Sometimes a name dismissed as fusty and outmoded is actually a relatively recent innovation. That’s the case with today’s choice.
Thanks to Another for suggesting our Name of the Day: Maxine.
Maximilianus dates back to the Roman Empire, so we can properly place Max in the class of names that have been in existence for thousands of years. By comparison, the feminization Maxine is a just over one hundred years old – positively novel. And like many a popular name today, she owes her success to pop culture.
Back in 1889, Jessie McDermott launched a successful career on the American stage as Maxine Elliott. Her adopted identity wasn’t completely out of the blue. Josephine and Pauline both ranked in the Top 100 circa 1895. And while Max wasn’t as popular as Joseph or Paul, he had plenty of history.
Miss Elliott can’t take credit for inventing Maxine. It had peeked into the US Top 1000 as early as 1884. But as her career gained steam, so did her name. Starting in 1895, Maxine climbed the charts, from #513 in 1899 to #404 in 1900 and #228 by 1908.
Maxine was quite the trendy name for jazz age baby girls. She broke into the Top 100 at #76 in 1923 and remained there through 1930.
As hemlines fell, so did the name’s popularity. The actress kept working, but during World War I turned her attention to her personal businesses as well as relief efforts in Europe. She eventually retired from the stage entirely, but died a wealthy woman of leisure in Cannes.
Even as Nicole and Michelle became top choices for our daughters, Maxine faded into obscurity, dropping out of the rankings in 1976. She’s appeared a few times since then, last charting in 1996.
We think it’s easy to see what’s doomed Maxine to obscurity. While the flapper chic sound of Maxie appeals tremendously, it’s tough to separate this name from maxi pads, a term that was gaining use in the 60s and 70s, as Maxine took her last bow.
The term is apparently used only in the US. In fact, we recently met a 10 year old British Maxine, called Maxie, who was blissfully unaware of the potential challenges her name might pose in her new American middle school.
Maxine is also the grouchy older woman gracing Hallmark’s Shoebox greeting cards – yet another signal that we think of Maxine as rusting and antique rather than fresh and modern.
Still, there are a handful of Maxines pushing us to see the name in another light:
- Novelist Maxine Hong Kingston;
- DC comics superhero Maxine Hunkel, who fights crime as Cyclone;
- Feisty fictional Maxine Gray on CBS’ Judging Amy from 1999 to 2005.
It’s also shared by several singers, adding to the name’s jazzy feel.
A few sites have attempted to find an earlier precedent for Maxine, but we’re not sure they hit the mark. Claims that it is the name of an ancient Egyptian princess seem forced; and while it’s true that Maxime is popular in France, it’s solidly a masculine moniker.
We hate to see such an appealing choice torpedo’d by an inconvenient nickname. With girls called Alex so common these days, perhaps a little Maxine could be known as Max? Otherwise, this early 20th century charmer is probably best reserved for the middle spot. It’s an unfortunate fate for a name born in the spotlight.