How popular is the baby name Martha in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Use the popularity graph and data table below to find out! Plus, see all the blog posts that mention the name Martha.

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Popularity of the baby name Martha

Posts that mention the name Martha

Baby born on George Washington’s birthday, named George Washington

American statesman George Washington (1732-1799)
George Washington

George Washington, the first president of the United States, was born on February 22, 1732.

A few minutes before midnight on February 22, 1931 — almost 200 years later — Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Bushman of Chicago welcomed a baby boy. They named him George Washington Bushman.

But it doesn’t end there.

A few minutes after midnight, the baby’s twin sister was born. Her name? Martha Washington Bushman. (The real Martha Washington was born in June, incidentally.)

The twins’ patriotic names were chosen by their father, who was out of work at the time.

“That’s because I love America,” he said. “I love this country even when times are bad.”

(The twins were born in the middle of the Great Depression.)

Source: “Twins Named After George and Martha.” Portsmouth Times 24 Feb. 1931: 1.

Image: George Washington (1795) by Gilbert Stuart

What gave the baby name Tovah a boost in the late 1970s?

Actress Tovah Feldshuh in the TV miniseries "Holocaust" (1978)
Tovah Feldshuh in “Holocaust

The name Tovah appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data in 1976. It saw its highest-ever usage several years later, in both 1979 and 1980:

  • 1981: 31 baby girls named Tovah
  • 1980: 37 baby girls named Tovah
  • 1979: 37 baby girls named Tovah
  • 1978: 31 baby girls named Tovah
  • 1977: unlisted
  • 1976: 6 baby girls named Tovah [debut]
  • 1975: unlisted

What was drawing attention to the name around that time?

Stage and screen actress Tovah Feldshuh, who began appearing on Broadway, on television, and in the movies (in that order) during the 1970s.

The name’s 1976 debut could be due to Feldshuh’s dozen appearances (as supporting character Martha McKee) on the popular daytime soap opera Ryan’s Hope from May to August of that year.

The name’s peak usage followed Feldshuh’s Emmy-nominated role as Helena Slomova, a Jewish resistance fighter from Prague, in the memorable TV miniseries Holocaust. The four-part miniseries was originally broadcast in April of 1978, and then rebroadcast in September of 1979.

Tovah Feldshuh was born Terri Sue Feldshuh in New York City in 1952. The first part of her stage name comes from her Hebrew name, Tovah, which is the Hebrew word for “good.” (The feminine form of the word/name can also be transcribed Tova. The masculine form is Tov.)

What are your thoughts on the name Tovah?

P.S. The director of the TV miniseries Holocaust, Marvin J. Chomsky, also co-directed the TV miniseries Roots (1977).

Sources: Tovah Feldshuh – Wikipedia, Holocaust (miniseries) – Wikipedia, SSA
Image: Screenshot of the miniseries Holocaust

Baby name story: Helvetia

The Boswell sisters: Martha, Connie, and Vet (circa 1930)
Martha, Connie, and Vet Boswell

The Boswell Sisters were a trio of siblings from New Orleans who performed as a jazz vocal group from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.

Martha, Constance (“Connie”), and Helvetia (“Vet”) Boswell were famous for their “intimate, close harmonies.” Their songs also tended to feature changes in both key and tempo.

Here’s what they sounded like:

(The song “It’s the Girl,” released in 1931, was added to the U.S. National Recording Registry in 2010.)

Helvetia’s first name — unlike her sisters’ first names — is quite unusual. Where did it come from?

She was named after the Helvetia Milk Condensing Company, because that’s the brand of milk she was bottle-fed as an infant.

The Helvetia Milk Condensing Company was founded in Illinois in 1885 by Swiss immigrant John B. Meÿenberg. “Helvetia” was what the ancient Romans called the region now known as Switzerland (because, at that time, a Celtic people known as the Helvetii resided there). In English, the word Helvetia is typically pronounced hel-VEE-shuh.

All three Boswell sisters got married in the mid-1930s. At that point, Martha and Vet decided to retire and start families, but Connie — who had been wheelchair-bound since childhood, due to a bout of polio — decided to continue performing.

Intriguingly, Connie altered the spelling of her name to “Connee” partway through her moderately successful solo career. Here’s why:

The onset of WW II meant touring and signing autographs for troops. The loss of dexterity from the lingering affect of polio made it difficult to dot the “i” in her name, making Connee a more practical alternative; by 1942, she legally changed the spelling.

