We’re wild about Willa and Ellie, so how ’bout Billie for a girl?
Thanks to Sarah for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Billie: By the Numbers
First things first: this absolutely can be a boy’s name.
But it’s almost always short for William, which is nearly never given to girls. Feminine Wil- names include elaborate Wilhelmina, rising favorite Willa, and modern spin Willow. For many years, that list also included Billie.
Today, the name has faded. It last appeared in the US boys’ Top 1000 in 1984; for girls, it left the rankings after 1997.
Billy remains in the boys’ Top 1000, but is slipping.
Molly nearly always takes a y, while Millie usually appears with an ie. But standardized spellings are relatively new. Sally and Sadie, Lily and Lillie, and more have traded places as the preferred form.
It’s easy to insist on a single spelling in our digital age; but for most of human history, handwriting – and human error – made that less true.
You’ll find women and men using Billie as their given name during the nineteenth century.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, it became a Top 100 pick for girls. It remained in the Top 200 into the 1940s. Pop culture played a part. It was used as a given name by:
- 1920s screen star Dove, born Bertha, and briefly known as Lillian.
- 1930s and 40s singer Holiday, born Eleanora. She borrowed her stage name from Dove.
- Actress Burke, born Mary William and named for her father. She first became a star in the 1910s and 20s, but we remember her best as The Wizard of Oz’s good witch Glinda, a role she played in 1939.
And yet, this one feels tied to the 1970s and 80s.
Tennis star Billie Jean King had become a force by the early 1970s. In 1973, former tennis star Bobby Riggs insisted that the gap between men’s and women’s tennis was so great that he could defeat any current female champ. Ms. King took on the challenge, and roundly defeated Riggs.
She has remained in the public eye, advancing the sport of tennis and women’s status in sports, ever since.
Then came Michael Jackon’s 1983 massive hit single, “Billie Jean.” It’s not about the tennis player in any way. It’s one of the reasons Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time. The video also became a major success.
The song ties the name to the 80s.
You might also think of 1985’s The Legend of Billie Jean. Before she played Supergirl, Helen Slater portrayed a teenage girl from the wrong side of the tracks who stands up for what’s right and becomes a local hero. You can catch highlights of the flick in Pat Benatar’s video Invincible, the movie’s theme song.
Billie: Gone, But Not …
No wonder the name has faded. In 2015, just 95 girls were given the name. And yet, there are reasons it still works today. Consider:
- Pop singer turned actor Billie Piper became the new companion of Doctor Who in the 2005 reboot. After Piper played Rose she went on to appear in several other successful series, most recently Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.
- Carrie Fisher gave the name to her daughter with Bryan Lourd in 1992. Miss Lourd is now an actor in her own right.
- Rebecca Gayheart and Eric Dane are parents to Billie Beatrice, born in 2010.
Add in characters on Charmed and American Horror Story, and this name has never really disappeared.
Today, it fits in with Ellie, as well as many of the retro Sadie names.
If you like your names boyish, retro, and rare, Billie could be the right choice for you.
Would you consider this name for a daughter? Or do you prefer it as a nickname for Wilhelmina or another Wil- name?