This post was originally published on March 8, 2010. It was substantially revised and reposted on June 1, 2015, in honor of the recent vote suggesting that Harriet Tubman should become the first woman on US currency.
Looking for an on-trend, vintage name that’s under the radar?
Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Harriet as our Baby Name of the Day.
Harriet: From France with Love
Henry and Harriet feel English, but we wouldn’t have either name without the French.
Germanic forms of Henry were first heard round the 900s. The Normans brought Henri to England, where it became Henry and Herry and Harry.
The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources lists Henriot and Henriet as masculine French forms of Henry in the 1300s.
Henriette is the French feminine form. Both Henriette and Henrietta were in use by the sixteenth century.
In 1625, Princess Henriette Marie of France married King Charles I of England, and once again, a form of Henry became a fashionable import. Queen Henrietta passed her name on to their youngest princess.
Harriet developed in England in the 1600s. In at least some cases, it was used as a short form of Henrietta. If you’ve seen Keira Knightley as the eighteenth century Georgiana Cavendish in The Duchess, you might recall that Georgiana had a daughter called Harryo or Harriet – but actually baptized Henrietta.
The name was still in the US Top 100 in the late nineteenth century.
Harriet: Notables Galore
So many women of accomplishment have worn this name that it’s almost impossible to list them all!
- Harriet Martineau was a pioneer sociologist and a noted feminist thinker of the early 1800s.
- Aristocratic Harriet Arbuthnot kept diaries about her life among the powerful. Arbuthnot’s husband served in Parliament, but it is her writings that have endured. (That’s her in the photo to the left.)
- Born Elizabeth Ann Haryett, Harriet Howard’s life story reads like fiction, including her affair with Napoleon III of France.
- Hawaiian Queen Keopulani converted to Christianity on her deathbed in 1823, borrowing Harriet from a missionary’s wife. Her daughter became known as Harrieta.
- Born Araminta, Harriet Tubman adopted her mother’s given name, and went on to become one of the most famous leaders of the Underground Railroad. A recent vote named Tubman the people’s choice to become the first woman on US currency.
- Abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe is remembered for her world-changing 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
- Bachelor US President James Buchanan relied on his niece, Harriet Lane, to serve as his hostess during the 1850s.
- Harriet Brooks was a pioneer in the field of nuclear physics.
- Suffragette Harriet Shaw Weaver supported early publications of James Joyce’s novels.
- Harriet Quimby was the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license in the US.
- Harriet Zwerling was part of the bohemian circle of Beat poets in Paris in the 1950s.
- Real-life married couple Ozzie and Harriet Nelson starred in a successful radio program turned ABC sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. So did their sons, and later their son’s wives. Call it the first reality TV show.
Harriet: On Trend
In an age of Charlotte and Eleanor, it’s surprising that this name hasn’t been in the US Top 1000 since 1970.
But the name could catch on:
- It currently ranks in the English Top 100.
- -et girl names like Juliet, Violet and Scarlett are fashionable.
- Her nickname options are great, including stylish, sassy Hattie.
- Louise Fitzhugh gave the name to a memorable character in 1964’s Harriet the Spy, putting this name in the company of other fictional heroines like Madeline, Matilda, and Eloise.
Add it up, and Harriet is an appealing choice – smart, quirky cool, outside of the mainstream but exactly on trend.
Do you think Harriet will return to the US Top 1000 in the next few years?
We are almost surely done having kids, but that doesn’t stop me from laying awake thinking about what I’d name our Louisa’s siblings. Wouldn’t Harriet be perfect as a sister for Louisa? I saw the trailer for the new Harriet Tubman movie last night and it just clicked. Louisa & Harriet. [SWOON]. Also the Harriet Tubman movie looks amazing.
My first daughter is Harriet. I think the strong nature of the name really suits her. I feel like Harriets change the world. Sometimes by daughter goes by Hattie sometimes which I adore as it’s much sweeter and softer.
Andrea Y says
I have a three year old daughter named Harriet. I named her after Harriet Tubman. Of all six of my children, her name gets the strongest reaction from people. It usually goes by generation–the older the person the less they like Harriet’s name. The strongest reaction was from a middle-aged woman who asked me “why in the world” I picked the name Harriet. I told her that I named my daughter after Harriet Tubman, a hero of mine. The woman then shrieked, “You named her after an old black woman??!!”
Yes. I’m allowed to name my little blond, blue-eyed, white child after anyone I want to, thank you. This is a free country.
I admit I found her reaction a little offensive.
