Overheard at ApMtn HQ this morning:
“Are you writing about Thoroughly Modern Millie?”
“No, I’m writing about virtuous and pure Millicent.”
“Can’t she be both?”
Thanks to Katharine for suggesting today’s Name of the Day.
Millicent is sweet as sugar. Maybe it’s her sound-alike qualities with the word innocent, or just her impossibly old-fashioned vibe. We hear the name and picture a pale girl in turn-of-the-century dress, possibly drifting about a mansion in one of those America’s Spookiest Places specials. But her nickname, Millie, is eminently wearable, and feels just right on a playground packed with girls called Maddie.
Millicent would be rare circa 2008, and indeed she’s never been terribly popular. The name left the US Top 1000 rankings back in 1965, but never charted higher than #434, back in 1927. Millie fared slightly better, charting in the Top 200 for most of the 19th century, before beginning her fall from the rankings at the same time as Millicent.
The name fell out of fashion just as it hit the silver screen. The Thoroughly Modern Millie mentioned earlier was a 1967 Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film – and then a Tony-award winning 2002 musical – about the jazz-age adventures of a small-town Kansas girl who moves to Manhattan, bobs her hair and dons a flapper dress in order to find love and fortune. Contrary to the exuberant title, most parents found the name hopelessly dated – the #1 name in 1967 was Lisa.
It’s hard to argue that Millicent is modern. Her roots run deep. She’s most likely based on a very old Germanic name – Amalswinth or Amalswind. The amal bit means work, and the swinth element means strength. The Franks used the slightly more wearable Malasintha, and by the 1000s, the Normans had transformed it to the very pretty Melisende – or Melisent, from which we derive our version of the name. A second theory disregards the obsolete Amalswinth and notes that the Germanic element mel meant gentle and in Gothic German, sinps meant gait or walk. We suspect that the first explanation is the stronger claim, but if you don’t like the idea of your daughter’s name meaning “strong in work,” then you can make a case for the “she who walks prettily” meaning, too.
Speaking of pretty, Millicent is the middle moniker of the Barbie doll – Barbara Millicent Roberts. If that puts you off the name, it’s also been worn by late 19th and early 20th century activist Millicent Fawcett, who helped opened higher education to women in Britain; Australian feminist leader Millicent Preston-Stanley, one of the first women to hold elected office down under; and American feminist and civil rights advocate Millicent Fenwick, a four-time member of the US House of Representatives in the 1970s.
Millicent sounds smart and capable. Her predecessor, Melisende, was worn by a 12th century queen of Jerusalem. Lisa Yee’s literary tween heroine is Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Sure, she does sound good as gold – but so do Emily, Abigail, Hannah, Grace, Claire, Faith, Molly and plenty of other top choices for daughters. Parents who love Charlotte and Madeline, but fear they’re too common, could certainly consider reviving Millicent.
It’s worth noting that the nickname Millie is about as fashionable as it gets in the UK these days. She’s been a Top 25 choice for the past few years. Of course, you might put Amelia or even Milla on the birth certificate and still arrive at the nickname, and with Poppy and Molly big as independent names, perhaps we’ll simply meet a lot of girls wearing the diminutive.
But we rather like Millicent, and think she’d be an interesting little sister for Harriet or Hazel. The nickname makes her, yes, thoroughly modern, but she still retains the grace and dignity of an age gone by.