Thanks to Another for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Max names trace back over millennia. There’s Maximilianus, at home in the Roman Empire. Dozens of Max names followed, in use across Europe. Today, eight boys’ names starting with Max, including just Max, rank in the US Top 1000.
Feminine forms were rarer. There’s a third century Saint Maxima, and Maximiliana and Maximiliane appear in the historical record. (There’s a nineteenth century Bavarian princess, and the names appear in plenty of European royal houses.) The French preferred Maximilienne, as in late nineteenth century painter Maximilienne Guyon.
And then along came Jessie McDermott.
In 1889, an aspiring actress changed her name from Jessie McDermott to Maxine Elliot.
Career success followed. By 1903, she starred on Broadway. In 1905, she headed to London, where she met King Edward VII. Returning home, she opened her own theater appeared in silent films, and then retired, only to continue amassing a personal fortune. It’s quite a story.
Elliott didn’t invent the name. Not exactly. After all, Pauline and Josephine both ranked in the US Top 100, and names like Geraldine and Albertine were familiar, too.
But by 1895, the name was rising. It broke into the US Top 500 in 1900. By 1915, it ranked in the Top 100, and would stay there through the 1920s.
That makes it something of a Jazz Age staple.
As hemlines fell and the country entered World War II, Maxine faded in the rankings. But a generation of women by the name grew up.
Maxene Andrews, sister to LaVerne and Patty, became one of the most successful music acts of the 1940s. They’re the trio behind “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” among other hits.
Other famous women by the name include:
- Congressman Waters of California.
- Novelist Hong Kingston.
- DC comics superhero Cyclone, who claims this as her real name.
- Tyne Daly played a feisty social worker on CBS’ Judging Amy from 1999 to 2005.
Despite plenty of positive associations, for years, the most powerful image was an acid-tongued, cantankerous senior citizen. Maxine has graced Hallmark’s Shoebox line of greeting cards since 1986. Books, mugs, and assorted merchandise followed.
The character cemented the name’s old-lady status.
But that was the year 1986.
Thirty years post-Shoebox debut, the name’s image had shifted. Maxine re-entered the US Top 1000. As of 2018, it reached #847 – the name’s highest rank since the 1970s.
Pop culture and celebrity birth announcements have given us a handful of reasons to rethink the name, too.
First came Jessica Simpson’s daughter Maxwell, and then Mark Zuckeberg’s birth announcement for Max. We later learned that tech titan’s daughter was named Maxima. But parents were clearly looking for Max- names for girls.
And then came Stranger Things‘ season two character, Maxine “Max” Mayfield. Besides Elle, she’s the only girl among the monster-fighting friends. The season debuted in late 2017, so the character alone doesn’t get credit for our re-imagining of the name. But if parents are struggling to imagine the name on a child? Max Mayfield changes everything.
The boyish nickname Max fits a pattern, too. We love Alexandra called Alex, Charlotte shortened to Charlie, and Josephine known as Jo. Why not Maxine, nickname Max?
Overall, Maxine reads quirky and spirited, traditional but not buttoned-down. It’s less classic than Katherine. It feels like a successor to Hazel, the kind of name that fell to the bottom of the charts – but now sits near the top once more.
First published October 5, 2008, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on January 15, 2020.