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.