Which of the sisters’ names do you like best – Martha, Constance, or Helvetia?

P.S. Another famous jazz vocal group was Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, which later became Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan.


Image: Photo of the Boswell Sisters in What’s on The Air (Jan. 1931, page 25)

Common Amish names: Jacob, Malinda, Benuel, Naomi

Amish boy in horse-drawn buggy

Which names are the most common among the Amish?

The simplest answer is “Biblical names,” but that’s not the full answer.

Because certain Biblical names are preferred over others, and Biblical names aren’t used exclusively.

Plus, the prevalence of a name could vary depending upon the specific Amish settlement you’re talking about.

I’ve gathered about 100 of the most common Amish names below. Before we get into specifics, though, here’s a bit of background on the Amish…

Who are the Amish?

The Amish are an Anabaptist group that intentionally maintain a degree of separation from the wider world. They wear plain clothing, eschew modern conveniences (like cars), and partake in traditional occupations such as farming, carpentry, blacksmithing, and (for women) homemaking.

The Anabaptist movement began in Europe in the 1520s, at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptists were particularly known for the practice of adult baptism. They were also opposed to war, and they believed in the separation of church and state.

Considered radicals, the Anabaptists were widely persecuted.

In 1693, the Swiss branch of the Anabaptist movement (a.k.a., the Swiss Brethren) experienced a schism. Those who followed reformer Jacob Amman came to be known as the Amish, whereas those who did not came to be known as the Mennonites (after Dutchman Menno Simons, one of the original Anabaptist leaders).

In the early 1700s, many Amish (and Mennonites) immigrated to the New World — specifically to the Province of Pennsylvania, which had been founded upon the principle of religious freedom.

Today, over 367,000 Amish live in the U.S., and roughly two-thirds of them reside in three states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.

Amish man and sons in horse-drawn wagon

Common Amish names

The most comprehensive source of Amish names I came across was also the oldest, so let’s go through all the sources chronologically.

In 1960, researcher Elmer L. Smith published data on the most common male and female names among the Amish of southeastern Pennsylvania from 1890 to 1956.

The 1,337 Amish males in the study shared a total of just 72 different first names. Over a quarter of the males had one of the top three names (John, Amos, or Jacob), and over 81% had one of the top 20 names.

The 1,356 Amish females in the study shared even fewer first names: only 55. Over a quarter of the females had one of the top three names (Mary, Sarah, or Annie), and over 88% had a top-20 name.

According to Smith’s research, these were the 20 most common names per gender (plus their frequency of usage):

Amish female namesAmish male names
1Mary, 10.0%John, 11.9%
2Sarah, 7.9%Amos, 7.3%
3Annie, 9.1%*Jacob, 6.5%
4Katie, 7.1%David, 6.4%
5Lizzie, 6.4%Samuel, 6.2%
6Rebecca, 6.1%Christian, 6.1%
7Fannie, 5.3%Daniel, 5.5%
8Barbara, 5.1%Benjamin, 3.8%
9Rachel, 5.1%Levi, 3.7%
10Lydia, 4.9%Aaron, 3.1%
11Emma, 3.8%Jonas, 3.0%
12Malinda, 3.5%Elam, 2.8%
13Susie, 3.2%Stephen, 2.8%
14Sadie, 2.5%Isaac, 2.5%
15Leah, 1.9%Henry, 2.4%
16Hannah, 1.5%Jonathan, 1.8%
17Naomi, 1.4%Eli, 1.7%
18Mattie, 1.3%Gideon, 1.6%
19Lavina, 1.1%Moses, 1.5%
20Arie, 1.1%Joseph, 1.1%
*Annie was ranked below Sarah in the research paper, but this seems to be a typo, given the percentages.

Smith also wrote the following:

Other given names for males may reflect the important place the martyred forefathers hold in the minds of the sect members. The given name Menno is frequently found; this honors Menno Simmons [sic] an early leader of the plain sects. Ammon is also quite common, and is traced to Jacob Amman for whom the Amish sect is named; otherwise given names are from the Bible.

(Menno, a form of the Dutch name Meine, can be traced back to the Old High German word magan, meaning “strength.” The occupational surname Amman(n), which was derived from the German word amtmann, originally referred to someone employed as an official or administrator.)

