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?