She became a twentieth century staple, a cousin to Karen and Susan, big sister to Allison and aunt of Madison.
Thanks to Megalady for suggesting Megan as our Baby Name of the Day.
Megan is one short form of the enduring Margaret. But unlike Meg, Maggie or Gretchen, she was unknown in the US until the middle of the twentieth century.
Instead, Megan originates in Wales in the 1500s as Megen. Margaret, the name of saints and queens, has been steadily popular for centuries. Take diminutive form Meg, tack on that familiar -en/-an/-in ending found in so many Celtic languages, and Margaret (or Marged) becomes Megen and Megan.
If that’s not enough to make her a Welsh heritage pick, consider this: the parent to first use Megan in our modern era was the UK’s first (and so far, only) Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Lloyd George spent his formative years in the village of Llanystumdwy, and his first language was Welsh. His wife Margaret was also born in Wales. Their five children were:
- Mair, the Welsh form of Mary
- Olwen, borrowed from a legendary maiden
- Gwilym, the Welsh version of William
Megan Lloyd George was born in 1902, likely sourced her parents’ understanding of traditional Welsh appellations. (And possibly encouraged by Megan’s ties to mom’s name, Margaret.) Her middle name, Arfon, is a medieval place name with mythological significance.
She may have been novel, but Megan wasn’t completely out of step with given names. The US Top Ten in 1902 included Helen, and tailored names like Evelyn and Irene were also current.
Over the next few decades, Lady Megan would have a career in politics, advocating for greater Welsh autonomy. The name Megan started to catch on. She debuted in the US Top 1000 in 1952, following tailored choices like Susan (#5 in 1952) and Karen (#8 in 1952).
Megan entered the US Top 100 in 1975. Then along came The Thorn Birds, and by a bit of magical misunderstanding, Megan was transformed into an Irish heritage pick. Colleen McCullough called the heroine of her bestseller Meghann, known as Meggie, the daughter of Padraic and Fiona. It’s an anachronistic choice. While there may have been a similar-sounding Irish surname or Old English given name, Meghann was an unlikely choice for a young Irish girl living in Australia.
The popularity of the novel and the television mini series boosted Megan even more. The name would hover around #10 from the mid-80s into the early 90s, a sister for Erin or Kelly, Lauren or Kristen. All of those once-popular picks are now solidly in mom name territory, and Megan is slipping fast. She was down to #164 in 2011.
Today we tend to see Megan as a thoroughly normal name, one that’s always been around. Mad Men gave the name to a character that couldn’t have possibly been a Megan. (She must’ve been born in the 1940s, meaning that Kathleen would’ve been a more era-appropriate pick.)
If the name isn’t fresh and new anymore, she is, at least, something of a modern staple. She’s actually more popular than Margaret, and still more often used than Greta. She may be a relative newcomer, but chances are she’ll be with us for a while.