This post was originally published on May 16, 2012. It was substantially revised and re-posted on November 23, 2015.
Forms of this name belong to a Hollywood legend, a Jolie-Pitt twin, and an ancient martyr.
Thanks to Pea for suggesting Vivian as our Baby Name of the Day.
Vivian: Borrowed from the Boys?
Purists might insist that Vivian isn’t a girls’ name at all. It’s just an early case of name-napping from the boys.
It isn’t that simple.
Vivianus was a late Roman name, from the Latin vivere – to live. It’s also the root of vivacious and vital and vivid, all appealing words.
Viviana would have been the original feminine form, with Viviane, Vivianne, and eventually Vivienne emerging, as well as the Italian Bibiana.
There was a male Saint Vivian way back in the 400s or maybe the 500s, a bishop in France, and a martyred Saint Vibiana in the 200s.
But there are two reasons to consider this spelling feminine:
- From Irish myth, there’s the goddess Bébinn, which probably means fair lady. It’s typically Anglicized as Vivian.
- In Arthurian legend, it’s the name of the Lady of the Lake, who gives Arthur the sword Excalibur – at least some of the time. Tennyson used it, though Sir Thomas Malory had two ladies – Nimue and Nyneve. Other accounts call her Niniane, a sort of mid-way between the two names.
There are some notable Englishmen by the name, including Benjamin Disraeli’s fictional Vivian Grey, but in the US, Vivian has been more common for girls since at least the late nineteenth century.
Vivian: Twentieth Century Staple
Way back in the 1880s, this name was pretty rare.
And then it took off, charting in the Top Ten from the 1910s through the 1930s.
One possible reason: Mabel McKinley, niece of President McKinley, became a popular songwriter, and scored a string of hits beginning around 1903. Or perhaps Miss McKinley just had an ear for fashionable names.
There are plenty of uses throughout the twentieth century, from singer-actress Vivian Dandridge (sister to Dorothy) to Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman to Will Smith’s Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
While Vivian never really went away, the name dipped into the 400s and 500s in the 1970s and 80s. If the hundred year rule applies, no wonder the name is rising again, along with other 1930s favorites.
In 2014, Vivian re-entered the US Top 100, and currently stands at #98.
Add in variant spellings, and there’s a whole family of Viv names:
- Hollywood star Vivien Leigh is best known as Scarlett O’Hara.
- Ancient Viviana is another possibility.
- The challenger spelling is celebrity parent favorite Vivienne, chosen by Rosie O’Donnell back in 2002. Since then, Rosie Pope and Ali Larter have also given the name to their girls, but it’s Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, born in 2008, whose arrival sent this name soaring.
Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady stuck with the Vivian spelling for their daughter in 2012.
Vivian: On the Rise
There are so many reasons Vivian has caught on in recent years. Credit the name’s mix of vintage appeal and modern style, the great meaning, and the meaning notable bearers.
The question is, of course, what’s next? My guess is that Vivienne will eclipse this spelling, but perhaps I’m wrong. Vivian could join Evelyn in the US Top 20 – and this name has been to the Top Ten before.
Which do you prefer, Vivian or Vivienne? And how popular do you think Vivian will be in a few more years? Will it return to the Top Ten?
My middle name is Vivian. I chose it myself, and it was inspired by males with the name. I like that it’s less “girly” looking than Vivien or Vivienne, without being butch.
I would love to know your predictions about this name. Do you think it will make it into the top 20, top 50…and if so how soon? With all its various spellings, do you think the playground analysis will make the name seem much more popular than its individual rankings suggest? Also, I absolutely love your blog and am excited to see what you are sharing each day. Thank you for your amazing work!
We named our daughter Vivian when she was born in 2004, well before Tom Brady/Gisele Bundchen and Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt joined the fray. It was my husband’s grandmother’s name, and we are big proponents of family names. While we planned to call her “Vivi” for short, she ended up as “Viv.” The name suits her perfectly; she has a lot of that brooding, sophisticated, old Hollywood attitude. Added bonus is that she loves her name, and the fact that it’s unique. While there are about 20 Ava’s and Olivia’s in her class, she’s the only Viv. The only downside is that she gets frustrated trying to find chotskies with her name on them in gift shops. Small price to pay for a cool name!
