Scarlett: Baby Name of the DayScarlett makes for a vibrant color name with plenty of Hollywood glam.

Thanks to Ivy for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

Could’ve Been Pansy …

Here’s a trivia question: what did author Margaret Mitchell almost name her legendary heroine?

We all know the beautiful, headstrong Scarlett O’Hara as the central figure in Gone With the Wind, but Mitchell nearly named her Pansy instead.

Mitchell had a last minute flash of inspiration, and you know the rest.

The 1936 novel put the name on the map. It debuts in the US Social Security data the following year.

A very few people did have the name before the bestseller, almost certainly thanks to the surname.

Last Name First

In the novel, the leading lady’s full name is Katie Scarlett O’Hara, named for her paternal grandmother, Katie Scarlett.

Turns out that it was an occupational surname first, given to dyers of woolen cloth, or possibly those who sold it.

Scarlet Red

Way back then, scarlet cloth came in colors besides red – though red was among the most popular. The word probably comes from the Persian saqirlat – fine cloth, via the Late Latin sigillatus – elaborately decorated clothes. The word became scarlata in Late Latin, escarlate in Old French and Spanish, and scarlatto in Italian.

You might find some magic in the word. It shares roots with sigil – a magical symbol – but also signal and sign.

Fever and Beast

As colors go, scarlet reads bold, even dangerous or forbidden.

It appears in the Book of Revelation. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes of “the scarlet thread of murder” in a Sherlock Holmes case circa 1887. And, of course, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter makes the color synonymous with sin. Or maybe just disease, as in scarlet fever, so called because of the distinctive red rash that characterizes it.

Then again, The Scarlet Pimpernel rescued French aristocrats from the guillotine. That was 1905, so the name’s reputation wasn’t all bad.

Today, the color remains vivid and dramatic, but not quite so scandalous.

By the Numbers

Back to Gone With the Wind. The 1936 novel became a 1939 movie, with a nation-wide search to cast the role of Scarlett O’Hara. From 1940 to 1943, the name appeared on the fringes of the US Top 1000.

It fell in use, but appeared from 1962 to 1963. That’s likely due to the book’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1961, and the publicity surrounding the event.

But a few other uses could get credit, including a Canadian soap opera and a character from 1961 Billy Wilder comedy One, Two, Three featuring an American exec tasked with keeping his boss’ Southern belle daughter out of trouble in Europe. (He fails, but all ends happily.)

Sequel + Celebrity

In 1991, for the book’s fiftieth anniversary, Margaret Mitchell’s estate commissioned a long-awaited sequel. Novelist Alexandra Ripley penned it. Critics savaged the story, but it still topped bestseller lists for weeks, and a can’t-miss miniseries quickly followed.

By 1992, Scarlett returned to the US Top 1000. This time, it stayed.

A handful of other uses bolstered the name, like Hugh Grant’s quirky red-headed roommate in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Color, nature, and noun names were rising at time, too. By the mid-1990s, Ruby was climbing; not long after, Violet would return to the US Top 1000.

But one woman deserves most of the credit: Scarlett Johnansson. Her first Independent Spirit award nomination was for 1996’s Manny & Lo. In 2003, Lost in Translation transformed her into a major celebrity.

Top 100 Cool

Scarlett arrived in the US Top 100 in 2011, and the name shows no signs of leaving. As of 2017, it’s holding steady at #18.

Despite all that popularity, I think this name still feels edgy and cool. Maybe it’s the color that does it. Perhaps it’s the unexpected sound. Or maybe it’s Hollywood – the combined weight of ties to a legendary fictional character and a major star of our time, too.

Either way, this remains a name that feels bold and confident, a modern choice with style to spare.

Would you consider this name for a daughter?

Originally published on June 29, 2011, this post was revised substantially and re-published on April 10, 2019.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Historical name trivia! The masculine name “Scharlattus” and its diminutive “Scarlattinus” are both found in Florence in the mid 14th C. (There will eventually be a DMNES entry for the name…maybe in the next edition!)

  2. Scarlett doesn’t work for me, though Violet does. I do think Scarlett will follow Charlotte right up the charts though. But I never cared for GWTW, as much as I love Vivien Leigh.

  3. If I was going for a red tinted name I’d go for Claret over Scarlett. Not really a fan. Scarlett Johansen doesn’t really help me like the name either…….

  4. Popularity wasn’t a factor when we named our Scarlett, but I have to admit I feel a little twinge every time I see it in the “Most Searched” cloud on Nameberry. I guess I just have to remember that just because a name is popular doesn’t mean she’ll know a lot of girls with the same name.

  5. Gotta say, I liked the name Scarlett until I saw Gone With the Wind. Yikes! I would NOT want to name my daughter after her.

    Overall though, I do like color names, but they don’t fit with my last name. Alas.

  6. Scarlett doesn’t do anything for me. It’s just another trendy surname, and I greatlyprefer names that have more than a century’s history of use. I can see really being the next big thing, though, and I bet it’ll at least be in the top 100 by next year. And of course that means in coming years it’ll sound extremely dated. So, definitely not for me. As for other color names… Saffron is a huge guilty pleasure of mine. 🙂

    1. I like Saffron too, gently hippie vibe “I’m just mad about Saffron and Saffron’s mad about me…” 🙂

  7. I’ve never understood the fawning love of GWTW, Scarlett was such a manipulative, selfish b***h and the Jim Crow era’s romanticism of the the Old South. I realize It’s considered a great love story, but I have trouble with the idea that people are naming their daughters after that character.

    Along a different literary vein, there is a YA chick-lit novel called Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, that my 14 year old adored. Obviously, the protagonist is named Scarlett. With the growing popularity the name, maybe Miss O’Hara won’t always be my first thought, but I still don’t like the name.