Regardless of people’s responses, I ADORE Harriet’s name!!!! I think it is spunky and solid and smart-sounding. And of course, now that we’ve been calling her that for three years it is impossible to think of her as anything but Harriet.
judy nelms says
My family is really fond of old classic names that are timeless. None of that trendy stuff for us! I have one son who is 22 and named Judson after a great grandfather who fought in the Civil War. My niece had a daughter almost 3 years ago named Louisa Tatum (Tatum is a family name for us), She is due in August of 2010 with another daughter named Harriett Augusta which I think is so cool! I hate names that when the teacher calls that name 10 kids answer to it!I am 46 but thinking of adopting a special needs daughter in the next few years as a single parent and if she is young enough for a name change then I will give her a great classic old-fashioned name such as Penelope or Alice Jane.
I like Harriet a lot. However, I don’t think it’s a name any girl today would really like to be named. Hattie is charming, but I just love Harryo, which I first heard watching The Duchess. But again, I don’t think anyone would love to be called Harryo. I certaintly wouldn’t want to be called that, but I still love it, if that makes any sense at all!
judy nelms says
Harriett is still a wonderful name and I would really respect a baby’s parents for having such class! One of the prettiest girls that i have ever known was named Harriett! My great niece on the way will be named “Harriett Augusta”!
Sarah (nfate) says
thats 20/10 sorry
Sarah (nfate) says
I adore Harriet!!!
Joy, I remember Henrietta Hippo! “The New Zoo Review” was my FAVORITE show when I was 4! 🙂
I want to love Harriet, really. It’s the name of his beloved Auntie. But I can’t. I’m not superfond of Henry, either (all I hear in my head is hen-REE!) blah. Which was the name of one of his Uncles. So my compromise was Henrietta. I adore Hettie & Hattie both equally and find her whole four syllables absolutely charming. And while Henrietta’s a mouthful with my surname, I find I like that mouthful. Feels just right coming out of my mouth. Harriet is fine for anyone else, give me Henrietta! 🙂
And Freddy Frog! When I was that age, and my family took a road trip to Wichita Falls, they’d tell me to look for Henrietta Hippo when we drove through Henrietta.
Can’t stand Harriet for the first reason you cite: Harriet Olson on Little House on the Prairie. And if you’re my age (40), you might remember a show on PBS that had a character called Henrietta Hippo. I also think of two towns I’ve driven through frequently: Henrietta, Texas, and Henryetta, Oklahoma.
I also know that the main taunt for any Harriet, from about the age of four, will be Hairy. I could get behind Hattie, but only if you absolutely HAVE to use Harriet or Henrietta to honor a family member. However I believe that Hattie would lead to taunts of Batty, Catty, Ratty and/or FATTY.
OOH, I love, love, love Harriet!!!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really flow well with my husband’s last name. Maybe we can use it for a middle??
I love Harriet, and I’m sure I’d try to call her Hatsy. This might lead to her NOT loving the name Harriet.
Still, we’d have to have eight more kids to exhaust our girls’ names, and by then we’d probably have named a son Henry, so it would be out.
Interesting that it sounds posh British – I’m neither, so to me it sounds urban hipster – not that I’m either of those things, either.
Hallie, American streamlined female variant of Henry, has a feeling of brilliant spring scenery, but how can we neglect Harriet, the lady-like name, Abby?
I read a book about Harriet Tubman when I was in elementary school and she is the first Harriet I think of. So many great namesakes, and I even like nns Hettie and Hattie just fine, but somehow Harriet doesn’t do it for me. I sure wouldn’t mind it on someone else’s kid, though! I think I’m likely to waffle a bit with this name – depending on my mood I might like it quite a lot or not much at all… some names just do that to me and this is one of them.
British American says
It sounds somewhat ‘posh British’ to me, though I’ve never personally known a Harriet.
Hattie is a cute nickname.
I prefer the male Harry & Henry. Or Henrietta. (My hamster, when I was a teenager, was called Henrietta.)
It’s not bad, it’s just really not me & I don’t think it will change. It sounds very British,which I actually think is pretty cool – the name & variations both male and female just don’t do it for me. I think I have too many Heindrich’s, Hennie etc to make the -He/Ha names appealing to me. They mostly sound pompous or old to me.
Example, I loved Harry Potter growing up but had to adjust to his name
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against names being from a much earlier generation, but the names just seem a bit negatively old. I think my Gran actually knows a Hattie. The nicknames also aren’t doing anything for me -they’re up there with Dottie,Millie & Lottie for me. Overall, it’s by NO MEANS a bad name, it’s just not fitting in with the vibe a kid of mine would be raised in. I think a lot of other people will really like it, though.
I love, love, LOVE Harriet.