baby name JosephineThe baby name Josephine feels traditional and elegant, sparky and spirited.

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


The name Joseph has millennia of history. A Biblical-era name, it means “he will add” in Hebrew. The first notable Joseph, of course, married Mary and raised Jesus.

There’s also Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his burial place for Jesus after the crucifixion. Medieval legend tells that he traveled far and wide, reaching France and Britain, possibly as the caretaker of the Holy Grail.

Little wonder the name spread across the world, eventually heard in every European language. It doesn’t get any more classic.

Feminine forms, though, didn’t succeed in quite the same way. Josepha occurred in English and German; in French, Josephe. And that’s where the baby name Josephine gets its start.


Born to an aristocratic French family in 1763, Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie endured an unhappy marriage. It ended during the Reign of Terror. She went to prison; her husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais, to the guillotine.

But she survived, and eventually met military commander Napoleon Bonaparte. He was the first to call her Josephine. They fell madly in love, and while that didn’t last, the marriage did – at least long enough for his 1804 election as emperor, and her crowning as his empress.

When they failed to have a child together, Napoleon divorced her – but she retained the title of empress, and it’s said he never stopped loving her.


Regardless of its unhappy ending, the tale captured the imagination of many. It would launch the baby name Josephine in two ways. First, simply because of her profile.

But Josephine’s daughter from her first marriage, Hortense, married Napoleon’s brother, Louis. (So her stepfather became her brother-in-law.) Their son – Josephine’s grandson – eventually reigned as Napoleon III.

Her son from her first marriage, Eugene de Beauharnais, named his daughter Josephine. She married the King of Sweden and Norway, and became Queen Josephine.

The baby name Josephine has continued to appear on royal family trees ever since.


It’s not all down to the empress, though. Born in 1779, Hungarian noblewoman Jozefina Brunsvik would eventually meet Ludwig von Beethoven as his music student. They fell passionately in love, but never married. He wrote her several letters, including – maybe – his famous Immortal Beloved letter.

We know that feminine forms of Joseph were heard elsewhere – though, again, none seemed terribly common until after the nineteenth century.


Indeed, by the time US data is first collected in 1880, the baby name Josephine ranked in the Top 100. It would remain there into 1941.

It reached its zenith in the 1910s and 20s. Which brings us to our next famous bearer.


American by birth, Josephine Baker would find stardom in France.

Born in St. Louis, she decided early on to become an entertainer. Baker would become a Jazz Age sensation – in Paris, as she refused to perform for segregated audiences.

Her life reads like fiction. She kept a pet cheetah, who performed with it on stage. Her dances were scandalous and innovative, in equal measure. Baker’s friends included Picasso and Hemingway. She performed on stage and in film. During World War II, she used her fame to get close to the powerful – and share their information with the Resistance. Her efforts earned her several honors from the French government.

Later in life, she was active with the American Civil Rights movement.


History also gives us:

  • Nineteenth century reformer Josephine Shaw Lowell.
  • Suffragette and civil rights activist Josephine Ruffin.
  • Mystery writers Josephine Bell and Josephine Tey.
  • Poet Josephine Preston Peabody.

The list goes on and on.


The second March sister, Josephine-called-Jo, might be one of literature’s most beloved figures.

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has been a beloved novel since its original publication in 1868/1869. Countless movie adaptations have followed. Jo has been played by everyone from Katharine Hepburn to Winona Ryder. Saoirse Ronan was the most recent to step into Jo’s shoes.


Bo Diddley recorded “Ride on Josephine” in 1960.  The song has been much-covered since then. At least a half dozen more songs include the name in the title.


Born in Darfur in 1869, Josephine Bakhita was sold into slavery. She endured torture. After many long and perilous years, she found herself in Italy, where she earned her freedom – an Italian court ruled in her favor – and joined a religious order.

As Sister Josephine, she was known not only for her personal story, but for an extraordinarily positive and loving attitude.

She was canonized in 2000. There’s a slight uptick in the use of the baby name Josephine in that era, but it was likely already underway.


It’s hard to pin down any one factor to explain the baby name Josephine’s revival.

In many ways, it was simply time – a century had passed since the name last peaked, and that’s usually about the number of years required for a name to come back into vogue.

Or maybe it’s the wealth of Josephine nicknames: Josie, Joey, Posy, Jo, and more. From television series Dawson’s Creek to super-sized reality show family the Duggars to Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed, Josephine nicknames took center stage.

And it continues to stay there. The name returned to the US Top 100 in 2018, and seems likely to climb higher still.

With classic style, bountiful nickname options, and subtly French appeal, the baby name Josephine is a winning choice. Elegant and sparky, this name feels classic and versatile, but far less expected than Elizabeth.

What do you think of the baby name Josephine? Do you like it best in full, or prefer one of the many nickname options?

This post was originally published on October 11, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on June 10, 2013 and again on September 28, 2020.

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. Josephine Elise is a top contender for our daughter, due this fall. To me, there’s something magical about the name in print, with an undeniable charm and sweetness. And though I’m the one leading the charge with this suggestion, I am somewhat given pause when the antique “granny” vibe hits me in the wrong way. It’s a conundrum, for sure, that has me wanting to divert to a “Charlotte” as a safe back-up plan. But the magic keeps bringing me back.

  2. I am a Yosefa (Josepha) in Hebrew. My English name is an unrelated Jo- name but I go by Josie a lot. Named after my great-grandmother, who in Hebrew was a Yosefa and in English was a Jessie. She was born in America.

    I’m not sure why Josephine was never on the table for her or I. I would have thought it would be the logical translation.

  3. I love Josephine, I am also a huge Little Women fan.. she seems pretty rare to me but looking at SSA for 2012 she is ranked at 160 which is really surprising. Posy would be my favorite nn for her

  4. I have loved Josephine since I read Little Women in my youth. I love the regal, yet personable feel of the name. I always thought it would be a contender for a future daughter.

    It is not quite my style now, though I might use the sweet name Josie, in full 🙂

  5. Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong. I do like my name, but it is a popular combination. I was born in 1986, and I’m relieved I wasn’t Jessica Ashley or something trendy and insubstantial. And Katherine Elizabeth is really pretty, isn’t it, Catherine? 😉

    What a lot of people don’t think about is the popularity of a nickname. Katherine (28), Catherine (67), Kathryn (48) Kathleen (68), Caitlin (69), Kate (186), and Katie (38) were all very in the top 200 in 1986 (rank in parentheses). I was one of six Kates in my freshman English class. It was really obnoxious. My 600 person graduating class had three different Katherine Elizabeths and one Kathryn Elizabeth

    My sister is the equally classic but more unusual Amelia Margaret. She’s usually the only Amelia in her whole school, let alone a single class. I’m so jealous of that. To me, Amelia, which was 194th the year she was born, is along the same lines as Josephine. Josephine is much lower in popularity, but along the same vein.

    I do adore the fact that I’m named for people that were important to my family (Great Grandmother Kathleen and Great Aunt Jewel Elissa) instead of just because a name was cute. I’ll always take a common name with meaning over an uncommon one with no meaning.