Rudbeckia hirta BLACK-EYED SUSAN
Rudbeckia hirta Black-Eyed Susan by gmayfield10 via Flickr

She was a Top Ten pick for more than two decades.  Can she still sound fresh today?

Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Susan as our Baby Name of the Day.

Susan’s heyday was 1946 through 1968, peaking at #2 in the late 1950s, behind only the enduring Mary.  But it wasn’t just about Susan:

  • Little Zuzu uttered the famous line “… every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” in 1946’s holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life;
  • A year later, Natalie Wood played Susan Walker in the equally evergreen Miracle on 34th Street;
  • The Everly Brothers scored a smash hit with “Wake Up Little Susie” in 1957;
  • Also in 1957, Dale Hawkins scored a modest success with “Susie Q,” though Credence Clearwater Revival’s 1968 cover is far more famous;
  • Sue, Suzanne, Susie, Susanne, Suzette, Suzan, Susanna, Susana, Suzy, Suzanna, and Suzie all appeared in the US Top 1000 in the late 1950s;
  • Dion scored a #1 hit with “Runaround Sue” in 1961.

By the time Johnny Cash recorded “A Boy Named Sue” in 1969, Sue was an iconic name for a girl, clearly not suited for a son.  (Unless you had an ulterior motive to toughen up your boy.)

But Susan was no recent arrival.  In her various forms, she’s enjoyed a long history of use.  Susanna appeared in the Bible, from the Hebrew Shoshannah, derived from the Persian shoshan – lily.  Susan has a second botanical connection: for centuries, a wildflower has been known as the Black-Eyed Susan, thanks to a folktale turned poem by John Gay.

Historical Susans range from seventeenth century Susan de Vere, Countess of Montgomery, to nineteenth century suffragette Susan B. Anthony.

But in 2009, Susan stood at a chilly #762.  Actresses like Susan Sarandon, Susan Lucci, Susan Dey, Susan Olsen, and Susan St. James have long since abandoned the role of the ingenue.  After all, Susan Olsen debuted as the youngest of The Brady Bunch in 1969, and Susan Dey played the musical Laurie Partridge on TV in the 1970s.  Meet a Susan today, and she’s more likely to be the grandmother than the newborn baby girl.

And yet Susan could make an appealing option for parents seeking that elusive familiar-but-uncommon choice.  Consider:

  • Susan is the only variant of the name currently in the US Top 1000, but she’s instantly familiar to anyone;
  • Susan’s u is completely current – from Lucas to Ruby, Lulu to Jude;
  • Susan might have been a girls’ name in use since early days, but her ends-in-n sound fits in with tailored, gender neutral choices from Madison to Jordan;
  • Her nicknames range from the retro Susie to the quirky Sukie to the exotic – yet silver screen-worthy – Zuzu.

It’s easy to imagine parents embracing Susan today.  Only trouble?  Odds are that any mention of Susan will conjure up a host of aunts, neighbors, your dad’s cousin, the secretary from your work study job at college, your first boss, your sister’s field hockey coach.  If you’re lucky, and all of those Susans are lovely, generous women, then you might have that elusive find – a familiar name that your child will never share with anyone her age.

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. My name is Susan and my parents called me Susie as a child, and my pet name was Susie-Blue, which my darling Dad occasionally turned into “Susie-Bluesie” then “Bluesie” (which I thought was cute) or “Bloozles” if he was being funny… so for a long time SUSAN! meant I was in trouble and I really disliked it. I was also only ever SUSAN at school to teachers. I wished I’d been called Suzette like another baby-boomer friend at school. As a young teenager I got very romantic over a Jewish man and began writing the Hebrew equivalent of Shoshana (sometimes spelled Shoshanna, but I prefer the single n, and the softer ‘a’ sound). This was all very fine, and my parents also used this as a nickname, but then it became “Shosh”…. and sometimes, to be funny, “Sloshy-shosh!” H’mmm. Finally I stuck with Sue because it sounded more friendly than Susan. But when I went back to work after raising a family I decided that Susan was far more crisp and business like and no-nonsense (the reasons I had disliked it as a young woman), and now I still keep Susan for formality and only my friends call me Sue. I get quite miffed if I introduce myself as Susan and people instantly say, “Oh, hi, Susie” or “hallo Sue”. I say, “It’s Susan,”. So, the name – like most I suppose – adapts to our life circumstances. Actually I have one more variation. it means Lily, and I have a friend who calls me “Lil” as her own nickname as a kind of “Mrs Jones/Mrs Smith” variation. Maybe that’s a distinctly Aussie thing to do…. My brother is the only person left who calls me Susie, and he still occasionally calls me Susie-Blue, which to me now is rather special.

  2. I actually really like Susan. I have flirted with Susanna(h), but something about the snappiness of Susan really appeals to me. It’s kind of got an ‘outhip the hipsters’ thing going for it and I think Susan will actually sound more stylish than Susannah to the next generation. I also always found it adorable that the little girl on the updated ‘Miracle on 31st Street’ was named Susan. So retro. I’m going to think on this one some more.

  3. I forgot to mention my favorite literary Susan – Death’s daughter Susan Sto-Helit from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

  4. I’m a Susan with a nearly 11 year old daughter named Susanna. She’s met exactly one other young Susanna in her life. Interestingly enough, there is a 9 year old Susan in her art class. Both girls go by Susy/Susie. We’ve found that most people mistake her name for Savannah when she says it. I suppose it makes sense since that’s so much more common now.

    I have to say that Susan seems terribly dated to me. I was born in 1970 and there were at least 7 in my graduating class. Three of my closest friends in high school were Susan. Two of us were Susan Elaine and the other two were Susan Lynn.

  5. I never used to like Susan as it seemed so much a baby-boomer name. I only heard the moms of schoolmates called this.

    However, now that I’m thinking of it, it’s actually a fantastic name. The sound of it is rather current and the history and meaning are extraordinary. I like it much better than the frillier versions, Susannah, etc.

    I just mentioned Susan to my significant other and he announced that he liked it a lot. Hmmm, this might get added on to our list. Thanks for including it (and thanks to Kelly for suggesting it).

  6. My middle is Suzanne. 🙂

    I also love Shoshannah.

    & the picture you chose for this post is beautiful.