Samantha: The Ultimate New Classic
How well do you know the name Samantha?
It's surely familiar. Samantha has become a modern all-American girl name, still cruising along a decades-long run of popularity. It's long and soft, but the nickname Sam gives it balance (and a little attitude, too). The character Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall on Sex and the City, has become the name's standard bearer. In fact, someone recently remarked to me that Cattrall's character is "such a perfect Samantha!" Which she is. Except she isn't.
For those of us who weren't yet following baby name trends 45 years ago, here's a little wakeup call. Take a look at the number of Samanthas born in the U.S. from 1963-1965:
At the 1963 starting point of that graph, Samantha was a total obscurity. It ranked well out of the top 1000, behind the likes of Joycelyn and Elvia. But in September 1964, a little sitcom called Bewitched debuted with a magical main character named Samantha. For perspective, that upward curve is steeper than for the name Miley when Hannah Montana hit the air.
Why Samantha? The name's precise origins are unknown, but most agree it was invented in America, probably in the late 18th century. It was modestly familiar in the 1800s, used at about the same rate as Permelia and Almeda. Then it faded away. So when the '60s sitcom creators chose Samantha for their charming suburban witch, they were clearly aiming for a quirky antique. The name set the character apart from the mere mortals around her, and fit her in with magical relatives like Endora and Hagatha.
They must have been flabbergasted to discover that they'd just named a generation of American girls. The nickname Sam made the name kicky for its times, and Elizabeth Montgomery's irresistible sparkle sealed the deal. A "timeless classic" was born. Meanwhile Permelia and Almeda still languish in obscurity. If the Bewitched folks had chosen differently, perhaps Sam would still just mean Samuel and the all-American girl would be called Perry or Al.
Today, it's almost impossible to hear Samantha as a trendy celebrity-fueled baby name. Which brings us back to Sex and the City and Samantha Jones. That perfect Samantha is actually a perfect anachronism. The character celebrated her 50th birthday in a 2008 movie, so she was born in 1958. Not likely. Nedra, Beulah and Lucretia were all more common baby names back then -- and it really wasn't so long ago.