Millicent has languished in style limbo for too long. With Amelia and Evelyn in the current US Top 20, why not this sweetly vintage name?
Thanks to Katharine for suggesting today’s Baby Name of the Day.
Millicent: Good Girl Name
Many parents have embraced good girl names, ones with built-in nicknames. Think of Abigail called Abby, Lillian known as Lily, or Eleanor who goes by Ellie. They’re traditional names with distinctive sounds, substantial choices that shorten naturally.
Millicent called Millie fits in perfectly.
Millicent: Vintage and Rare
Here’s a surprise: this name has never charted higher than the 400s. Back in 1927, Millicent made it all the way to #435.
Millie fared slightly better. Around the year 1900, it hovered around #200.
The breakout star of Mil names? That honor goes to Mildred, a Top Ten name from 1903 to 1926.
Only Millie ranks in the US Top 500 today, while Mildred teeters on the edge of extinction. American parents do adore Mila, though, so perhaps the Mil- names are on the upswing.
The Germanic name Amalswintha was transformed into the Frankish Malasintha and the French Melisende over the centuries. The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources lists two queens and a princess who wore some form of the name.
At least one of them was quite formidable. Amalaswintha, daughter of Theodoric the Great, served as regent of the Ostrogoths in the 520s and 30s. The princess was described as learned and wise, an excellent diplomat and ally of Justinian I, Byzantine emperor. She ruled the kingdom for her 10 year old son. When she was assassinated, Justinian took it as signal to invade.
Amalswintha comes from amal – work or bravery – and a second element, meaning strong.
Melisende and Melisent came to England with the Normans. From 1131 to 1153, Melisende reigned as Queen of Jerusalem.
In England, the name continued to evolve, eventually reaching the current form.
Millicent: Thoroughly Modern
Thoroughly Modern Millie took place in the 1920s, but was actually a product of the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the movie came out in 1967, and the Broadway musical version debuted in 2002. Modern, indeed.
The tale tells of a small-town Kansas girl who moved to Manhattan, bobbed her hair, and donned a flapper dress in search of love and money.
You might also think of a very famous doll. Barbie’s full name is listed as Barbara Millicent Roberts.
- Late nineteenth/early twentieth century activist Fawcett helped open higher education to women in Britain.
- Australian feminist leader Preston-Stanley became one of the first women to hold elected office down under.
- Feminist and civil rights activist Fenwick served four terms in the US House of Representatives in the 1970s.
More recently, Lisa Yee gave us Millicent Min, Girl Genius, the heroine of a 2003 children’s novel. Factor in two minor Harry Potter characters, and the Millicent Bystander references from 2006 animated movie Flushed Away, and a generation of kids is growing up with the name.
Millie entered the English Top 100 back in the 1990s. It took much longer for Millie to warm up in the US. Only in 2009 did Millie return to the Top 1000.
Of course, the English love their nickname names: Charlie and Alfie, Evie and Elsie. While plenty of informal choices are gaining in the US, too, many parents still prefer a formal name.
This opens the question: will Millie take off, following Ellie up the charts? If so, does that leave Millicent neglected, or will it slowly catch on, too?
If you adore Charlotte and Abigail and so many buttoned-up girls’ names that rank in the current US Top 100, Millicent seems like a logical substitute. Millie fits right in with Maddie and Molly and Ellie, while Millicent remains distinctively different.
Can you imagine this name catching on today?
This post was published originally on July 20, 2008. Following substantial revision, it was re-posted on March 22, 2017.
Millicent Borges Accardi says
There’s a Jamaican legend about Rose Hall which tells of a beautiful good witch named Millicent, and–as a result–there are a number of girls named Millicent in the Mo-Bay area.
I know a preschool-aged Millicent, called Millie. Younger sister to an Ellinora. It wears well on her.
The first time I came across this name was in the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy, the main character, named two paper dolls Millicent and Araminta because they sounded like the names of very rich children. Millicent still sounds frilly and lacy and high society to me, though I do like it. It was also the real name of a character in a TV show about an alien invasion a few years ago. The character was nicknamed Minx.
And maybe the name, or at least Millie, will go up in popularity now that Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown is in the spotlight.
Excellent point, Kat!
Christina Fonseca says
This post is 5 years old and I absolutely love Millicent – don’t know how I missed it.
I would love to meet a Millicent of any age. Such a pretty name.
Millicent Borges Accardi says
Hi–I AM a Millicent.
Kathy Martinez says
My Daughter’s name is Millicent and I Love that name!! She’s 8 years old and her name has always been asked “where did you get that Beautiful name”? In school and also Family members call her Mills and or Millie for short which she loves. I picked her name Millicent from the show in the 70’s (Brady Bunch), the episode where Bobby Brady gets his first kiss from a girl names Millicent, and as he kissed her he seen Fire Works and from that day when I was small I said that if I ever had a Daughter then I would name her Millicent. I’m happy that I did and she loves it….
I never encountered Millicent as a name, and I don’t think I would have liked it, until going skiing in Utah. At a ski resort in Utah there is a Mt. Millicent, which is affectionately referred to as “Millie” and it has some amazing runs. Somehow, I really like the association of the name “Millicent” or “Millie” with this majestic, beautiful, and at the same time strong and challenging, mountain. After my experience with, and enjoying Millie, I would certainly consider this name for my child- it has so much personal meaning for my husband and me now.
