Alice went chasing rabbits, but this storybook name carries considerable substance.
Thanks to Nessa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865. Carroll borrowed the character’s name from a family friend.
Even if you’ve never read the book, you know the famous scenes and players. We can picture the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the Queen of Heart’s chaotic croquet game, the slow fade of the Cheshire Cat to nothin’ but a grin. Disney adapted the story in 1951, creating an animated classic. Tim Burton took on the tale for a 2010 live action update.
But millions upon millions of people have read the book. The original print run sold out; German and French translations quickly followed. Today, it can be found in nearly 200 languages. Since the original publication, the book has never gone out of print.
This makes the name vintage, literary – and whimsical, too.
Alice: Nineteenth Century
Carroll does not necessarily get credit for popularizing the name. He borrowed it from a friend, after all.
Queen Victoria – said to be a fan of the story – had given the name to her daughter in 1843. Aristocratic families bestowed the name for generations. Royals in Cyprus and Antioch answered to Alice as far back as the Middle Ages.
In the US, Theodore Roosevelt’s wife answered to the name. She was born in 1861, so it’s possible her parents took inspiration from the book. The future president named his firstborn after his wife. When he took office, the seventeen year-old Alice Roosevelt became a celebrity. A fashion icon, the first daughter’s favorite shade of blue became known as “Alice blue.” Daring and unconventional, Miss Roosevelt was known as a nineteenth century wild child, partying, smoking cigarettes, gambling, and being seen in the company of men.
She joined the US diplomatic mission to Japan and the East in 1905, and her 1906 wedding to Congressman Nicholas Longworth III served as the social event of the season.
Alice: Family Tree
As Alice faded, Allison/Alison and Alicia rose. In the 1970s, Alyssa joined them. By the 1990s, any of these forms beat out the original in the US rankings.
But look deeper, because those names represent just one branch of the family tree. All of the names come from the Germanic Adalheid, making this name cousin to Adelaide, Alix, Elke, Heidi, and others you might not guess.
As the name faded in favor of newer versions, the image changed.
In 1967, Arlo Guthrie recorded “Alice’s Restaurant,” which inspired a 1969 movie. It was based on real-life restaurateur, born in 1941 – at the tail end of the name’s original popularity.
A generation of future parents knew it as the faithful housekeeper on The Brady Bunch, and the hard-working diner waitress in a movie-turned-hit sitcom Alice. By the 1970s, this name no longer felt quite right for a child.
And then Vincent Furnier took the traditional girls’ name as his stage name. Actually, first his band adopted Alice Cooper. But after they broke up, Furnier held on to the moniker. The “Welcome to My Nightmare” singer has said it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
By the 1990s, the name fell into the 400s, and seemed headed for obscurity.
But in the early 2000s, Alice started to climb. By 2012, the name reached #127 – the most popular rank since the 1950s.
Some of the credit goes to 30 Rock’s Tina Fey, who named her daughter Alice Zenobia in 2005.
Another factor? Writers Sebold, Walker, Hoffman, and Munro all took the name in a literary direction. Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.
And, if you’re a Resident Evil fan, your thoughts go to Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil films, beginning in 2002. It transforms the name from sweetly storybook to seriously powerful.
Overall, Alice fits in with a class of names – Emma and Abigail, Charlotte and Grace. They’re feminine, but don’t feel frilly. It marries a gentle sweetness with an undeniable strength.
No surprise this name cracked the US Top 100 in 2014, and reached #76 in 2016. It makes a lovely and enduring choice for a daughter.
Do you prefer Alice, Allison, or another form of the name?
This post was published on January 8, 2009. It was revised and re-posted on October 21, 2013, and again on July 25, 2017.