What popularized the baby name Scarlett?

The character Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) from the movie "Gone with the Wind" (1939).
Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone with the Wind” (1939)

The baby name Scarlett is within spitting distance of the top 100, thanks in large part to actress Scarlett Johansson.

What put it on the map originally, though, was Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind (1936).

Did you know that Katie Scarlett O’Hara was nearly named Pansy? It’s true. Scarlett might never have become a baby name at all had Margaret Mitchell not decided, months after her book was accepted for publication, to change the character’s name from Pansy to Scarlett. She explained:

The name Scarlett was chosen six months after my book was sold….I submitted nearly a hundred names to my publishers and they chose Scarlett,–I may add it was my choice too.

Other names under consideration were Robin, Kells, Storm and Angel.

What made her settle on Scarlett?

As to why I chose the name of Scarlett — first, because I came across the name of Katie Scarlett so often in Irish literature and so I made it Gerald’s Mother’s maiden name. Second, while I of course knew of the Scarlett family on our Georgia Coast, I could find no record of any family named Scarlett in Clayton County between the years 1859 and 1873.

The surname originally denoted a maker or seller of a bright (often red-colored) woolen cloth called scarlet.

How many babies were named Scarlett following the book’s publication?

  • 1939: 7 baby girls named Scarlett
  • 1938: 6 baby girls named Scarlett
  • 1937: 7 baby girls named Scarlett [debut]
  • 1936: unlisted
  • 1935: unlisted

Of course, the film version of Gone with the Wind, released at the very end of 1939, is what really gave the name a boost:

  • 1945: 34 baby girls named Scarlett
  • 1944: 45 baby girls named Scarlett
  • 1943: 68 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 964th)
  • 1942: 76 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 901st)
  • 1941: 77 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 828th)
  • 1940: 59 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 943rd)

In the movie, Scarlett was played by actress Vivien Leigh. (The name Vivien saw a spike in usage in 1940 as well.)

The name Scarlett slowly picked up steam over the following decades and, by the end of the century, several hundred baby girls were being named Scarlett every year.

When Scarlett Johansson emerged on the scene in the early 2000s, usage of the name and its variants (Scarlet, Scarlette, Scarleth, Escarlet, Escarleth, Escarlett) increased at a much faster rate:

  • 2010: 2,716 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 115th)
  • 2009: 1,921 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 170th)
  • 2008: 1,621 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 211th)
  • 2007: 1,583 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 218th)
  • 2006: 1,116 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 297th)
  • 2005: 733 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 423rd)
  • 2004: 538 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 528th)
  • 2003: 327 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 759th)
  • 2002: 290 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 806th)
  • 2001: 237 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 938th)
  • 2000: 227 baby girls named Scarlett (rank: 942nd)

Do you think any of the other names Mitchell considered — Pansy, Robin, Kells, Storm, Angel — would have made a better character name? Do you think any of them could have caught on as a baby name the way Scarlett did?

Sources:

Other Gone with the Wind posts: Tara, Suellen, Carreen, Melanie

3 thoughts on “What popularized the baby name Scarlett?

  1. It would have been ironic if her name had been Angel, cause she’s anything but.

    Robin and Kells are okay. But overall, I think Scarlett is the better name, because in the end her character is a scarlet woman due to her many loveless marriages and obsession with a married man.

  2. How fitting, just today there was an obituary for a woman named Katherine Scarlett Lastname. She was apparently known by her middle name, but what tickled me is that her daughter is named Crimson.

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