullrich.

I actually adore the name Greta, and not just because I always mistakenly tap her out as great, but that is a plus. Personally, I have never liked the name Margaret, but I do love many of her short forms, such as Maggie, Peggy and even Margot to a certain point.

I think Greta falls into the short and quirky category for me, which is one of my favourite categories.

I’m not a fan of Greta to the point I’d never use it. If I were to name a daughter Marguerite, Margery or Margaret, I’m more likely to nn her Daisy over Greta. It’s just that I dislike the Gr- sound. I growl at the kids when I’m upset about something so it’s not an attractive sound to me. I’d rather hear the Gl- sound (hence my love for Gloriana & Gloria). Greta’s okay for someone else but very not for me.

I love Marguerite, nn Daisy! It has been on my lists, too. i had a great-aunt Margarat called Greit. (How my not-Dutch family arrived on a Dutch short form in small-town Pennsylvania in the first half of the 20th century is anybody’s guess.) Plus, Arthur has an Aunt Gosia – the Polish equivalent of Greta. I do like Greta, but I like so many forms of Margaret, I don’t know how we’d ever narrow it down. The only Margaret I know who is my age goes by Margaret, and the little one in my neighborhood answers to Maggie – which I also think is great!

I grew up with a Greta. Exotic, sure, but also extremely gutteral sounding to me. I almost feel like it belongs in a Jean M. Auel book.

I think Greta’s problem for many is its similarity to things like grit gritter, and grot, grotty — that combination of consonants to many an ear can GRATE!

I rather like it though — I much prefer it to Margaret. Definitely what we’d call a Marmite name in the UK (Marmite is a sort of spread which everyone either loves or hates!).

You’re probably right about that, Nook – though I think those sounds might have stronger negative associations in British English than in American English. For Greta, my fingers want to type “great” – and I associate the “gr” sound with green and growing, too.

In my accent, Margaret is usually pronounced as Mar-grit, but when it’s pronounced with three syllables — it’s the middle -guh- that grates my ear. Greta “fixes” that issue and I actually like the Greh- sound a lot (Gregory is one of my favorite names and my daughter’s middle name is Sigrid.)

The differences in British English and American English are so curious. 🙂

Sigrid! Ah one of my faves, love love!
My great grandma is called Greta and we all pronounce it Gree-ta so I was surprised that wasn’t the English pronounciation. I much prefer it to the shortened Greh-ta version. Lovely name, very tempting!

In my lists of name favourites I have a small group of what I call “throaty” sounding names. The list includes Greta, and I was thrilled that a woman on my April 2011 birth board decided to use the name. I personally prefer the longer Margaret (which I LOVE, but my husband hates). Some other inclusions to the list are Dagmar and Gertrude. Yes, the list only features female names; I suppose because I like the idea of the somewhat harsh sounds on what has traditionally been called the gentle sex. By contrast, a name I would love to see on boys again is Beverley, although I could never bring myself to use it.