Decades before Madison made a splash, this surname caught on for girls.

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

Kimberly: Surname Name, Place Name

We all recognize Kennedy and Sloane as surname names, Brooklyn and London as place names.  Isn’t Kimberly just an ordinary name-name?

Not quite.

Back in the 1860s, diamonds were discovered in South Africa, then part of the British Empire.  A boomtown developed around the mines.

Order and governance were needed, but before that could happen, the place had to have a name.

The Dutch settlers called it one thing.  Others called it “New Rush.”

The Secretary of State for the Colonies dismissed the Dutch name as unpronounceable, and New Rush as vulgar.  The name he didn’t reject?

His own.

And so Lord Kimberley became the namesake of Kimberley, South Africa, and the Kimberley Diamond Mine.

You might also think of:

  • John A. Kimberly, co-founder of consumer product powerhouse Kimberly-Clark in 1872.
  • Connecticut politician Eleazar Kimberly built a mansion in Glastonbury.  In the nineteenth century, Kimberly Mansion became home to suffragettes and abolitionists Abby and Julia Evelina Smith.
  • US Naval ships are sometimes named in honor of Civil War Rear Admiral Lewis Kimberly.

As a surname, it comes from an Anglo-Saxon given name.  Saint Cyneburga was a seventh century princess who converted to Christianity despite her father’s preference for the old ways.  She later founded an abbey in Northampshire.

Cyn- names were plentiful in Anglo-Saxon, so there are other possible origins, and multiple possible meanings.

The -ly ending is that old familiar field.

So Kimberly is Cyneburga’s field.

Kimberly: Boy Name or Girl Name?

Like any surname, you’ll find Kimberly in sparing use over the years.

But to understand Kimberly’s rise, we need to talk about just plain Kim.

  • Kim entered the boys’ US Top 1000 in 1936, and peaked at #97 in 1955.
  • Kim entered the girls’ US Top 1000 in 1944, and charted in the Top 100 from 1955 through 1970.

Credit two things for the rise of Kim:

  • Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 Kim.  It was short for Kimball – and definitely a boy’s name.  Kim became a movie in 1950.
  • In 1926, Edna Ferber’s novel Show Boat gave the name to a baby girl.  who was born while their riverboat was at the place where Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri meet: KIM.  The musical and movie versions repeat the story.

So Kim was initially a boy’s name, but Kimberly caught on for girls first.

Maybe parents wanted something slightly more elaborate for a daughter.  Kimberly cracked the girls’ Top 1000 in 1946, five years before it charted for boys.

Then came actress Kim Novak – born Marilyn – who rose to fame in the 1950s.  Novak’s fame helped cement Kimberly as a girls’ choice.

Kimberly: 1960s and 70s Favorite

From 1964 through 1977, Kimberly ranked in the US Top Ten.Kim Clijsters

The name has been everywhere since, including:

  • Television characters on Moesha and Melrose Place, the privilegedKimberly Drummond on Diff’rent Strokes, Disney’s Kim Possible.
  • Celebrities like rapper Lil’ Kim, and, of course, Kim Kardashian.
  • Athletes like tennis star Kim Clijsters and figure skater Kimmie Meissner.

Kimberly remained in the US Top 100 until 2012.

Kimberly: Ahead of Her Time

With that great three-syllable, ends-in-y sound, Kimberly belongs on the same list as Delaney and Dorothy, Emily and Everly.

And with surname style and ties to the map, Kimberly fits in with lots of currently stylish names.

But in 2014, Kimberly is graduating to mom-name status.  For now.  Something tells me that she’ll be a retro revival ’round about 2139.

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. I’m a 1961 Kimberly, and there were at least 2 others in every one of my classes through school — sometimes there were 4 or 5 of us. I tried to select an “unpopular” name for my daughter in 1980, and went with Tiffany. I should have gone with Théophanie after all — that’s the French version of Tiffany — but I didn’t want her to have to deal with people not knowing how to pronounce or spell her name. The day I brought her home from the hospital, the newspaper published the most popular names of that year…and hers, like mine, was #3 on the list. Oh well, she’s survived and thrived lol

  2. Funnily enough, I was always told that the -ey version was the original (“from the UK” was the quote, usually), but I never knew exactly where it was from. Because it was the less popular spelling, people always spell it wrong.
    My parents were going to use the just -y spelling, but I was told that the nurse spelled it with the extra e on the paperwork. They liked the look of it and kept it. I think the e looks better, personally, but then, that’s how I’ve been spelling it forever.
    I’m an ’80s Kimberley and am shocked that it was still in the top 100 until 2 years ago. That’s stunning.

    1. In a few cases, we know “the original” version of the name. But usually, it’s a pretty slippery thing …

  3. Hey, there’s my name! I always thought my mom went with an alternate spelling, but it turns out that she went with the original – I’m a 1965 Kimberley. Right smack in the demographic.
    The funny thing is, my mom thought about Jacqueline, but she thought it would be too popular after the Kennedys. So she chose Kim instead. Oh, well. It’s been a good name, and there weren’t *that* many of us around.