Bernadette: Baby Name of the DayCould Bernadette be the newest vintage revival?

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


Bernard Sanders was born in 1941. You know him best as the senator from Vermont, and a candidate for Democratic nomination for the presidency. While his name sounds distinctive today, Bernard ranked in the US Top 100 every year from 1880, when data is first reported, well into the 1940s.

It comes from the Germanic bern – bear – plus hard – brave. So that’s quite the meaning.

The Normans brought Bernard to England, where it meshed with a similar Old English name.

It’s remained in steady use across Europe thanks to the French-born St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The twelfth century abbot and mystic is considered a Doctor of the Church.


The feminine form of Bernard, in French, simply requires adding an ‘e’ to the end, though often such names are paired with Marie. Josephine, future Empress of France and wife of Napoleon, was born Marie-Josephe.

Born a poor miller’s daughter in the foothills of the Pyrenees in 1844, Marie-Bernarde Soubirous would have a lasting impact. At just fourteen, she started to experience visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. It eventually became a place of pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lourdes, and the water from the spring is said to miraculously heal all manner of maladies.

A few years following her experience, she joined a religious order. She was called Bernadeta or Bernadette in every day life, and we know her as Saint Bernadette.


The apparitions at Lourdes began in 1858, which probably explains why Bernadette ranked in the US Top 1000 most years from 1880 onward.

Following her 1933 canonization,  Bernadette spiked in use. It quickly reached the US Top 300 for the first time.

But it took something more to push this name into the Top 200.

During World War II, playwright Franz Werfel and his wife were Jews fleeing the Nazi regime. At great personal risk, the townspeople of Lourdes gave them shelter. Werfel learned the saint’s story from his hosts, and vowed to repay their bravery by writing her story.

The Song of Bernadette was published in 1941. While it’s considered a novel, the story draws heavily from history and local tradition.

In 1943, the novel became a movie, with Jennifer Jones starring as the world-changing peasant girl. Jones earned an Oscar for her portrayal of the saint.

From 1944 to 1946, the name reached the US Top 200, an all-time high.


The name slowly fell out of favor, leaving the US Top 1000 in the early 1990s.

But it’s the kind of name everyone knows – even during the years it flirted with obscurity. Besides the saint, there’s:

  • The Four Tops recorded a hit single by the name in 1967. Apparently, more than one girl inspired the name.
  • Bernadette Peters earned her first Tony Award nomination in 1971. Her career has spanned five decades, mostly on stage, but with several notable film roles and other pursuits.
  • During the 1970s, BernNadette Stannis played daughter Thelma on hit sitcom Good Times.
  • The Kinks used it for a song in 1983.

Despite all of these references, the name continued to decline in use.


But pop culture gets credit for helping to revive this name.

The Big Bang Theory centers on roommates – two physicists at Caltech, plus their scientist friends. The show debuted in 2007, and eventually included Bernadette Rostenkowski, a waitress who eventually completed her PhD in microbiology.

In 2007, just 74 girls received the name. By 2014, it was up to 134.

And in 2018? 180 girls received the name.


Even without the Big Bang boost, it’s easy to imagine this name feeling stylish again.

  • We love the -ette endings of Scarlett and Juliette.
  • It’s a nickname rich choice, easily shortened to boyish Bernie and Benny, retro Betty, jazzy Etta, or sweet Birdie.
  • It brings to mind other trending traditional girl names, like Josephine, Celeste, and Rosalie.

I’d expect to see Bernadette back in the US Top 1000 in another year or three, a name ready to replace fading favorites like Abigail.

What nicknames would you use for this name? Do you think it’s ready for revival?

First published on December 6, 2012, this post was revised substantially and republished on March 18, 2020.

Bernadette: Baby Name of the DayBernadette nicknames

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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  1. I Bernadette Gina,,Black- Italian born Catholic, have loved my name since I first heard it said. I was born in 1954 , by the time I was in the fourth grade, The Four Tops made me the most famous girl in school with their beautiful song on the top charts. Even today old friends still greet me singing my name. The Song of Bernadette was a classic movie around Easter time, I love the name so much I am drawn to others from around the world with the same name oh, I even once had a student with my first and middle name. And who doesn’t love Bernadette Peters. As a kid I was Bernie but also I love Bunny, Bee and Dette.

  2. I AM a Bernadette named after my mother, Bernardita – the Spanish form. She was actually baptised Bernarda. My daughter’s middle name is Bernardita after my mother. And yes, we’re Catholic, Filipino and all named for St. Bernadette. I have known only a handful of Bernadettes IRL. They were either Italian, Irish or African-American. We visited Lourdes, France in 1999 and I have to admit never feeling more honored to have been named Bernadette. My given nickname has nothing to do with Bernadette but people outside my family have shortened my name to: Nadette, Dette, B-dette (dislike – too close to bidet, LOL), Bernie (dislike), B, Burning-in-debt (college humor), and Bette. I liked the final one most although “B” is the one I hear most often. Not a favorite either since it seems that anyone with a name that begins with a “B” ends up being called “B”.

  3. I grew up knowing a Bernadette,a long time family friend, she was in her 40’s in the 90’s. Years later, I learned that were related, she married into the family. I think the nicknames for Bernadette are endless. Examples: Netta, Erna (pet form and steal from Ernesta/Ernestina), Detta, Betta, Bette (as in Bette Middler’s Bette), or just say Bette but spelled Bette (Bette/Betty Davis), Lila-Bette (borrowed from Elizabeth), Bunty ( pet form for Elizabeth). Nadette, Nada, and off the beaten path Era since Ara works.

  4. My husband and I chose the name Bernadette for our daughter born in 2007. We think it is beautiful and feminine while still sounding strong and independent. We call her “Bette” for short sometimes. Some people don’t like the full name, but hey, that’s the case with every name. Some people love it and seem thrilled to hear it in use. We were told that it would be hard for her to grow up with, but our daughter really seems to like it. She has two Sophias and two Madisons in her class, and lots of Olivias and Emmas and Mackenzies and Isabellas in her grade too. She likes being the only Bernadette most people know 🙂 And she can’t wait to learn how to write in script because she loves the way it looks when I write it! 🙂

    1. How exciting to hear about a real life Bernadette! Bette is a great nickname. Count me in the “thrilled to hear it in use” camp. 🙂

    2. I love that you named your daughter Bernadette! I was born in ’66 and given the name (my mother was Bernardita and we were both named after St. Bernadette). My daughter carries my mother’s name as her middle name. I, too, never minded being the only Bernadette in a sea of Jennifers, Susans, Christines, Donnas, I was the only Bernadette in college, too, and I don’t recall ever being in the workplace with another one either. You chose a unique and beautiful name, in my humble opinion. 🙂

  5. My MIL’s friend Detty is actually a Bernadette. 🙂 I think I prefer the nicknames to the formal form, but then I love Harriet because I adore it’s nickname possibilities.

  6. I have been expounding the virtues of Bernadette since my teen years. Bernadette Peters and Minnie Driver’s character in Circle of Friends cemented my love for it. My favorite nicknames for it (at least for the cutesy baby years) are Birdie and Bunny. I would most likely swap those for Bette as she grew. Bernadette is one of the many names that the husband believes I’m crazy for liking, though.

  7. I really like Bernadette. Of course, I’m Catholic, so maybe that’s why, but it’s a very appealing name. I never considered Betty as a nickname but I quite like it.