Bianca Maria Sforza

Shakespeare used this name twice.  Throw in a medieval queen or two, and it is quite the storied appellation.

Thanks to Virginia for suggesting Bianca as our Baby Name of the Day.

Bianca is a sassy cousin for Blanche.  Both names mean fair.  The lady-like, Southern belle Blanche is French – though not quite in the fashionable Madeleine-Genevieve club.  The bolder Bianca is Italian – and in our age of Adriana and Francesca, Beatrice and Bella, feels nicely wearable.

The name has impeccable literary roots:

  • In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, she’s the younger Minola sister, the one who can’t marry until Kate finds true love.
  • Othello gives us the courtesan Bianca.  Chatter about the lovely (but not so chaste) Bianca is misunderstood, and connected to Othello’s virtuous wife, Desdemona.  Tragedy ensures.

But where did this name begin?

Back in the 1100s, Blanca of Navarre became Queen of Castile.  She appears to be one of the first women to wear any form of the name, and her descendants carried it throughout Europe.  Versions of the name appear in medieval English, including both Blanche and Bianca.

The portrait above captures the lovely Bianca Sforza, Holy Roman Empress as wife of Maximilian I in the late fifteenth century.

Credit pop culture with making the name soar up the popularity charts in the twentieth century.

Up until 1973, the name had never cracked the US Top 1000.  Usage doubled – from 98 in 1972 to 171 in 1973.  That’s a big leap, thanks to Mick Jagger’s marriage to Nicaraguan-born model Bianca.  The couple married in 1971.

Mrs. Jagger was everywhere that anyone glamorous wanted to be in the 1970s – think Studio 54 and, of course, by the side of her rock star husband.  (At least until things fell apart and the couple divorced in 1978.)

By 1978, the name ranked #357, and it kept climbing.

In 1988, All My Children leading lady Erica Kane gave the name to a daughter.  The name went from #268 in 1987 to #91 in 1989.  Erica’s baby girl eventually grew up, came out as a lesbian, and endured the usual complexities of life on a soap.

UK prime time soap opera EastEnders also featured a blockbuster storyline with a Bianca in the 1990s.

You might also think of:

  • Hades’ daughter in the Percy Jackson series.
  • My favorite – Miss Bianca, one of the animated mice who set out to save Penny in The Rescuers.
  • Disney’s That’s So Raven included a mean girl Bianca, and Degrassi: The Next Generation also had a character by the name.

In recent years Bianca has faded.  After charting in the Top 100 during the 1990s, today the name has fallen to #302.  And yet, she doesn’t feel dated – maybe because she was never truly chart-topping popular, even in her heyday.

Today, Bianca fits the bill for a name that is familiar but not too common, a good choice for parents after something slightly quirky, but still elegant, feminine, and enduring.

What do you think of Bianca?  Were you surprised to see that she’d been so popular in the 90s?

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. Hmmm … I just upgraded a few things behind-the-scenes. My apologies for the problem – let me see if I can figure out what’s going on!

  1. Step-kid’s middle name is Bianca. She was named after Grandma Blanche, but also pretty solidly in middle of the 90’s during it’s popularity.

    Step-kid actually prefers Bianca to her “unique” ethnic name and it’s her go to Starbucks name.