She’s a word name from way back, a pretty appellation boosted by a Hollywood classic.
Thanks to Chandler for suggesting Bonnie as our Baby Name of the Day.
Bonnie has been a word far longer than it’s been a given name. Shakespeare used the phrase blithe and bonny in Much Ado About Nothing. It probably comes from the Latin bonus – which originally meant good or well. The Old French was bon, with bonne as the feminine form. From bonne, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to bonny and bonnie in English.
The Scottish usage of bonnie was just a little different – it meant pretty, just like bonita means pretty in Spanish.
She probably started out as an affectionate nickname. That’s the case with the most famous fictional Bonnie – the daughter of Rhett and Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, Eugenie Victoria, known to the world as Bonnie Blue Butler.
Scarlett chose the regal names for her little girl. It was dad that nicknamed her, after a flag used by the Confederate army during the Civil War. The flag inspired the popular song “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”
There are a handful of women named Bonnie born in the years immediately following the Civil War, so perhaps Margaret Mitchell wasn’t just inventing the fanciful nickname.
In any case, the name was on the upswing before Mitchell’s smash hit 1936 novel and the equally successful 1939 film.
- Trailblazing 1950s rock and country singer Bonnie Lou.
- Bonnie Bartlett had a long career on television – I remember her from Little House on the Prairie, but she’s best known for St. Elsewhere.
- Ballerina turned actress Bonnie Bedelia is the aunt of Macauley Culkin.
- One Day at a Time’s Bonnie Franklin became famous as a very different kind of television mom.
- Actress Bonnie Hunt has many accomplishments, including a frequently heard voice in Pixar films.
- Another Bonnie who we remember for her voice? Bonnie Poe, the woman behind the animated Betty Boop and Olive Oyl.
- Bonnie Wright played Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise.
- Singer Bonnie Tyler scored a string of hits in the early 1980s.
- Let’s not forget Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt.
Then there’s Bonnie and Clyde.
Miss Parker was a real person, and she really went on a crime spree with her boyfriend Clyde during the Great Depression. Pop culture has given her a sort of gun moll persona, and the pair died in a gunfight with law enforcement. It’s not really clear if she was a cold-blooded killer or just along for the ride. What we know is that their life on the run wasn’t nearly as glamorous as we remember, and the gang’s acts were horrific.
Despite that, she does lend something to the name – a balance to the sweetness, a sense of edginess.
Men have been Bonnie, too, but as a nickname. Bonnie Prince Charlie claimed the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the eighteenth century. His grandfather had been deposed in favor of the Protestant rulers William and Mary in 1688. He tried to reclaim the throne several times, but was consistently thwarted.
Today Bonnie is sweetly retro. Her heyday was the 1940s, but she feels even more vintage, thanks to the old nursery rhyme. Sunday’s child is “bonny and blithe and good and gay.” There’s also Shakespeare’s Sigh No More from Much Ado About Nothing, which also uses the phrase blithe and bonny. And I’m humming “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” as I write this.
Bonnie Bennett on The Vampire Diaries is one modern bearer of the name, but overall Bonnie feels like a retro name.
If girls can answer to Sadie and Daisy, why not Bonnie?
Bonnie Schow says
Bonnie is a name passed down in my family starting with my great-grandfather. He was born in post-Civil War Mississippi, so I wonder if he was named after the Bonnie Blue Flag. His son and grandson were both named Bonnie. I’m the first generation in which they started giving the name to girls. My granddaughter is also named Bonnie. I didn’t learn about the Bonnie Blue flag til recently and I’m not thrilled to think that my name probably came from a Confederate flag.
Thank you for profiling Bonnie! I personally love this name, probably because my grandmother used to sing me the song as a little girl. 🙂
I do see minor problems with how informal the name is but I don’t like any of the formal options. Or I like the formal names just as much as Bonnie! ( I’m looking at you Bryony and Bronwen)
The Mrs. says
Bonnie and Blythe would make a cutesie set of names on twin girls, no? Not my style, personally, but I could see it for someone else’s daughters.
I love Bonnie because of Much Ado About Nothing — whenever I hear the name, my love of the film is all I think about.
It doesn’t hurt that I adore Bonnie Hunt either.
oh i forgot, I heard Bonnie for Bronwen once though, and I love Bronwen!
Nope. It’s very Jan or Cathy to me – not old enough to be back, but old enough to wear pink elasticated-waist pants and slip-on sneakers.
That and I hate Gone With the Wind, and it just has no get-up-and-go for me.
I *do* love Much Ado but would rank Blythe well ahead, though I know a lot of people hate Blithe/Blythe.
C in DC says
I know a few of Bonnies, some are just Bonnie and others are Bonita.
LOVE Bonnie. I’ve contemplated the name for a while. As far as more “formal” options that could lead to Bonnie: Bonnibell, Belladonna, Briony/Bryony, Bonaventura, Bonfilia, Belsante, Betony, Bronwen, Bianca…
Great suggestions, all!
Love Bonnie. The only downside is that it feels a bit informal for our family.
I have considered this as a name for a Future daughter. It would honor my grandmother. It is not her name, but we used to sing “my Bonnie” together 🙂
I wish there were more longer names that lead to Bonnie as a nn.
Sorry. “Led”, not “lead”
I have always liked Bonnie.
I do worry it lacks gravitas though – does Dr Bonnie Smith work? I think just about, but I know my BIL rejected it for my niece as it wasn’t formal enough.
I also think it would be a great name for a Sunday baby, as in the old rhyme “and the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe and good and gay”