If Emma and Clara, Alice and Grace are back, why not this nineteenth century chart-topper?
Thanks to Sophie for suggesting Florence as Name of the Day.
Florence sounds botanical, but that’s only part of her story. The name comes from the Latin florens – flourishing, implying prosperity and success. But florens comes from florere – to flower or bloom. Either way, it is a lovely meaning.
Florentius, Florentia and Florentina were in use in Roman times. Saints aplenty wore masculine and feminine variants. A famous eighteenth century French actor was born Nicolas-Joseph Billot de la Ferrière – but was known as Florence.
For the past two centuries, Florence and company have migrated to the just-for-girls camp.
Make that girls and one very famous Italian city.
Julius Caesar founded Florence all the way back in 59 BC. In the Middle Ages, the city became a center of trade. 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. Two thousand years after its founding, Florence remains a popular destination.
In the nineteenth century, the city of Florence welcomed the wealthy Nightingale family – William, Fanny and daughter Parthenope. Parthenope was named after her birth place, and when the Nightingales welcomed a second daughter, she became – naturally – Florence. Florence grew up to pursue a career in nursing in British hospitals during the Crimean war, revolutionizing health care and saving countless lives.
While Florence is sometimes a surname (think celeb 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, she became one of the most popular picks for parents. From 1887 through 1906, she ranked in the US Top Ten. Florence remained in the Top 20 through 1924, falling slowly afterwards. By 1982, she’d left the rankings entirely.
During her heyday, plenty of famous Florences were born, including:
- First Lady Florence Harding, wife of President Warren G.;
- Actress Florence Henderson, best known as television’s Carol Brady;
- American soprano Florence Foster Jenkins;
- Olympic gold medalist in track & field Florence Griffith-Joyner, known as FloJo;
- Early 20th century labor activist Florence Kelley;
- Canadian-born Florence Lawrence, a silent film star with more than 270 films to her name;
- Early Harlem Renaissance performer Florence Mills.
By the 70s, television featured two sassy Florences:
- The Jefferson’s fictional maid, Florence Johnston;
- 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 Florence no favors.
But children’s books could just rescue this choice. The dated, but still appealing Bobbsey Twins series appeared between 1904 and 1979. The series featured two sets of twins: 12 y.o. Bert and Nan, and 6 y.o. Flossie and Freddie. Flossie was a nickname for Florence Bobbsey. It’s the kind of retro chic pick that would sound just right with Sadie and Ruby.
If the craze for nineteenth century names isn’t enough, there’s also a growing interest in Florence internationally. Florencia is big in South America. And in Quebec, Florence is a Top Ten pick.
While Flora or Fleur might sound a smidge more fashion-forward at the moment, Florence has real possibility.