She was the Mackenzie of the 1980s, a surname that became huge for girls, with plenty of spelling derivations.
Thanks to Lindsey for suggesting her name as our Baby Name of the Day.
Which came first, Lindsey or Lindsay? They actually peaked at about the same time. By 1984, Lindsey ranked #35 and Lindsay came in just one spot behind, at #36. Combined, about 17,500 girls received the name – meaning she hovered just outside of the US Top Ten, without counting Lyndsey, Lyndsay, Linsey, and Lynsey.
Her origins are back in the fifth century, or maybe earlier. First came Lincoln – a place name derived from lindo – lake or pool, combined with the Latin colonium. Lincoln was a major city in a minor Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The kingdom was known as Lindesege – Lincoln plus eg -island. Lindsege eventually became Lindsey.
Over time, Lindsey and Lindsay also stood in for a host of Gaelic surnames from other origins, especially Ó Loingsigh. It’s also possible that Lindsey evolved from an older Anglo-Saxon given name.
What we know for certain is that Baldric de Lindsay lived in Norman England, and a steady drip of well-born and accomplished Lindsays followed, including a 13th century crusader.
Both spellings were in sparing use for boys over the years, with Lindsey more popular. The surname Lindsey probably explains some of those uses, as in early twentieth century poet Vachel Lindsay. Singer LaWanda Lindsey scored a string of hits, including 1970s’s “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.”
What accounts for Lindsey’s leap to the girls’ side?
We often credit The Bionic Woman, but Lindsay Wagner, the actress who played Jaime Sommers in the 1970s was born in 1949 – the first year Lindsay appeared in the girls’ top 1000.
In 1949, the #1 name for girls in the US was Linda. The -lyn/-lin sound was wildly popular. Carolyn, Marilyn, Evelyn, Lynn, and Lynda were all in the Top 100. Lindsay squeaked into the ranking with rarities like Roselyn and Sherilyn, and may have been helped by the sound of Top Ten pick Nancy. She didn’t last – Lindsay was headed back for obscurity pretty quickly.
In 1973, a young Lindsay Wagner co-starred in The Paper Chase. In 1974, both Lindsey and Lindsay entered the US Top 1000. Then Wagner became The Bionic Woman from 1976 to 1978, winning an Emmy, and the name skyrocketed. By 1978, Lindsay was in the Top 100, and Lindsey joined her two years later.
The names joined a list of 80s favorites with a surname-y, borrowed-from-the-boys vibe: Ashley, Courtney, Leslie, Brittany, Kimberly, Whitney. So dominant was she that men named Lindsey are almost extinct – only six boys received either spelling in 2011, though names like Lincoln and Linden are in use.
While many Lindseys are now likely to be naming babies of their own, the names have not disappeared entirely – Lindsey ranked #460 and Lindsay #653 in 2011. She still sounds like many popular, gender neutral names, and we continue to embrace -lyn appellations like Katelyn and Brooklyn.
Today she’s fading, and yet it is still easy to see why parents once embraced this attractive, active name for daughters. Had she not been such a smash in the 80s, doubtless she’d be a fast favorite today.