Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Kirsten as our Baby Name of the Day.
It’s no secret that popular names rise in clusters. Alexandra, Alexis, and Alexa all trended upwards together, as did Alexander, Alex, and Xander. We like choices that are just the tiniest bit different.
Kirsten belongs to a cluster of names going back to the Latin Christianus and Greek Christophoros. They’re names for faithful followers of Christ. And yet their long history of use means that parents can use something as obviously tied to religion as Christian and it feels like a name – not a declaration of belief.
I’m not certain how the letters flipped from Kristen to Kirsten, but Kir- is typical in Scandinavian languages. Kerstin is heard in German. And Kirsty gets some use in Scottish.
All of the Chris- and Kris- names had a good run in the twentieth century. Looking at their rankings by decade:
- Christine came first, reaching #31 in the 1950s.
- The 1960s Top 200 included Christine at #27, Christina at #72, Kristin at #159, Kristine at #169, and Kristen at #193.
- By the 1970s, Christopher was at the heights of popularity, and there were tons of feminine forms in rotation: Christina #16, Christine #22, Christy at #71, Kristen #72, Kristin #74, Kristina #99, Kristi #108, Kristy #114, Kristine #143, Krista #146, Christie #157, and Kristie #167.
- A decade later, the names were still popular, but there were clear signs of a trend in decline. The 1980s rankings include Christina #18, Crystal #20, Kristen #38, Kristin #43, Christine #45, Kristina #60, Krista #127, Kristy #132, Kristi #162, and Christy #149.
Kirsten was never among the most popular of the group. She debuted in 1957, peaked at #154 in 1991, and stook at #988 in 2012, meaning she’s headed back towards obscurity.
The 1980s and 90s were good for Kirsten:
- The American Girls franchise introduced Minnesota pioneer girl Kirsten Larson in 1986.
- Kirstie Alley starred in Cheers from 1987 to 1993.
- A very young Kirsten Dunst made a creepy Claudia in Interview with a Vampire in 1994. Since then she’s starred as Marie Antoinette and Lux Lisbon, as well as Spider-man’s Mary Jane.
- Kirsten Storms had a good run on daytime soap operas beginning as Belle Black on Days of our Lives in 1999.
- Kirsten Cohen played the mom on The O.C. from 2003 to 2007. It fit – but the early twentieth century, Chris/Kris names were heading into mom name territory.
So where does Kirsten stand today? She still faces possible pronunciation hurdles. Is it KEER sten or KUHR sten? I hear the latter most often, but the keer sound is more authentic.
She remains a heritage choice less clunky than Astrid or Inga. Kirsten Munk was a seventeenth century Danish noblewoman remembered as the second wife of King Christian IV of Denmark. Kirsten was noble, but not royal. While the pair were married, Kirsten wasn’t crowned queen. They had a dozen children together, all of whom made advantageous marriages.
Maybe the biggest challenge with Kirsten is that she’s likely to be mis-read as Kristen. I even found a pair of twin sisters named Kirsten and Kristen – too close!
If you’re after a heritage choice, there are lots of possibilities. Kirsten feels a little bit out of step in 2013, and yet she retains an awful lot of her spare, Scandinavian charm too.