The baby name Alice brings to mind white rabbits and mad tea parties, but this storybook name carries considerable substance.
Thanks to Nessa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
It’s tough to unravel the origins of the baby name Alice.
That’s because it’s one of many choice originating with the Germanic name Adalhaidis or Adalheidis. Adal means noble; heid or heit means type or kind. So Alice – and all of the related names – are the “noble type.” That feels like an auspicious meaning.
It shortened to Adelais and eventually Aalis in French. We know it as Adelaide, or Alice in English.
Besides Alice, there’s Ada and Adeline and Alicia and Alyssa, too, all still in use today.
A medieval favorite, the name was worn by saints and queens early days. Royals in Cyprus and Antioch answered to Alice as far back as the Middle Ages.
Plenty of related names caught on, too, across languages and cultures, with various forms remaining popular depending on language and culture.
PRINCESS ALICE OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
The name faded in popularity, but it eventually made a comeback.
One reason? In 1843, a young Queen Victoria named her second daughter Alice Maud Mary.
Fans of royal history might appreciate the twisty turns that the baby name Alice took as various Victoria descendents gave the name to their equally well-born children.
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom married Grand Duke Louis IV and became Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine.
Their daughter was also Alice, but she was known as Alix in German. Alix, strictly speaking, is a medieval French cousin to Aalis and company.
Princess Alix became Empress Alexandra of Russian when she married the future Tsar Nicholas II in 1894. Her life ended in tragedy.
Even more European princesses received the name in the 1800s, including Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of the future Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Beyond royals and members of the nobility, the baby name Alice was wildly popular with parents from all walks of life during the era.
A storybook Alice would boost the name even more.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865. Carroll borrowed the character’s name from the daughter of a family friend, young Alice Liddell.
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.
Countless re-tellings and reinventions of the story exist. There’s been a ballet, more than one stage production, a stained glass window in Lewis Carroll’s home church, and the famous Alice statue in New York City’s Central Park, to list just a few.
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.
A sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was also a success.
This makes the name vintage, literary – and whimsical, too.
The famous Alices don’t stop with Wonderland.
Born in 1861, Theodore Roosevelt’s wife was named Alice. 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.
Suffragist Alice Paul was among the most influential of early activists for women’s rights. Born in 1885, she lived to see the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964.
Alice B. Toklas left San Francisco for Paris in 1907, where she met Gertrude Stein. The couple hosted a famous salon. Stein’s best-selllng book is 1933’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
BY the NUMBERS
1880 marks the first year for which we have name popularity data in the US. At the time, the baby name Alice ranked in the Top Ten.
It remained in the Top 25 into the 1930s, doubtless boosted by the sweet storybook girl and the widely admired socialite.
The name faded once more, exiting the US Top 100 in the 1950s, reaching an all-time low of #444 in the year 2002.
ALISON, ALYSSA, ALICIA
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 forms, the name’s 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.
Remember Gertrude Stein’s partner? Years later, she became a 1960s counter culture icon, thanks in part a cookbook she published, complete with a recipe for cannabis brownies. The recipe features in the plot of 1968 movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.
A generation of future parents knew Alice as the faithful housekeeper on The Brady Bunch, and the hard-working diner waitress in a movie-turned-hit sitcom Alice.
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.
ALICE in PRINT
Classic Alice might’ve stuck in style limbo, but women with the name continued to make their mark, particularly as writers.
Author Alice Hoffman is best known for her 1995 novel Practical Magic. Alice Sebold also penned a bestseller, 2002’s The Lovely Bones.
Short story writer Alice Munro won 2013’s Nobel Prize in Literature.
But the best known writer by the name is doubtless Alice Walker. The author of 1982’s The Color Purple, as well as many other works, and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Walker’s career has spanned decades.
In the early 2000s, Alice started to climb. By 2012, the name returned to the US Top 100 for the first time in decades.