Ah, Vivian. Another name “vetoed’ by my husband when naming our children.
The name first came on my radar after watching Pretty Woman. And this is the reason my hubby struck it off our name list – “No child of mine will be named after a famous hooker”. Sigh.
My daughter wasthisclose to being Vivian. I had decided on it and then my husband changed his mind when I was over 8 months pregnant. His parents didn’t like it, so he went with their opinion. He earned a baby name book (a LARGE one) thrown at him full force. In the end we ended up with Sylvia – which I *love* – but I still am sad that I didn’t get to use Vivian.
Lady Gwyn says
I am a self-professed francophile, so I adore Vivienne, despite my dislike of Angelina Jolie. I have loved Vivienne for a long time, and with a strong French background, I feel I could use this name. I like Vivi as a nickname, as well as a nickname for Genevieve, another favorite name of mine.
Sarah A says
Vivian was the name of my maternal great-great-grandmother and my maternal grandfather’s sister AND my grandmother’s best friend so it’s kind of a big family name actually. I could definitely see using it in the middle spot. I like Vivian’s quiet and tailored quality. Vivienne is too French for me and that accent on the last syllable seems a little much.
:Meh: Vivian was the name of my arch nemesis in grammar school. By HS, we’d learned to ignore each other for the most part. Ran in different circles entirely.
Vivien charms me, as Ms. Leigh always has. But because of the nasty one that sounds the same, it’s out too.
Vivienne is far, far too fussy for my taste, but I’d rather see Vivienne than a host of other names. So it gets a 7 out of 10.
I remember tormenting Vivian with the fact her name was a boy’s name. (Sometimes I’m very glad to be a girly Laura!) 😀
Vivienne’s fine, at least it doesn’t sound the same as Vivia/e/n exactly. 😀
Lou @ Mer de Noms says
I know a few male Vivians, so if I were to use this name for a girl I would spell it Vivienne – although that’s by the by, Vivienne Westwood is an inspiration for me, so my preference for the Vivienne spelling is also based on other things.
I love Vivian, though I do prefer the look of Vivienne. Viv and Vivi are fabulous nicknames, too. It’s out for us for various reasons, but I love to see other people use it.
I take some comfort that if Vivian was stolen from the boys, at least it was stolen generations ago.
Don’t forget Oscar Wilde’s son, Vyvyan.
And Vyvian from the Young Ones.
To me Vivian is charming, but my mother has always screwed up her face when I mention it (and Evelyn!) I’ll probably feel the same way, someday when my daughter tells me how much she likes Debra and Jodie.
Vivian is definitely the male spelling, there’s no need to even discuss that. It is stolen from the boys.
Vivian is one of my favorites! It’s strong and feminine at the same time, the meaning’s great, nicknames abound, it’s easy to spell and pronounce and goes well with my future last name. FH thinks it’s too masculine sounding but he can get over it. Definitely the top of my list, currently.
Also for some nerd-rock fun, check out the song “Vivian” by Nerf Herder.
Vivian or Viviane are my faves. I don’t love much about Angelina Jolie, and the French spelling looks like it accents the last syllable, so those are two points against Vivienne.
As for nicknames, I love Vivi. Love, love, love it.
Please explain WTH a maternity concierge is.
My brother is a Vivian. In Wales it’s a firmly rooted male name, think all male choirs and coal mining. The -an will always be masculine for me!
Charlotte Vera says
I love this name. Vivian was the mother of one of my best friends growing up, so that will always be the spelling that I favour. A lovely name with positive associations. I’d use it in a heartbeat as a middle if I didn’t have family members’ names on the list!
Meh. Vivian/Vivien is/will always be male to me. I dislike the nicknames Viv and Vivi, so this isn’t one that I would ever use.