Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 28, 2008. It was substantially revised and reposted on February 10, 2014.
The slightest of accidental spelling changes can lead to quite the stylish name.
Thanks to Natalie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Imogen.
It’s a name created by a typo. When William Shakespeare penned Cymbeline, he probably named the King’s daughter Innogen.
King Cymbeline was based on the historical figure Cunobelinus, a ruler of Britain before the Romans arrived. Innogen was a legendary figure from the same era. Her name translates to maiden. Shakespeare scholars have noted that Innogen appeared in source documents known to be referenced by the Bard, and observer accounts confirm that the character was called Innogen in early performances.
No matter. At some point, the “nn” was misprinted “m,” and the changed form has endured.
The name twisted even further from Imogen to Imogene. Without the final e, we pronounce the name IM oh jen. Tack it on, and the name becomes IM oh jeen. In the US, Imogene ranked in the Top 1000 every year from 1885 to 1955, enjoying a high of popularity in the 1920s.
Considering that other fashionable names from that era include Mildred, Gertrude and Thelma, it’s easy to assign Imogene to the naming graveyard. But plenty of other throwback choices from the 1920s are hot again – Ruby, Stella, Violet, Hazel and Josephine all ranked in the Top 100 in the 1920s, too.
Imogen was never anywhere near as popular, but her moment could be now. Even as recently as 2000, she was downright obscure in the US – just 18 newborn girls were given the name that year. But by 2012, that number was up to 111 girls.
Other uses since Shakespeare include:
- Imogene in John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga.
- Imogene Herdman is the bossy big sister who plays Mary in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
- Fannie Flagg nicknamed her Imogene “Idgie” in Fried Green Tomatoes.
- The late Imogene Coca’s comedy career spanned many years. You might know her as Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation.
- Julia Stiles wore the e-free version in the 2000 film Down to You.
- Imogen Heap is a Grammy-winning musician.
- Young actress Imogen Poots has a can’t-ignore kind of name.
- She’s a character in The Mortal Instruments series of books, though she’s not precisely heroic.
Add in a sculptor, a pianist, and a few other figures and this names leans creative – and more than a little bit English. Today, Imogene feels a little bit fusty, but Imogen seems fresh.
Nicknames range from the quirky Idgie and Moe to sweet Immy and understated Gen.
British parents might lament that Imogen is heard everywhere, but if you’re in the US, this is the kind of name that might exactly hit the fits-in/stands-out sweet spot.