What explains the revival of the baby name Alice?
Beginning in 2002, Milla Jovovich starred as Alice in the Resident Evil films. It transformed the name from sweetly storybook to seriously powerful. The names are loosely based on video games, but the first film adaptation owes a little something to Lewis Carroll, too. Alice’s name is a nod to that fictional character.
Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock alum Tina Fey named her daughter Alice Zenobia in 2005.
That’s the same year that Twilight debuted, introducing the world to star-crossed lovers Edward and Bella, along with a host of supernatural characters. One of them? Edward’s fellow vegetarian vampire, Alice Cullen.
In 2015, Alice was top of many royal watchers’ contenders for the new princess born to Will and Kate. Inspired by the daughter of Queen Victoria – and Kate’s familiarity with Lewis Carroll – Alice was a possible name for the couple’s second child. (Though she was ultimately named Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.)
Even without so many prompts, chances are that the baby name Alice would’ve enjoyed more use. After all, a century had passed since it was last topping the charts.
And Alice fits with 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 #64 in 2021. It makes a lovely and enduring choice for a daughter.
What do you think of the baby name Alice?
This post was originally published on January 8, 2009. It was revised and re-posted on October 21, 2013; July 25, 2017; and December 7, 2022.
I feel like there’s an important piece of Alice’s 20th century history missing from your post: The line ‘Go ask Alice’ is a well-known lyric from the song ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane. The song was a hit in the late 1960s and is about the effects of psychedelic drug use (the lyric references Alice in Wonderland’s weird experiences which resemble a drug trip in some ways). Then in 1971 a book called Go Ask Alice was published, purporting to be the diary of a teenaged girl who ran away from home, gets involved with drugs and prostitution and eventually dies of a drug overdose. (It was later revealed to be a work of fiction.) This book was hugely popular and a movie of it was made in the 70s. I am fairly certain that this association would have contributed to the decline of Alice’s popularity during this time, though I think you are right that the Brady Bunch’s frumpy housekeeper didn’t help. 😉
Havoye, you’re right – ‘White Rabbit’ is the reason the first line of the post is ‘She went chasing rabbits,’ but I really should have added more about the song and the book in the post. Thanks for adding the history!
Though, FWIW, some very tragic characters have boosted names along the way, so it’s not a lock that such a sad story would lead to the decline of a name.
In this case, it’s hard to tell. Alice was falling by around 200 births/year in the 1960s, but stabilized from 1968-1969. (The song came out in 1967, and the book in 1971.) The slide continues in 1972 – which tracks, because the book seems like it would be a negative influence on the name. But the numbers are stable in 1973 and 1974.
This is fascinating, because it raises the question of how Alice in Wonderland was perceived in the 1960s. I can’t answer that – these are so often the questions that feel impossible to resolve. In 1969, Salvador Dali illustrated an edition of the book: https://www.brainpickings.org/2011/11/15/salvador-dali-alice-in-wonderland-1969/ And there was a BBC television adaptation in 1966, followed by a 1972 movie version. Still, adaptations of the story come fairly regularly, so it doesn’t necessarily indicate interest.
I do think your conclusion is correct, though – the book harmed the name. I’ll have to update!
Yes, very true that negative associations don’t always cause an automatic decline in popularity. I think in Alice’s case it was probably a combination of all the factors you mentioned including, as you noted, that it was likely no longer sounding like a name for a little girl in the 1970s to some given that there were many senior citizens named Alice at that time. Sometimes it’s also the case that similar names or variants start taking over in popularity – Allison and Alicia were rising as Alice was falling, I think, but now we’re at a point where Alice is sounding fresher to some parents than either of those.
Alice has been wildly popular in the French-speaking world for some time now, but there it fits within two larger trends: short, sweet names for girls are extremely popular, and the -s sound at the end is very trendy, appearing in other currently popular names such as Anais, Iris, Maelys, Thais, and Ines.
