Thanks to Catherine for suggesting Susan as our Baby Name of the Day.
Susan started out as the far more elaborate Shoshannah in Hebrew. She’s usually Shoshannah translated as lily, but sometimes rose, or even lotus. With all things Biblical, there’s quite a bit of discussion as to the precise meaning, but she’s clearly botanical.
A Book of Daniel – considered apocryphal by some – she’s a virtuous wife victimized by a pair of peeping Toms.
In medieval England, everyday use versions included Susanney and Susan, and even diminutive Sukie. But she wasn’t super common, and it would take a few more centuries for her to catch on.
Post-Reformation the name became more common. By the 1880s, she ranked in the US Top 100. She left for a few decades, but by 1927, Susan was back – and climbing. She charted at #44 in 1939, #18 in 1943, and #10 in 1945. She stayed in the Top Ten from 1945 through 1968, peaking at #2 from 1957 – 1960.
Plenty of notables have answered to the name – trailblazing suffragette Susan B. Anthony comes to mind.
My first thought is always Susan Dey, the actress who started out as Laurie Partridge in 1970 then went to college, law school, and ended up as Grace Van Owen on L.A. Law in 1986. Dey is the perfect age for a Susan – born in 1952, a teenager by the late 1960s, and then a power-suited young attorney exactly on time.
Nicknames and pop songs abound:
- Teen idol Dion told us to “keep away from Runaround Sue.”
- The Everly Brothers were in hot water when they sang, “Wake Up Little Susie.”
- And Credence Clearwater Revival sang “I love you, Susie Q.” The song was later covered by rocker Suzi Quatro – how could she resist?
Johnny Cash’s hit “A Boy Named Sue” makes her the default girl name of 1969.
It’s been worn by actresses, from The Brady Bunch’s Olsen to Oscar-winner Sarandon to Erica Kane’s alter-ego, soap opera royal Lucci.
But by the 1980s, she was headed for mom named territory … now famous bearers of the name Glee’s take-no-prisoners Coach Sue Sylvester.
Terry Pratchett gave the name to the Grim Reaper’s granddaughter in his Discworld series. You’d expect someone who can walk through walls and remember the future to be rather remarkable. She is – and yet her name is sensible, “a name used by no queens or goddesses anywhere.”
Or is it? Fiction gives us Susan Pevensie of The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. She’s a level-headed schoolgirl when the story begins, but ultimately takes her place as Queen Susan of Narnia. And the lovely Brooke Shields played a rather glamorous bearer of the name on 1990s sitcom Suddenly Susan.
Reinventing her is very possible, from the daring Siouxie Sioux of the Banshees, to Sookie Stackhouse to Zuzu, as in the little girl in It’s a Wonderful Life.
If Susan hadn’t been so huge in the recent past, she’d be a smash hit now.