What’s not to love about our Baby Name of the Day?
The word comes from the Latin rubeus. Ages before it meant “Hogwarts game keeper,” it simply referred to the color red.
Over the years, we whispered it down the alley, and it became rubi in French, and eventually the English word as we know it today.
A rubinus lapis is a red stone. Technically, they can be any shade of red, from a pale pink to rich hue called pigeon’s blood. But we tend to think of a specific, deep and vibrant color, making the stone and the shade interchangeable.
We’ve been referring to the stones as rubies since around the fourteenth century, but they were valued for centuries earlier. Way back in the 200s BC, rubies were traded on the silk road from China.
Once upon a time, the go-to place for the stones was Myanamar in southeast Asia. It’s now known as Burma, home to the “Valley of Rubies,” and producer of 90% of the world’s supply. However, their mining industry has been plagued with complaints about human rights practices. Plenty of high profile jewelers refuse to import stones from the country.
Nonetheless, rubies remain a heavy-hitter in the world of jewels, and Ruby is the birthstone for the month of July.
VICTORIANA TO THE 21ST CENTURY
Ruby first surfaces as a personal name in the nineteenth century, along with so many other borrowings from the natural world.
But it wasn’t just for girls. The name ranked in the US Top 1000 for boys most years from the 1890s into 1940. A Depression-era Kentucky governor was among the men to wear the name.
The girls won the tussle, and today Ruby is solidly established as feminine. It’s never left the US Top 1000; it’s appeared in the girls’ Top 100 since 2013. (And from 1888 into the 1940s previously.)
Popular music has boosted the name over the years, from The Drifters in 1956 to Dion in 1962; the Rolling Stones in 1967, to Kenny Rogers in 1969; Rancid in 1995; and the Kaiser Chiefs in 2007. That’s not every song title, either!
It’s tempting to call the name timeless, but that’s not quite accurate. In the 1970s and 80s, it fell pretty far out of favor. Still, it’s never truly been out of use.
Real life women of accomplishment include:
- Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Bridges’ daunting walk to school was painted by Norman Rockwell.
- Singer Murray racked up tons of UK hit singles in the 1950s.
- Actors including Dee, Dandridge, and Keeler, as well as Sulochana – a Eurasian actress who dominated Indian cinema in the 192os and 30s, and was born Ruby Myers.
Fictional characters abound, too:
- Renee Zellwegger earned a Best Actress Oscar in 2004, wearing the name in Cold Mountain.
- Animated rabbit siblings appear in Nickelodeon’s Max & Ruby, a long-running series created by Rosemary Wells.
- EastEnders featured a character by the name from 2005 to 2006, corresponding neatly with Ruby’s ascent into the most popular names in the UK.
- Supernatural gave us a villainous Ruby.
- Around the same time, Once Upon A Time used the name for Little Red Riding Hood’s alter ego.
Celebrity parents have embraced the name. Tobey Maguire is dad to Ruby Sweetheart, born in 2006. But Rod Stewart set the trend, giving the name to his daughter with model Kelly Emberg all the way back in 1987.
But it’s not just high-profile parents. In the year 2000, Ruby ranked #258 in the US – familiar, but relatively rare. By 2013, it broke into the US Top 100. As of 2018, the name stands at #74. That’s not overwhelming popularity, but it’s far from rare.
OVER THE RAINBOW
If you hear Ruby and add “slippers,” you’re not alone. Beloved 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz sent Dorothy Gale over the rainbow. She vanquished an evil witch and then used her sparkly shoes to take her back home to Kansas.
In the original book by L. Frank Baum, the magical shoes are silver. The film writers went with red for the movie because it helped show off the new technicolor film process. And thus a legend was born. The shoes are still on display today in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
It lends the name a final dose of adventure, and also an appealing emotional connection – after all, the shoes represent protection, but also Dorothy’s power, and her ability to find her way back to those who love her.
There’s no shortage of reasons to love the short, but powerfully stylish choice.
What do you think of gemstone names? Color names? Is this one of your favorites?
First published on July 4, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on November 7, 2019.