What turned Aubrey into a girl name in the 1970s?

The Bread album "Guitar Man" (1972)
Bread album

We’ve already discussed whether we think Aubrey is a girl name or a boy name. But, in that post, I forgot to mention why the name Aubrey, which was traditionally used as a male name, underwent a gender switch in the first place.

See, it all started in the 1970s…

Graph of the usage of the baby name Aubrey in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Aubrey
Girls named AubreyBoys named Aubrey
1975229 (rank: 666th)199 (rank: 572nd)
1974185 (rank: 757th)174 (rank: 608th)
1973142 (rank: 882nd)169 (rank: 611th)
197220180 (rank: 595th)
197110218 (rank: 545th)

In 1973, the usage of Aubrey as a girl name suddenly increased and the name reached the girls’ top 1,000 for the first time.

The next year, the usage for girls — still rising — surpassed the usage for boys. And it’s been that way ever since.

What caused the switch?

The Bread song "Aubrey" (1973).
Bread single

The song “Aubrey” (1973) by the group Bread, which was included on their late 1972 album Guitar Man. Here’s how it begins:

And Aubrey was her name,
a not so very ordinary girl or name.
But who’s to blame?

The melancholy ballad was released as a single in February of 1973. It peaked at #15 on Billboard‘s “Hot 100” chart a month later.

Several decades later, in the early 2000s, the usage of (girl-name) Aubrey rose very quickly. Aubrey reached the girls’ top 100 for the first time in 2006:

Baby girls named AubreyBaby boys named Aubrey
20085,566 (rank: 42nd)135
20074,506 (rank: 69th)138
20063,659 (rank: 93rd)142
20052,264 (rank: 153rd)148
20041,815 (rank: 190th)145

We can attribute this sudden trendiness to singer Aubrey O’Day — first of the reality TV show Making the Band 3 (2005-2006), then of the musical group Danity Kane.

So, what does the name Aubrey mean?

The name can be traced back (via Old French) to two possible Germanic sources. The first is the name Alberic, made up of the elements alb, “elf,” and ric, “powerful.” The second is the female name Albrada/Alberada, made up of the elements alb, “elf,” and rad, “counsel.”

(Most baby name books/websites try to create a phrase out of the unrelated elements in compound Germanic names. They’ll say Aubrey means “ruler of elves,” for instance. But, as I mentioned in the Wilbrod post, it’s more accurate to leave the elements unconnected.)

What are your thoughts on the baby name Aubrey?


3 thoughts on “What turned Aubrey into a girl name in the 1970s?

  1. Much prefer this one on boys. If there is already Audrey for girls, I see no need to steal Aubrey…

  2. One thing I have noticed is that even though its usage for girls increased so much between 2004 and 2011, its usage for boys is pretty stable

  3. Good point — it’s still hanging on for boys, which doesn’t always happen.

    Forgot to mention that actress Aubrey Plaza (b. 1984) was named specifically for the Bread song:

    “Oh my God!” she says, “I totally forgot to put the song I was named after on this list! It’s called ‘Aubrey’ and it’s by Bread, this weird ’70s band. It’s actually really depressing when you listen to it. Can we add an eleventh song to this thing?”

    (In the article, Tracklist: Aubrey Plaza Rocks the Boat, she lists ten songs she likes.)

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