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?
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?
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.
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.