What turned Jocelyn into a girl name?

Illustration of the characters Ralph and Jocelyn from the book "To Have and to Hold" (1900) by Mary Johnston.
Ralph and Jocelyn from “To Have and to Hold”

The name Jocelyn, originally masculine, can be traced back to a Germanic name Gauzelin, “a diminutive short form of the various compound names having as their first element the tribal name Gaut.”

But Jocelyn debuted as a girl name in the U.S. data in 1900:

  • 1902: unlisted
  • 1901: unlisted
  • 1900: 6 baby girls named Jocelyn [debut]
  • 1899: unlisted
  • 1898: unlisted

The slight rise in usage is mirrored in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) data:

  • 1902: 6 people named Jocelyn
  • 1901: 10 people named Jocelyn
  • 1900: 14 people named Jocelyn
  • 1899: 2 people named Jocelyn
  • 1898: 6 people named Jocelyn

What was drawing people’s attention to the name Jocelyn at that time?

Mary Johnston’s story To Have and to Hold* — a historical romance set in early 17th-century Jamestown that featured a female character named Lady Jocelyn Leigh.

The book "To Have and to Hold" (1900)
“To Have and to Hold”

The story was first serialized in Atlantic Monthly (1899), then published as a standalone book (1900). The book “sold more than 135,000 copies in its first week. It was the best-selling novel of the year and the most successful popular novel in the United States between the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 and Gone with the Wind in 1936.”

Hollywood proceeded to produce two silent films based on To Have and to Hold. One came out in 1915, the other in 1922. The release of each film gave the usage of girl-name Jocelyn a boost (in 1916 and in 1923).

What are your thoughts on the name Jocelyn?


*Here’s the text of To Have and to Hold at Project Gutenberg, if you’d like to check it out.

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