She’s Biblical and brief, and she’s been part of the US Top Ten before. Is she due for a comeback?
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day, Ruth.
Ruth has been around for ages.
She’s got her own book in the Old Testament. Her story goes like this: she’s an ordinary girl in Moab, who marries recent Israeli immigrant Mahlon. Mahlon and the rest of his male kin die over the years, and so Mahlon’s mom, Naomi, packs up to return to her home country. She’s not expecting Ruth to leave Moab; in fact, Naomi tells her to stay. But Ruth insists that she’s by her side, come rain or come shine. Once they’re back in Naomi’s hometown, Ruth marries the wealthy Boaz and they all live happily ever after.
She’s the loyal Ruth; there’s a royal Ruth, too. Princess Ruth served as Royal Governor of the Island of Hawai’i in the mid-nineteenth century.
In 1853, Elizabeth Gaskell penned Ruth, the tale of a respectable orphaned girl who despite many toils and snares, ultimately leads a virtuous life. A year later, Fanny Fern released Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time. Her widowed Ruth went on to fame and fortune as a writer.
Were the novels the spark that made Ruth so very popular? It’s hard to say. Ruth was a Top 100 choice when the US rankings were first compiled in the 1880s. In 1890, Ruth ranked #46.
United States president Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances gave the fashionable name to a child born in 1891. The new First Daughter was wildly popular. In 1891, Ruth rose to #19, and by 1892, she ranked #5.
A few years later, Ruth went from the White House to the Red Sox, as George Herman Ruth, Jr. – better known as Babe Ruth – started his baseball career. As a surname, Ruth isn’t related to the Biblical figure, but to the Middle English word reuthe – pity – which was probably given to those known for their charitable acts.
The Baby Ruth candy bar came along in 1921. Despite claims that it had been named after Miss Cleveland, odds are that it had more to do with the athlete. Or, as some have claimed, the bar may have been named after a company exec’s granddaughter.
Plenty of accomplished women wear the name:
- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed in 1993;
- Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is best known for her work on Howards End and Room With a View;
- The musical Pointer Sisters include firstborn Ruth;
- Dr. Ruth Westheimer became an 1980s icon, well known for her frank talk about sex;
- Ruth Fertel founded the upscale steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris in 1965;
- Philanthropist Ruth Lilly inherited the Eli Lilly fortune and spent her life giving it away.
Television matriarchs, from Lassie to All My Children to Six Feet Under, have worn Ruth, too, as has a white dragon in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series.
Ruth left the US Top Ten in 1930, and the Top 100 in 1961. She kept falling, reaching #361 in 2008. But between the Bible, the Bambino and the continuing affection for antique appellations, Ruth could be just about ready for a revival.