She’s a vibrant name with a legendary literary namesake.
Thanks to Ivy for suggesting Scarlett as our Baby Name of the Day.
One of the many tales about Gone With the Wind involves the name of the novel’s heroine. Up until just before going to press, the story goes, Margaret Mitchell planned to call her heroine Pansy.
Mitchell had a last minute flash of inspiration, and you know the rest.
Up until then you might have met a Rose or a Hazel or an Olive; Pearl or Ruby, too. But Scarlett was rare. Scarlet appears as a masculine moniker on the US Census Indian rolls, especially in North Dakota. And because Scarlett is a surname, it does appear as a given name before Ms. Mitchell’s novel debuted – though those Scarletts are sometimes male, too.
In Gone With the Wind, Katie Scarlett O’Hara is named after her paternal grandmother, Katie Scarlett. Presumably that’s her grandma’s surname, indicating that one of their ancestors dyed or sold woolen cloth.
Scarlet cloth wasn’t necessarily red, but bright red was one of the most popular hues. Over time, the fabric’s name transferred to the color. The source of the word is likely the Persian saqirlat – fine cloth, from the Late Latin sigillatus – elaborately decorated clothes. Sigillatus shares roots with sigil – a magical symbol – and signal and sign.
If sigil to Scarlett seems like a leap, it is – in between, the word became scarlata in Late Latin; escarlate in Old French and Spanish and scarlatto in Italian.
It’s a color with a past:
- In the Book of Revelation, there’s a scarlet beast and a woman wearing scarlet;
- Scarlet fever ravaged communities into the early twentieth century;
- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter links the color to a sin once more;
- Sherlock Holmes’ first adventure was 1888’s A Study in Scarlet. In this case, the color referred to “the scarlet thread of murder” in Holmes’ case;
- On a more heroic note, Baroness Orczy’s 1905 novel set The Scarlet Pimpernel to rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine at the height of the revolution.
Today, Scarlett remains a vivid shade of red and a dramatic name, but she’s lost her air of scandal.
As a name, Scarlett charted briefly from 1940 to 1943, and the height of Gone With the Wind. She surfaced again from 1962 to 1963, possibly due to short-lived Canadian soap opera Scarlett Hill.
But then came 1991’s Scarlett, the authorized sequel to Mitchell’s classic, penned by Alexandra Ripley. The novel was savaged by critics, but still topped the bestseller lists and was made into a can’t-miss-miniseries. The name returned in 1992, but this time she stayed. Why were the 90s different?
- Hugh Grant’s quirky red-headed roommate in Four Weddings and a Funeral answered to Scarlett;
- Young actress Scarlett Johansson – yes, that’s her real name – nabbed an Independent Spirit award nomination in 1996 and had her big breakout role in 2003’s Lost in Translation;
- Color, nature, and noun names are stylish today – even mainstream. Violet rose at the same time.
In 2010, Scarlett ranked #114. And why not? She’s colorful, spirited, and stylish. Her only downside? She’s climbing rapidly. If Savannah can reach #30, Miss O’Hara’s appellation surely can, too.