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.
Susan Knight says
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.
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.
I forgot to mention my favorite literary Susan – Death’s daughter Susan Sto-Helit from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
My favorite Susan too! 🙂
Oh, and she’s Death’s granddaughter by the way, not daughter…
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.
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).
My middle is Suzanne. 🙂
I also love Shoshannah.
& the picture you chose for this post is beautiful.
My gut reaction is to think Susan is dated, but I find that I really do like it. I know Susans of all ages, and not a bunch all grouped up in one era, so perhaps that helps. In our church, there is a Susan who is in middle school – she’s one of seven kids (J@mes, L@uren, M@ryGlen, J0hn, Susan, and twins Andrew & Peter). I think it fits her so well, especially with the occasional Susie as a nn.
I think I actually find Suzanne a bit more dated somehow. Perhaps seeing Suzanne Somers on new commercials these days, haha. Susannah is lovely, though.
Sarah A says
No offense to anyone, but I personally find Susan to be quite dated. I don’t think it’s old enough to be quirky cute like Hazel or Beatrice. I really like Shoshannah though and can even get behind Susannah, but not Susan.
Sara A. says
I agree with the other Sarah A! Plus I have a rather awful aunt with that name and it’s my rather awful mother-in-law’s name. I don’t think this name has any good associations for me… Oh wait Susanna from Marriage of Figaro is a nice, lively character who is plenty of fun to sing.
Hm. I’ve always had an issue with Sue – to me, its rather humdrum and dowdy. I know, that sounds horrible.
I can’t say I’m a fan of Susan or Susanne or Suzanne, though I know a delightful one of those. I even work with a Suzin, but the name hasn’t grown on me. I do find Susannah and Susanna to be pretty fun and flirty and light, in the same way Violet or Clementine might be, and Shoshanah is just a touch exotic and flamboyantly whimsical – I definitely like her!
As for Susan nicknames, I’ve already commented on Sue, which is find more plain than the so-called (but lovely) “Plain Jane,” and Susie is a bit cutesy for my taste, too much Susie Q. I think Sosie – as in celebrity child Sosie Ruth Bacon – has immense appeal as it isn’t as sweet as Sadie but it also has more standout appeal than, say, Ellie. And then we’ve got Sukie, or Sukey, or maybe even Suki, which always reminds me of that character on Gilmore Girls and feels a bit like a modern Stacey to me.
I know an absolutely fabulous Susan who is exactly my age, so while I do find it unusual for my generation, I can’t separate her from the name. I don’t think she’s ever answered to Sue.
Sosie from Susan is great.
Charlotte Vera says
It’s not uncommon for people to mistakenly think we’ve said “Susanna” when we introduce Roseanna to them. She’s also been called Susanna by people (usually elderly) who have simply forgotten what her name actually is. I don’t really mind, because I rather like Susanna, and if it’s simply forgetfulness and not a miss-hearing I don’t always correct the person in question.
I definitely prefer Susanna to Susan, which sounds more dated to me. Two famous historical Susanna’s who immediately come to my mind when I hear the name. One is Susanna Moodie, who wrote about her experiences as a settler in Canada in the 1830s and 40s (and whose record of convicted murderer Grace Marks inspired Margaret Atwood’s _Alias Grace_). The other is Susanna Wesley, famous mother of John and Charles Wesley who founded the Methodist Church; she is often referred to as “The Mother of Methodism” due to the strong influence she had on her children as their primary educator.
I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a Susanna or Susan my own age, but a Suzanne did attend my school. She went by Zanne (rhymes with ran).
Charlotte Vera says
I meant to say, “Two famous historical Susanna’s immediately come to my mind when I hear the name,” not “who immediately come to my mind”.
Su (pronounced like Sue) is a fairly common name prefix in both Korea and India. In Korea it’s gender neutral, while in India it’s more commonly found in girls’ names (Supriya, Sujina, Sunaina, etc.).
I didnt know Zuzu was short for Susan.. I do like Susan, but it is a tad mundane for me, but Zuzu as a nn would be fresh and fun for young life and Susan would be nice for an adult.
Lady Gwyn says
Eh, Susan sounds to dated too me. I’d much rather use Susannah/Susanna/Susana or the lovelier Shoshana. I like the nickname Sannah, or Sanne. Suki is kind of cute, too. Both of my parents have cousins named Susan/Suzanne and mostly called Sue or Suzie. I guess if I use Susannah I could honor A LOT of relatives.
While I’m not in love with the name, it has grown on me recently. I know a LOT of Sue/Susans which makes it a bit hard to get excited about the name. I currently work with several Sues – one Suzanne born in the 60s and two Susans – one born in the 50s and one in the 80s. I grew up with a few Susans my age (born in the 70s). However, a middle school acquaintance has a little girl called Suzannah – it’s nice – it fits in with Hannah and Savannah without being quite so trendy. (I also know a baby girl who is named partly after her grandmothers – both Sues – as Suv@nn@h – wish I knew if her nickname was Sue-related!)