A couple of years after Smith’s study came out, Dr. William Schreiber (a professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio) published a book about the Amish of east-central Ohio. In one paragraph, he mentioned some of the names he’d encountered:

One learns here that the good old biblical names are still common with the Amish but are in competition with modern or more euphonious ones. The names of the children of large families are often a study in contrasts. In one family there are, for example, Benjamin, Samuel, Isaac, Stephen, John, Israel, Christ, Barbara, Mary, Hannah, Annie, Mattie, and Lizzie. Another family has chosen these names for its children: Sarah, Lizzie, Samuel, Benjamin, John, Annie, Marie, Daniel, David, Enos, Sylvia, and Malinda. Then there are three Amish brothers named Isaac, Levi, and Elmer. One wonders how Vesta, Delila, Dena, Saloma, Drusilla, or Verba, or boys’ names like Junie, Venus, or Aquilla came into strict Christian families?

Speaking of east-central Ohio, Barbara Yoder Hall — who was born in 1940 and grew up with ten siblings in the Amish community of Holmes County — recalled in her book Born Amish (1980) the following first names:

First names for girls are usually Cora, Mattie, Annie, Lizzie, Barbara, Fannie, Katie, Mary, Naomi, Emma, Jemima, Ella, Sarah, Levina and Mandy.

First names for boys are John, Mose, Ferdinand, Dannie, Sam, Amos, Albert, Emanual, Levi, Rudy, Enos, Eli, Jacob and Joseph.

Amish kitchen

Now for a pair of sources from the digital age…

The website Amish America, run by Erik Wesner (who is not Amish, but has visited Amish communities in 15 different states), lists the following names as being common among the Amish. He found many of the male names in Raber’s Almanac, which “contains a listing of Amish church ministers,” while many of the female names came from various church directories.

Common Amish female namesCommon Amish male names

Some of Erik’s commentary…

  • Eli: “You see a lot of Elis among Amish, but not many Elijahs.”
  • Leroy: “Seems to be more common in Midwestern communities.”
  • Lizzie: “Lizzie is a popular form in some Pennsylvania communities.”
  • Naomi: “Amish, at least in Lancaster County, pronounce this ‘Nay-oh-mah.'”
  • Ruby: “Quite a few Rubies in northern Indiana.”
  • Vernon: “[P]retty common in places like northern Indiana and Holmes County, Ohio.”

Finally, according to the blog Amish Heritage, written by a woman named Anna (who grew up Amish in Pennsylvania), common Amish names include…

Common Amish female namesCommon Amish male names

Both websites noted that some Amish communities (particularly New Order Amish communities) have recently started giving their children less traditional first names.

So how do these lists square with what we’ve observed in the U.S. baby name data?

It’s hard to tell with historically popular names like Mary and John, but we can see some interesting things when we focus on relatively rare names.

For instance, the names Atlee, Benuel, Delila, Dena, Lavina, Menno, Saloma, and Willis have all been mentioned recently in my posts about names with a high degree of state specificity (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021). As you’d expect, they were associated with the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and/or Indiana. (Benuel, in fact, has only ever appeared in the Pennsylvania data — going all the way back to the 1940s.)

Several of the other names — including Amos, Elam, Fannie, Malinda, and Mervin — saw higher usage in Pennsylvania than in any other state in 2021.

I was surprised that none of my sources listed the name Barbie. Most of them mentioned Barbara (one of them was even named Barbara), and all of them included nicknames (like Lizzie). But Barbara’s diminutive form was curiously absent — even though most of its usage occurs in Pennsylvania:

Girls named Barbie, U.S.Girls named Barbie, Penn.
20213722 (59%)
20202617 (65%)
20193320 (61%)
20182113 (62%)
20172916 (55%)
20162814 (50%)

Rhoda and Mahlon are two more names that I somewhat expected to see.

Ammon is a very interesting case, because the name also has significance to an entirely different religious group: the Mormons. (The Book of Mormon features two prominent figures named Ammon.) From the 1910s to the 1960s, the name Ammon — much like Benuel — only appeared in the Pennsylvania data. Since the 1980s, though, the state with the largest number of baby boys named Ammon has been Utah.

What are your thoughts on the first names used by the Amish? Which of the above do you like the most?

And, for anyone out there with close ties to an Amish family/community: What other names would you add to this list?

P.S. This post is dedicated to my delightful commenters alex and Andrea. :)


Images (horse-drawn buggy, horse-drawn wagon, farmhouse kitchen) from Library of Congress