Why did Christopher debut as a girl name in 1938?

Actor Orson Welles, his first wife Virginia, and their baby girl Christopher (in 1938)
Orson Welles, Virginia, and baby girl Christopher

Legendary actor Orson Welles was married three times and had one daughter per marriage. The last two daughters had conventional names (Rebecca and Beatrice), but the first had an unexpected name: Christopher.

On the day Christopher Welles arrived in March of 1938, her father sent out a short telegram that read: “CHRISTOPHER SHE IS HERE.”

(When Christopher questioned her father about the name as a child, he replied: “Your name has a marvelous ring to it, don’t you think?” He added that she was “the only girl in the world” called Christopher, which made her unique.)

The year Christopher Welles was born, the baby name Christopher appeared as a girl name for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:

Boys named ChristopherGirls named Christopher
*Debut (gender-specific)

My hunch is that Orson Welles’s daughter was the main influence behind the debut. That said, the name Christopher was on the rise (as a boy name) in the late ’30s, so it’s possible that some of these female Christophers were simply mis-coded male Christophers.

As it turns out, Christopher Welles disliked her name: “I was teased mercilessly in school and was quite miserable as a result. I wanted to change it to Linda.” As an adult, she went by the shortened form Chris.

The name Christopher was in the top 10 for boys from 1967 to 2009, ranking #2 for many years from the ’70s to the ’90s. But it also ended up in the girls’ top 1,000 for 24 years, from 1967 to 1990.

What are your thoughts on Christopher as a girl name?


Image: Orson, Virginia, and Christopher Welles (1938)

[Latest update: Aug. 2023]

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