Kirsten Dunst - On The Road Cannes PhotocallIn the wave of girls named Christine, Christina, and Kristen, this one stood out, just a little Norser than thou.

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.

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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 am a Kirsten and have had this name since the 70s. I really like my name but agree that nobody knows how to say it. I get the Kristen Kursten kristy and Kristina a lot. When I lived and worked in Europe in the 80s and 90s I got the Kerstin but never kirsten. I am now looking for an original name for my daughter and it’s hard to find a unique name. I have met about a dozen Kirsten’s, 3 of them my freshman year in college that lived in the same dorm as me. Weird huh???

  2. Yes! Wow, it feels good to see a name blog write about my name! This never happens! So here I am, weighing in.

    I have always (as far as I can remember) had a weird feeling about my name. I was born in 1990, and to this day have only met 7 people also named Kirsten, most of them around my age. I didn’t meet them until I was older, so growing up I always felt a little isolated by my clunky name. Pronunciation has always been (and remains) an issue for me. I am KUHR-sten, and it really trips people up. When I introduce myself it is always heard as Kristen, or Keer-sten, or Christine, or sometimes Christina. This annoyed me endlessly for years. I always wished I was named Kate. Nobody ever messes that one up! 😛 Anyway, as I’ve grown older, I’ve started to embrace Kirsten. I no longer feel like an imposter wearing someone else’s clothes, which is good. I do think it would be totally weird on a baby now though. It’s a pretty hefty name.

    A few things to mention: my dad’s side of the family is Norwegian, so that played a role in me receiving this particular name. In the past few years I’ve befriended some Norwegians, and they love to tease me with the proper pronunciation (though they say Kirsten is a dated name by now up there…)—SHEER-sten!
    Also, I’ve always gone by Kir. KUHR, I guess. That’s the name everybody calls me after they’ve met me for the first time. Interestingly, I’ve always loved that nickname! I started trying to introduce myself as Kir but people get more confused and I end up having to say Kirsten anyway. When I was really little, my family nickname was Kirky. I like that one too!

    Last thing: I despise the KEER-sten pronunciation. As a kid I always felt personally offended that dang Kirsten Dunst ruined everyone’s ability to pronounce my name! And then Kirsten on the O.C.! Oh, it’s an endless battle. Haha. But I truly think it sounds gross. I am not a fan of the way my mouth moves to make the KEE sound!

  3. Kirsten Storms was also a Disney child star, Zenon in the Zenon movie series, and she’s been on General Hospital as Maxie Jones since she left Days.

    I know a one year old named Kirstie, pronounced KEER-stee, and it feels quite outdated on a baby.

  4. Growing up as a Kristin, I often thought it would be nice to be a Kirsten instead. I prefer the KEER-sten pronunciation, but usually hear KUHR-sten. I’m definitely a Kristin, though.

    Incidentally, I’ve toyed with giving a girl (should we ever have another) a form of my name in the middle spot. Our son has his father’s first name as his middle, and our daughter’s name is, among other things, a play on her father’s middle name. I think I like Kirstie best in that capacity, though Kirsten and Kristine have been bandied about.

  5. There’s also Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York who’s leading the charge to reform how the military addresses sexual assaults.

    I grew up in the “Chris” generation, so honestly I’m not really drawn to these names.

  6. I always think of this name when I see Kiernan Shipka’s name in the Mad Men credits, since Kiernan is close in my opinion. I always liked Kirsten Dunst, but Kiernan I think would be better now because there are so. many. Kristens/Kristins/Christinas/etc. I also think it’s much more clearly KEER-nen. I prefer KEER-sten as well.

  7. Kirsten is one of the few K names I unabashedly love, although I do feel the proliferation of Kirsties and Kristens and Kristis etc. in the 70s kind of diluted its charm. I think it ages much better than some of its cutesier related names (see above) – I can imagine a 50-year-old Kirsten as well as a 5-year-old one.

  8. I met a mom and her daughter Kirsten, about 8, this summer. I was surprised to come across that name on a young girl. (The other/older daughter in this family was named something very usual for these times — Madison, as I recall.). I’ve always liked Kirsten – KEER-sten, but as you pointed out, it’s difficult to remember how each Kirsten pronounces her name. I prefer KEER sten — and I think that’s how this mom said her daughter’s name, but I can’t recall for sure. I hear the other, more usual pronunciation as Curse -ten which greatly diminishes the name for me.

    1. I think I’m more drawn to KEER sten, too, and it feels more of the moment. But the uhr pronunciation is probably more common.