Independent baby name blog & directory, est. 2006.
How popular is the baby name Priscilla in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Priscilla and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Priscilla.
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The Lane Sisters, a singing/acting trio famous during the ’30s and ’40s, actually began as the Mullican sisters. And there were 5 of them, not 3.
The Mullican family of Iowa consisted of parents Lorenzo and Cora and daughters Leotabel (nn Leota), Martha, Dorothy (nn Lola), Rosemary and Priscilla.
Four out of the five daughters pursued careers in entertainment, and three out of the four saw success in film. Along the way they changed their surname to “Lane,” so the final three — Priscilla, Rosemary and Lola — became known as the Lane Sisters.
P.S. Remember that post about Torchy Blane? Lola Lane, one of the actresses who played Torchy, inspired Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel to create the character Lois Lane.
In early 1916, Photoplay Magazine came up with a list of potential titles for serial films using the formula established by The Perils of Pauline (1914), The Exploits of Elaine (1914), and The Hazards of Helen (1914).
(Just a few months after the above was published, The Mysteries of Myra came out.)
A while ago I found a book called “A Collection of Original Acrostics on Ladies’ Christian Names” that was published in Toronto in 1888.
I won’t post any of the poems, which are all pretty cheesy, but author George J. Howson does include an intriguing selection of names. He notes that he wrote acrostics for “all the most popular feminine christian names of the day, and many more that, while not in common use, are known to exist in actual life.”
Here’s the list:
Have any favorites?
Hulda/Huldah is one I like. It’s one of those names that I always see on old New England gravestones but never come across in real life. Wonder when that one will become stylish again.
BTW, has anyone ever seen a good name acrostic? Like, one that’s actually well-written and/or thought-provoking? Because I don’t think I ever have.
Vicki Betts, a librarian at the University of Texas, put together a neat list of female names using the 1860 census records for Smith County, Texas.
Here’s some background information, per Vicki:
Ninety per cent of the people had emigrated to the county within the preceding ten years, 95.8% born in the states of the future Confederacy, 1.8% in the border states, 1.6% in northern states, and 0.8% in foreign countries. Therefore, these name should be fairly representative of Southern female names in general, with the exception of Alamo, Texas, Texana, etc.
And now the names! Here are the names that appeared most frequently on the 1860 Smith County census:
Flavilla Doane Loring was just 13 months old when she died on October 12, 1847.
She and I clearly never knew one another. We aren’t related in any way.
And yet I’ve known about her for decades.
I grew up on Cape Cod, which gets notoriously touristy in the summers. So, when I went places as a kid, I took as many non-road shortcuts as possible to avoid having to walk alongside the backed-up tourist traffic.
One of those shortcuts was the Pine Grove Cemetery, which allowed me to bypass the busy intersection of North Main Street and Route 28.
Even back then I had a thing for names, so I often stopped to read the headstones.
It didn’t take long for me to discover Flavilla.
She’s buried next to her parents, Capt. John Loring and Hannah Loring, and three of her siblings: William, John, and Hannah. (I later learned that young John drowned at the age of 3 in Bass River — the body of water on the right side of the map.)
John, Hannah, William…these were names I recognized.
But Flavilla was totally new to me.
I remember staring it, trying to make sense of it.
That’s a name? Really?
It wasn’t like any name I’d ever seen before. The closest thing I could come up with was Priscilla, the name of one of my Dad’s aunts. But even that was a stretch.
How did she get a name like that? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
I felt like an archaeologist who’d just dug up some curious little artifact. I was eager to identify it, figure it out, give it some context.
I couldn’t, though. Not back then. The Internet hadn’t become particularly useful yet, and there weren’t any big research libraries nearby.
But now I can…
The Origin of Flavilla
It may look made-up, but Flavilla is legitimate name. And a very old one at that.
It was used by women in Ancient Rome, where it was a feminine form of the name Flavius, which was based on the Latin word flavus, meaning “golden” or “yellow.” (The original bearer of the name Flavius was likely a blond.)
The name has since been attached to a species of butterfly with yellow wings:
But none of this explains why a 19th-century New England couple gave this fanciful, non-Biblical name to their daughter.
The Flavilla Trend
I checked Flavilla Doane Loring’s family tree for possible namesakes, but didn’t find anything conclusive.
While doing the research, though, I did spot a few other Flavillas — all born in the 1800s.
This made me wonder whether the name Flavilla wasn’t simply a trendy name back in 19th-century America.
Turns out, it was:
The first Flavillas I found were born in the 1760s.
After that, usage increased.
Usage peaked in the 1840s and 1850s.
After that, usage decreased.
The last Flavillas I found were born in the 1930s.
I’m not quite sure what made Flavilla stylish in the mid-1800s (beyond sound), but I think I know what sparked the trend in the first place: a story.
The Story of Flavilla
“The Fatal Effects of Fashionable Levities: The Story of Flavilla” first appeared in the London periodical The Adventurer in 1754.
The protagonist was a young woman, Flavilla, whose flighty behavior ended up costing her dearly. Here’s a line from the last paragraph: “May every lady, on whose memory compassion shall record these events, tremble to assume the levity of Flavilla.”
The author, English writer John Hawkesworth (1715–1773), may have chosen the name Flavilla because of the romantic sound, or because of the consonance with levity.
The story was reprinted (under various titles) in story and essay collections for decades to come. It eventually made its way to the States — either in The Adventurer or in one of the subsequent compilations — and that’s about the time we start seeing the first baby Flavillas.
Bitten by the Name Bug
For years, Flavilla’s name remained a mystery to me.
But I never stopped wondering about it.
Whenever I cut through the Pine Grove Cemetery, I would stop at the Loring family plot just so I could see her name one more time.
Stumbling upon Flavilla’s name is what motivated me to start really paying attention to names.
It’s what got me hooked, you could say.
I started checking name books out of the library. I started visiting other graveyards. I started scanning news articles, phone books, encyclopedia entries — any chunk of text that might contain an interesting name.
Did you notice that all five of the five most popular girl names in the nation right now have a-endings?
Just how trendy is this end-sound? (I say “sound” to cover names like Hannah and Nevaeh, which don’t end with a, but sound like they do.) Looking at SSA data for 2010, here’s what I came up with:
These 770,765 babies represent 43.8% of all the babies on the SSA’s 2010 list. (The a-endings alone represent 38.1%.)
Let’s compare this with, say, 80 years ago. Why 80? Because whenever I think of a-endings, I’m reminded of my grandmother’s family — 9 siblings total, 8 of which were girls, only one of whom had a name that ended with an a-sound (Priscilla). Most of them were born in the 1920s and 1930s, so let’s look at 1930:
These 294,750 babies represent 26.2% of all the babies accounted for on the SSA’s 1930 list. (The a-endings by themselves represent 25.6%).
So, from 26.2% to 43.8% for the end-sound, and from 25.6% to 38.1% for a-endings specifically. Quite a difference between then and now.