I also think of Sue Sylvester on Glee which is just a bit of fun!
It’s one of those names that, while linked to a decade or two most strongly, has persisted long enough during my life that I know people of all ages with the name, so it seems like a classic. Zuzu makes the name a bit more fun, but in honesty, I’d be more inclined to consider Shoshonnah. Hmmm… thinking about those sounds and also Shoshonnah made me think of the Brazilian children’s entertainmer, Xuxa – I think that’s a Su-related name, too… definitely doesn’t seem as dated, even if it kinda looks like it is trying too hard.
How COULD I forget Sue Sylvester! Thanks for that. And there was a Susan in high school – totally forgot about that.
There were actually TWO Susans in my year alone – so about 6% of the girls in my graduating class were Susan… I think perhaps only the name Lauren equalled/surpassed that! I also had 2 neighbors on my street growing up – one my age one a few years younger – who were called Susan. Lotsa Susans!
Shakespeare’s daughter was actually named Susanna, not Susan. Susanna/h, to me, sounds fresher than Susan – it’s more lyrical.
Right you are, Joanna. Fixing it now!
Love it although I’d probably reserve it as a middle. Although, the datedness of Bonnie and Susan really appeals to me. I’ve already used Anne and Francesca so perhaps Susan is pushing the -an business. I also spit in Sue’s general direction so perhaps the name isn’t for me.
Susan definitely scream “I was born circ 1953.” I really dislike the nickname Sue. So dull and boring.
Of the Susan variants, my favorite is Suzanne. I love the sound and the letters. I once had an awful boss named Susan, so it has a negative connotation for me.
Interesting to note that two famous baby-boomer actresses changed their names from Susan, one to Stockard and the other to Sigourney.
Joy, that really is intriguing – I wouldn’t be surprised to meet a baby Sigourney. I almost think Susan would be more of a shock …
I have a girlfriend exactly my age named Susan, goes by Sue. My second middle is the lovely Susanne. I’m happy it’s my second middle, my gf is not thrilled it’s her first. Too plain, she says.
Now, I like Susanna & Susanne enough to use, but no other version. Those just seem softer to me. But I can see Susan appealling to parents that like Lauren but find her a bit plastic. Susan feels very girly to me, without that awful do-goody feel my own name has. *I’d* rather be a Susan than a Laura! 🙂 But I’d name a daughter of mine Susanna or my own Susanne and call her Daisy. Black eyed Susans were my Paternal Grandma’s favorite ever flower. So Susanna/e nn Daisy for Grandma Lily whose own name is far too popular for me to ever use.
Well, if my lovely friend ever stumbles upon this blog, she’ll know I love her name!
Susan marie says
As a Susan ;on in late 1960, I have to tell you that your Grandma Lily, is close to being a Susan, since Susan is a Hebrew word meaning Lily!!!! I was supposed to be a sharon and my mom changed it as she was going in
to have me! Thank God!!!!
C in DC says
A couple of other variants: Suanne (my sister) and Su Kim (a Korean friend).
Susan may be the most dated name I have ever seen on this website. IMO not ready for a comeback.
I whole-heartedly agree. Susan is still too frumpy and dated yet…give it another 50 or so years and maybe it will sound fresh again.
(Someone who legally changed her name FROM Susan for those reasons)
I went to school with a Susan [born 1981]. She was always Susan — never Sue, Susie, Sooz, or anything else — just Susan. She named her kids Kimberly, Abagail, and Eric.
I’ve never been a fan of the names Susan or Susannah — I dislike the /soo/ sound and I find them very dated — but I adore Shoshannah.
Oops, I forgot that Eric is her step-son.
For me, and maybe others, Susan has a literary tie — Susan Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia, who was caring, motherly and brave (and who in the movie gets to hook up with Prince Caspian!)
I really like Susan, even though I’m not crazy about any of its nicknames. Susannah is a little frilly for my taste. I didn’t know Shakespeare had a daughter named Susan – interesting!
I’d find Susan incredibly refreshing on a child. I also really like Susannah. The rest don’t really do anything for me and accent its datedness.
Dad’s cousin, you got that one right! But she IS a beautiful woman with a great spirit and amazing talents. It doesn’t feel as dated as other names from that era, probably for the reasons listed (sound-wise: the U, the ends in ‘n’).
My youngest sister’s name is Susan (born in 1987), and I think she’s only known one other Susan her age. For me, the name works well on any age – maybe because I grew up with a Sue/Susan!. It feels very fresh to me.