Elisabeth, I think “strength in work” makes me squirm because of the similarity to “abeit macht frei” – “work brings freedom” from the gates to Auschwitz. Except for that reference, hard work is a good virtue to express in a name … but I think it trips something deep in our memories that makes for a pretty big “except.”
Katharine, so cool that you met a Tallulah! I always want to rush up to parents and congratulate them in circs like that.
And Emmy Jo, Millicent won you over? High praise indeed! 🙂
As for Melisende and her variant spellings, I think this is one of those very tricky situations. While Melisande is clearly the modern French – and related to the Debussy opera and also sometimes taken as a translation of Melissa – the rest is difficult to pin down. Melisende/Melisanthe/Melissande was out of regular use (in favor of Millicent) by the time most spellings became formalized, so the same *person* probably had her name written multiple ways, much less different people in different regions.
I tend to stick with Melisende because it is the spelling preferred for Melisende of Jerusalem, the 12th century queen of Jerusalem mentioned above. But I’ve also seen her name spelled Melisent, so even royalty weren’t necessarily excused from ambiguity in their given names.
Melisende’s family tree is pretty rich, though – her parents were Baldwin and Morphia, and her sisters were Alice, Hodierna and Ioveta. She married a man named Fulk and had two sons: Baldwin and Amalric. Melisende was named after her paternal grandmother and had a niece who was given her name, so it must’ve popped up in noble circles throughout the era.
But I’ll bet that original source documents call each of those women by at least two or three spellings of the name … but that’s a guess, not based on specific research.
While I like the name objectively, I couldn’t get past a bad association but I couldn’t remember what is was: It’s Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty!! (Thank you, Emmy Jo!!) That’s too bad because it’s a lovely name.
I don’t think I can use Millicent either. It can be quite pretty, and the meaning of strength is lovely as well, but I do think Millicent is a tad old fashioned. Plus, Barbara Millicent being Barbie’s given name doesn’t do much for me either.
I love the cute nickname Millie, but I’d rather use Matilda or Amelia (both favourites of mine) to get there instead.
Emmy Jo says
I never thought to like Millicent before — it’s always seemed like Barbie’s middle name to me, and maybe part of the naming inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent.
Your post has won me over, though! Millicent IS pretty! Why didn’t I realize it before?
I do think I slightly prefer Melisende, for it thoroughly medieval vibe.
Millicent is not a name I’d use myself but I find her pleasantly charming and entirely feminine. I just re-watched “Flushed Away” with my daughter The main character “Roddy” is mistaken for Millicent (instead of Innocent bystander, he’s called Millicent Bystander by another rat therough the entire movie. (it’s a a fun flick, loaded with great voices Hugh, Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy& Andy Serkis are a few you hear quite often) And hearing Bill Nighy say Millicent fairly often has made me warm up to it faster then I normally would.
I do find Millie completely charming and while Millicent’s not my favorite way to get to her (that’s Pomeline) but I do like Millicent and would be very pleased to meet some. 🙂
So on the whole, its a thums up for Millicent then?! I just love her numerical, old fashioned femininity. I’m pleased to hear though, that Millicent means something as substantial as ‘strength in work’ – it adds some more weight to her I think.
As was mentioned, Millie is a very popular choice in the UK, but of all the Millie/Milly’s I’ve heard, I’ve never once come across a Millicent. To me, the name Millicent gives you so much more flexibility than Millie as you can decide for yourself which you prefer to be known as and not got through life with nothing more than a nickname…
Completely off topic, today I heard a mother calling her toddler back to her with a name that most certainly stands out from the crowd of Emily’s, Ellie’s, Sophie’s and Chloe’s – Tallulah! This was my first real life encounter with a Tallulah – a name I thought was reserved for celebrities! All I can say is give me Millicent any day! 🙂
I find Millicent very pretty. The sounds are so smooth and feminine. Interesting that you made the allusion to 1000 Spooky Places or whatever, because there’s something witchy about this name for me. More good witch than bad, but witchy nonetheless.
I also think Millicent deserves kudos for being a much more attractive way to Millie than tired old Mildred. I’ve got a Mildred nn Millie in my family tree and, while I would never consider Mildred or even Millie to honor her, I would use Millicent in a heartbeat.
Put this one with Matilda, please. I’m not naming my daughter Millicent. To me, Millicent is a stern librarian; a one-room-schoolteacher; a long skirt, buttoned up to the chin blouse, tight bun sourpuss. I like a nice friendly name, but Millicent is a shut door-go away type of name.
Millicent! I love it! It’s sweet, yes, but it’s got a strength that just can’t be hidden. It’s formidable, in a way. And so hyperfeminine in this androgynous climate of naming today. Millie is fashionable and the full name is one to contend with. As well, it gives you the pretty sound with strong meaning. A lot of girls’ names have so much to do with being pretty and frou frou and “she walks prettily…” Pah! I’m glad to see something meaning strength or anything to do with it. I really do love Millicent.
Lovely! I find Millicent thouroughly charming. She’s remarkably upbeat for being so old-fashioned, and awfully mellifluous for as dowdy as she is. Just the right combination for a lot of folks today.
Where are you getting the spelling for Melisende? This is a name I personally love, and have seen so many spellings, Melisande, Melissande, Melisanthe, that I’m not sure if one is more proper or has wider historical use. What did you find?
One more note: I’ve seen others show a distaste for this meaning, “strength in work”, but why? The people I know who work hard of their own volition usually have the nicest lives and a good deal of self-confidence. I think hard work is a valuable virtue to pass on.