Yes! I just saw Alice on a list of most stylish French names and I did a double-take. It doesn’t seem French the way I tend to think of French names … but you’re so right about that sound being very stylish.
Lisa T. says
Alice is my all-time, longest running favourite girl’s name. Loved it since I was a child! Still love it, and I’m obviously not alone because it’s charting in all English speaking countries, although the US is a bit behind. I think it’s even in the top 10 in Italy and France?? I feel like it’s got a vintage, retro, pretty but not frilly vibe. Alas, I will probably never have a baby Alice (husband doesn’t like the name).
Alice (pronounced Aa-lee-cheh) is pretty epidemic in Italy, ranking 7th in 2016! I’m Italian (but living in the US) and we are expecting a baby girl; we are considering Alice and Claudia, and I slightly prefer Claudia just because of the popularity of Alice in Italy. But we live here, so maybe I can go for Alice, not sure, unfortunately a lot of the Italian names I love have different connotations here, and apparently nobody likes Claudia!
Blue Juniper says
I think that the popularity of the American McGee’s Alice (2000) video games and the Resident Evil movies (Mila Jovovich is fantastic as the hero Alice – the first movie was released in 2002) helped lift this from it’s daggy TV image and give it a spunkier vibe. Probably helped a lot of guys agree to using it for their daughters 🙂
I love the Resident Evil movies and Alice in Wonderland is one of my favourite stories, so I really love that the name Alice manages to blend sweet and charming with strong and cool for me
A nice point about Resident Evil, Blue Juniper. After all, Mila Jovovich helped boost Lilou in France, right?
One of my favourite names for a girl – sweet, yet sensible, pretty but practical.
My mother really wanted to name me Alice and my father wanted Charlotte. Their compromise was Olivia, and given my current ranking of 4 on the top 1000, I wish I would have been Alice.
My Name Is Alice And I Hate It So Much Some People Nickname Me Ally Ally andro like The Song:( I try to presuade them to call me my initals (AJ) and it sounds much better:) i might change my name in the future x but still a good name but just doesnt match my personality. Destiny is muhc better x
someone mentioned hearing that Alicenne was a form of Alison (french form), since Alison is a form of Alice, thought I’d post here. Any way to confirm or refute this?
Emma Lynch says
I was going to be called Alice until a week before I was born. Thats when my dad decided he no longer liked the name and instead I was called Emma. I, presonally, wish that I had been called Alice, because I find Emma is a bit of a boring and slightly overused name. Luckily, my full name is Emma Alice Lynch but I would have been much happier having Alice as a first name, mainly because middle names aren’t really important and are rarely used.
Oh how I wish Alice was my first name ='(
Aliki is also another cute variant of Alice..!
I like Alice. It’s simple, pretty, and classy without trying too hard to appear so (unlike many surnames used as first names for girls). I would definitely consider Alice as a middle name if I have another daughter.
My daughter’s name is Alice Juliet. She is three years old, and as spunky as she can be. My family was appalled when they heard her name when she was born, because the trendy names reign in my area. Luckily it has grown on everyone.
Oooh … Alice Juliet is a gorgeous combination! Unexpected, and yet perfectly paired.
What about Chaucer’s Alisoun? Is there a relation to that name?
Maybe. Alison is part of the Alice/Adela/Adelaide cluster, all of which were common in different forms at different points in the Middle Ages. Alison appears to be a diminutive form of Alice, common(ish) among the Normans. (I say ish because I haven’t found any statistics.)
But if you flip through this Chaucer Name Dictionary: http://www.columbia.edu/dlc/garland/deweever/menu.htm, it suggests that it might be related to aleison, from the mass. I’m assuming that’s Kyrie Eleison – Lord, have mercy.
It also suggests a second origin, from an Old French name meaning “delight.” I can’t find anything else to suggest that’s true, but I’m not a Chaucer scholar.
