Where did the baby name Bertil come from in 1912?

Princess Margaret and baby Bertil (in 1913)
Princess Margaret and Bertil

Crown Prince Gustaf VI of Sweden and his wife, Margaret, welcomed their fourth child, a baby boy, in February of 1912. They named him Bertil.

The same year Prince Bertil was born, the name Bertil appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1914: 31 baby boys named Bertil
  • 1913: 17 baby boys named Bertil
  • 1912: 16 baby boys named Bertil [debut]
  • 1911: unlisted
  • 1910: unlisted

Bertil was the second-highest debut that year, after Woodroe (inspired by Woodrow Wilson, who was elected president in November).

But the early SSA numbers tend to skew low, so here’s some data from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for a different perspective. (I’m only counting people with the first name Bertil, and I’m ignoring the feminine variants Bertille and Bertilla.)

  • 1914: 51 people named Bertil
  • 1913: 37 people named Bertil
  • 1912: 40 people named Bertil
  • 1911: 19 people named Bertil
  • 1910: 32 people named Bertil

Just about all of the surnames I saw for Bertils in the SSDI were Swedish. Even more interesting, the SSA data indicates that many of these Bertils were born in Minnesota, Illinois and Massachusetts — states with large Swedish communities:

By 1910 the position of the Midwest as a place of residence for the Swedish immigrants and their children was still strong, but had weakened. Fifty-four percent of the Swedish immigrants and their children now lived in these states, with Minnesota and Illinois dominating. Fifteen percent lived in the East, where the immigrants were drawn to industrial areas in New England. New York City and Worcester, Massachusetts, were two leading destinations.

I think it’s safe to conclude that this usage of Bertil was occurring among Swedish immigrants (and their descendants) exclusively.

So what’s the etymology of Bertil? According to the Handbook of Scandinavian Names, the names Bertil and Bertel (which debuted the very next year) are “forms of the first element in German names like Berthold, from bert ‘bright, shining.’ The site Behind the Name simply says Bertil is a form of Berthold, meaning “bright ruler.”

Surprisingly, Bertil isn’t the first U.S. baby name debut we can link to Swedish royalty. Ebba, which debuted in 1888, was inspired by Princess Ebba Bernadotte — baby Bertil’s great aunt.

P.S. Bertil’s siblings were named Gustaf, Sigvard, Ingrid, and Carl. Curiously, none of them had a discernible influence on the U.S. baby name data like their brother did.


Image: Prins Bertil och hans mor

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