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Once upon a time, this name was a footnote to the classic Katherine.

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

Caitlin: Before the 80s

Any name as well-traveled as Katherine has many forms.  An ‘l’ sound has often substituted for the ‘r’ sound in the final syllable.  Cateline is a medieval French form, also found in medieval England.  In Ireland, Cateline became Caitlin – and in the English-speaking world, we typically interpreted the name as Kathleen.

Kathleen was a Top 100 name from the 1910s through 1990, cracking the Top Ten from 1948 through 1951.  The name has since fallen out of favor, ranking a mere #664 in 2013.

One of the first high profile Caitlins was the wife of poet Dylan Thomas.  Dylan became wildly popular during his lifetime, lived a wild life of excessive drinking, and died at not-quite-40 in 1953.  Mrs. Thomas lived into the 1990s, publishing a memoir of their fiery marriage a few years following his death.

Caitlin: Reagan Era Darling

A handful of girls received the name around the time Thomas started to make headlines.  But it wasn’t until 1976 that Caitlin debuted in the US Top 1000.

Why 1976?  Maybe it was the wave of Irish names for boys, like Ryan and Brandon.  Kathleen was fading, ready for an update.  And Kate was climbing.

Credit a handful of pop culture uses for her 1980s-era rise:

  • 1981 fantasy-adventure flick Dragonslayer starred young actress Caitlin Clarke as Valerian – a girl disguised as boy out to slay an evil dragon.  (It’s a must-see for name nerds – there’s also a brave princess called Elspeth!)  Clarke was born Katherine.
  • In 1982, Oscar-nominated courtroom drama The Verdict included star witness Kaitlin Costello.
  • Mid-1980s television hit Airwolf included high tech helicopter pilot Caitlin.
  • Remember Francine Pascal, the creator of Sweet Valley High?  The one who had the guts to name a teenager Enid?  Back in 1985, Pascal penned a trilogy about a super-privileged teenager named Caitlin.
  • We can’t talk about the 80s without Miami Vice.  Don Johnson’s Sonny Crockett was assigned to guard star witness/pop star Caitlin, played by real life singer Sheena Easton.  The pair fell in love – and the name continued to soar.

Caitlin: Letmespellitforyou

It’s tempting to respell Caitlin.  After all, Kate is spelled with a K.  If you heard Caitlin on television, you might spell it phonetically: Katelyn.

Or not.  From 1976 through the mid-80s, the Irish original held her ground.

  • Caitlin – Debuted in 1976, ranked #365 in 1980, and #76 in 1985.
  • Kaitlin – Debuted in 1981 at #772.
  • Katelyn – First charted in 1981 at #956.
  • Kaitlyn – Debuted in 1983 at #630.
  • Caitlyn – Also debuted in 1983 at #942.
  • Katelin – First charted in 1985 at #938.
  • Katelynn – Debuted in 1986 at #879.

By 1988, Caitlin, Katelyn, and Kaitlin were in the US Top 100.

Kaitlyn stood at #107 and Caitlyn at #221.

Then came 1989, and things started to change.  Caitlin slipped.  Katelyn climbed to #76 and Kaitlyn to #95.

By 1992, Kaitlyn was the clear favorite, peaking at #30 in 2000.

But at least half a dozen spellings had a good run over two decades, and all this makes Caitlin and company much more common than she first appears.

Caitlin: Irish Heritage Choice

CaitlinToday, there’s a clear split.  Kaitlyn is a fading 90s name, dropped to #134 by 2013.

Caitlin still looks like an Irish heritage choice, but parents have moved on to fresher possibilities, like Maeve.

And yet it’s impossible not to like something about Caitlin – her tailored, yet feminine sound.  Her upbeat, Irish style.  This is the kind of name that will come back again.


Which spelling of Caitlin do you prefer?  And does this seem like the kind of name that will make a comeback?  Or is Caitlin still plenty wearable in 2015?

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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What do you think?


  1. I remember the first Caitlin I met. A couple grades younger in school, she would have been part of the early wave. I thought it was a great name. I still do actually when spelled this way. However, there are just so many. My mom is a school teacher and had about a 15 year streak with one every year. So many friends of mine who had kids in the early 2000s named their daughters some form of it. It’s all over my Facebook feed. Great name but well used.

  2. I think if people wanted to go a bit more Irish with the name, and choose an unusual but still reasonable spelling, they could go all the way back to the original Gaelic form: Caitilín (with or without the accent). In this spelling, it goes all the way back to the early 15th C.