The funny thing about Alison is the -son ending. Other female Norman diminutives from the same era exist, but they tend to be be -ot/-ote/-ota and -in/-ine/-ina. There’s nothing saying an unusual form couldn’t be out there, but the idea that the spelling was altered because of similarity with another word seems plausible.
My sister and I – like you, Emmy Jo – grew up pretty much obsessed with Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking glass and all of that, so she’s been one of my favorites for years! I love her rather subtle contrasts of entirely grounded, bouyancy, class, kindness and zest all into one little name!
My parents considered it for me too… but they were set on having my mn as Anais – could you imagine: Alice Anais?? Waaay too confusing! And it’s funny with the associated names: Aleydis, Alais, Alix & Heidi are all family names for me!
I think Alice is quite charming, would not be surprised if it gets more popular. Classic, stylish, retro, feminine and goes well with more popular names of that type. I do like the names Alicia and Alison. Alais, Alys, Alix.. those sound interesting.
Lola, that’s funny! I know lots of people who have been named after songs – mostly girls called Michelle – but you’re the first I’ve heard to be NOT named after a song. 🙂
A friend of mine has a sister called Alice. Their parents were new to the US and wanted to give their children American names. (They’re from China.) Alice in Wonderland was one of the few English languages characters they knew, so their daughter became Alice. I’ve always loved that story – and quite like the name!
I think Alice is going to rise, at least in the US. As you say, Emmy Jo, she just fits in so well. And if Alice ever feels that her name is too dated, there’s always the easy nickname Ali, which fits right in with trendier girls’ names.
Emmy Jo says
I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan (both the book and the Disney movie) — my sister and I can often be found quoting lines to each other. While Alice isn’t in my personal top 10, it’s a name I really like.
Alice has an interesting feel. She’s not very popular at all the U.S. right now, which is a plus for parents who want to pick a name that not everyone else has. Because she was so popular through the 30’s, though, and was well-known from TV after that, she has the possibility to sound a bit dated to some people (or cute and retro, depending on who you ask). However, she’s also a classic from Victorian times and before, which keeps her from sounding too dated (and makes her feel like she could be ready for a comeback).
She fits both with Victorian names like Charlotte, Cora, Eleanor, and Louisa but also with “retro” names like Betty, Dorothy, Virginia, and Hazel.
She’s such a sweet thing, is Alice. How many names are as digified yet comfortable, old school yet totally wearable as she is? For me, she performs a great balancing act – having just the right mixture of femininity and familiarity ie. quite enough but not too much of either.
I wasn’t aware that she might be on the rise as her usage in the UK is fairly set around the #50 mark. But, now that you bring it to my attention, it does make sense and I can definately see the parent of an Emma, Ava, Grace or Sophia considering her (as examples).
I absolutely adore her quiet, charmingly bookish, unpretentious simplicity and like Lola, would definately consider her as middle name material, maybe even as a first name…
I really like Alice; it just has this cool/modern feel as well as a tea party vibe.
All the literary connections- from “Alice in Wonderland” to the women Alice writers- give it such a bookish vibe too.
Funny, If Arlo Guthrie hadn’t popularised “Alice’s Resturant” in 1967, I would be Alice, instead of Laura/Lola! It’s what turned my Pop off the name, much to my mother’s dismay. So I’ve had a soft spot for Alice forever and am looking at incorporating it into this last child’s name, should it be a girl. It got bypassed for Josie, because it didn’t fit for either of us, with Josephine. Neither of us find it appealing enough to use up front but in the middle, to honor my thwarted Mom? Yeah.
All those lovely Alice women, definitely make the name a lot more than a Disney name, to me anyway. Alice is lovely, warm, engaging, sweet & very feminine. All in all, a perfect winner of a name!
Alice is a nice enough name… if only I could get the picture of the disney version of Alice from popping into my head the moment I hear the name… But it is a good name and does sound less frilly to me than Alyssa or Alicia.