Florence returned to the US Top 1000 recently, after over three decades in hibernation. Will this former Top Ten favorite return to prior heights?
Thanks to Sophie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
This name sounds botanical, but there’s more to the story. It comes from the Latin florens – flourishing. The term implies prosperity and success. Florere means to flower or to bloom. That makes it part-nature name, part-virtue. I’d call it pure ecovintage.
The Romans used Florentius and Florentia, with saints aplenty answering to the names and related forms. Florian comes from the same roots, but outside of Harry Potter, it’s fairly obscure today. (Florean Fortescue owned the Diagon Alley ice cream parlor.)
There’s the masculine Florent, too, as well as Flora, Florabel, and lots of other sometimes-heard Flor- names. But the -ence ending feels especially well-established.
Florence: On the Map
Plenty of us hear this name and dream of Italy.
None other than Julius Caesar founded the famous city all the way back in 59 BC.
During the Middle Ages, the city served as a trading center. By the Renaissance, it was a hotspot for the arts. The powerful Medici family called Florence home, and it even briefly served as the capital of the third iteration of the Kingdom of Italy.
Over two thousand years after its founding, it remains a favorite destination. Places galore have been named after the Italian original.
In the nineteenth century, the city of Florence welcomed the well-to-do Nightingale family – William, Fanny and daughter Frances Parthenope. Parthenope was named after her birth place, and when the Nightingales welcomed a second daughter, she became – naturally – Florence.
Despite her family’s objections, the younger Miss Nightingale grew up to pursue a career in nursing during the Crimean war, revolutionizing health care and saving countless lives. She established the first professional school of nursing, authored the first textbook in the field, and made practical innovations that changed hospitals forever.
That makes this name nothing short of heroic.
Florence: Nineteenth Century Favorite
While it is sometimes heard as a surname (think celebrity chef Tyler Florence), most of the time it evokes Nightingale’s courage, the romance of the Italian city or a botanical flair.
Back in the nineteenth century, it became one of the most popular picks for parents. From 1887 through 1906, the name ranked in the US Top Ten. It remained in the Top 20 through 1924, falling slowly afterwards. By 1982, it had left the rankings entirely.
Still, at its heights it was powerfully popular, and that meant nicknames galore. There’s Florrie, of course, but also Flossie.
The Bobbsey Twins series appeared between 1904 and 1979, featuring two sets of twins. Nan and Bert were the elder siblings, with Flossie and Freddie the younger. I’m not clear if the series ever gave any of the four a formal name, but it seems likely that a Flossie born early in the twentieth century would really have been a Florence.
During the name’s heyday, plenty of famous Florences were born, including:
- First Lady Harding, wife of President Warren G.;
- Actress Henderson, best known as television’s Carol Brady;
- American soprano Foster Jenkins became the subject of a 2016 biopic, as the famous singer couldn’t, well … sing;
- Olympic gold medalist in track & field Griffith-Joyner, known as FloJo;
- Early 20th century labor activist Kelley;
- Canadian-born Lawrence, a silent film star with more than 270 films to her name;
- Early Harlem Renaissance performer Mills.
- The lead singer of the Fifth Dimension, as well as a founding member of The Supremes, answered to the name.
By the 70s, television featured two sassy Florences: The Jefferson’s fictional maid, and Alice’s fellow waitress at Mel’s Diner, Flo.
The characters were lovable, even memorable, but they weren’t likely to inspire parents. Toss in Little Britain’s cross-dressing Florence Rose and the small screen has done the name no favors.
Florence: Ready for Revival
But the generation that came of age watching those shows? They’re headed towards grandparent status today. And a generation is choosing names like Charlotte, Abigail, and Eleanor. It’s easy to imagine Florence joining the next wave of vintage revival girl names.
The numbers bear this out. After many years’ absence, Florence returned to the US Top 1000 at #980. That’s a long way from the Top Ten, but it’s more than doubled in use over the last five years.
A handful of edgy references boost the name. Indie rock band Florence and the Machine is fronted by a lead singer with the name. There’s an Argentine model called Flo Gennaro. Insurance company Progressive’s fictional spokesperson uses the nickname, too. Former UK prime minister David Cameron gave the name to a daughter born while he was in office; English actress Tamzin Outhwaite also welcomed a daughter by the name in 2008; and a handful of other famous figures have used the name.
It all suggests that we’ll be hearing more of this name in the years to come. But for now, it’s early-stage revival. That means it might be the next Charlotte … but for now, you’re nicely ahead of the trend.
Do you think this name will return to the US Top 100 soon? Or do you still find it a bit dusty?
Originally published on June 23, 2009, this post was revised substantially and reposted on July 18, 2018.