Name Spotlight: Bree

Aug 2nd 2012

When I reviewed the fastest rising girls' names of last year, the syllable "bree" was the big story. It's the power behind rising hits like Aubree and Brielle, as well as familiar favorites such as Gabriella, Brianna and Sabrina. But Bree itself is also a top-1000 given name -- one with a rather remarkable history.

If you look up Bree in name dictionaries, you'll almost always see its origin listed as Irish. Actual Irish people may find this curious, since the name has no usage history in Ireland. Some dictionaries explain is that Bree is the anglicized version of the Gaelic word brígh, meaning "force." That word, though, was never used as a name. Other sources say Bree is a form of Brian or Bridget, but those seem to be just post-hoc attempts to squeeze a newly created name into an old etymological framework.

The most plausible Irish connection is the surname Bree, which is anglicized from Ó Breaghaigh. I've yet to see that origin suggested anywhere, though, and the surname is quite unfamiliar in the U.S.

Where does the girl's name Bree actually come from, then? I believe there are two answers. As a nickname, it can be plucked from any number of traditional names including Gabrielle, Bridget and Sabrina. And as a given name, it comes from...well, perhaps it would be better if I showed you, rather than just telling you. Here's a historical graph of the usage of the girl's name Bree in the United States:

Bree popularity graph

As you can see, we can assign the given name Bree a definitive birthdate of 1971. If the name had a birth announcement, it would list the "location" as the film Klute, which starred Jane Fonda in an Academy Award-winning role as troubled prostitute Bree Daniels. As far as I know, that makes Bree the only popular name ever launched by a prostitute, real or fictional. (Vivian , the name of Julia Roberts' character in Pretty Woman, has too much history to qualify.)

Obviously, the name Bree has moved beyond that origin. New moms today are far more likely to think of the Bree of "Desperate Housewives." Yet the name stands as a testament to the purely style-driven nature of celebrity name trends. Be the Hollywood source a call girl or the spawn of Satan, it's all about the name.

And finally, a question to ponder. Given all of the info above, if you had to write an entry for the "meaning and origin" of Bree in a traditional baby name dictionary, what would you write?

Comments

1
By NotRegistered (not verified)
August 2, 2012 11:16 AM

I haven't come up with an entry for "Bree," but I'm pretty sure that Bridget of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is nicknamed "Bee." Unless you're referring to another character that I don't remember at the moment?

 

2
By Gwyneth (not verified)
August 2, 2012 11:35 AM

For me, the name evokes a quiet town outside the Shire, home to Barliman Butterbur and th Prancing Pony. I do kinda wonder if it took a little while for names from the Lord of the Rings to be acceptable for use after it was published in the 50's.  I knew a Galadrial, a Thorin and a Durin growing up (all three born in the late 70's). I've met a few Arwens, and several middle names of Aragorn and Eowyn (allborn in the late 90's up to a couple years ago.) i doubt it was enough to start a namecrazed, but it may have been enough to take the immediate association of prostitute off someone's mind.

3
By Bree (not verified)
August 2, 2012 11:51 AM

I had the same thought.

4
By Bree (not verified)
August 2, 2012 12:02 PM

I don't know what I would come up with as a meaning and origin for Bree on it's own... given that I am called Bree by most and I know the origin of why I am Bree (but I also know why others are Bree and it's by in large for the same reason).

My given name is Breanne - a variation of Brianna, feminine of Brian. So for me, Bree means and will always mean "strength."

I really enjoyed this spotlight thought, I never actually considered that some people might be *just* Bree since birth. I actually never even considered Bree as a nickname for names like Gabrielle or Sabrina since the "bree" is in the middle. 

I actually know sisters that are Sabrina and Breann and Sabrina gets Brina (Bree-na), but never just Bree... that's reserved for Breann. Maybe it's because they're sisters though?

6
August 2, 2012 1:13 PM

"My given name is Breanne - a variation of Brianna, feminine of Brian. So for me, Bree means and will always mean 'strength.'"

 

I'm all in favor of this approach to naming meanings. If your parents chose Brianna as a feminization of Brian, and if they choose the meaning of "strength" for Brian, then that's what your name means!

But just to clarify for other readers vis a vis Bree, etymologically the name Brian is not believed to come from the Gaelic word brígh (power, strength). Same goes for Bridget.

7
August 2, 2012 1:19 PM

I mostly think of the horse named Bree, in the Horse and His Boy in the Chronicles of Narnia series.  Even though it is a male horse, Bree seems closer to the the female world of Br names such as Brandy and Gabrielle.  In the book, it is short for Breehy-Hinny-Brinny-Hoohy-Hah (I had to look this up).

8
By Angela Dawn (not verified)
August 2, 2012 2:56 PM

For meaning, I would gloss over that part, and for origins I would just say it was a diminutive of several other names such as Breanne, etc. 

Bree always remindes me of Nancy's best friend in the Fancy Nancy books. 

 

9
By J&H's mom (not verified)
August 2, 2012 3:13 PM

Is there a Scandinavian name that is similar?

I know a girl called something like Brita who goes by Bri (said like Bree).

I wonder is some don't also come from moms looking at names like Brittany and tinkering.

Not suggesting any of these as sources.....just ruminating.

To me, it's the perfect example of the trend of creating (or at least thinking of) a name based on appealing sounds and not much more. In recent years I've met one after another wee babe whose mom described saying different names and sounds out loud and picking one that sounded pretty.

Not My style, but just as legitimate as any other method, I'd think.

10
By EVie
August 2, 2012 3:32 PM

Bree could be considered to be a place name, from the Celtic element breȝ meaning "hill." There are a number of British & Irish places that contain this element in the modern form "bree." (I know this isn't the etymology behind its use as a name, but it's valid). Some of the interpretations of Brian use a similar derivation. From the Dictionary of American Family Names entry for the surname Brian: "French and English: from the Celtic personal name Brian, which contains the element bre- ‘hill’, with the transferred sense ‘eminence’."

As such, Bree would be a cognate of Bryn, which is "hill" in Welsh. 

(And in case anyone is wondering, that funny-looking letter up there is a yogh: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogh

11
By Guest3p0 (not verified)
August 2, 2012 3:34 PM

the only Bree I've ever met it was a nn for Brianna - I definitely see Bree as a nickname.

in some what related topic: there is an American swimmer at the Olympics named Breeja Larson, when I first heard it I imagined it to be spelled Briya (like Priya) or Bria (like Lia [Leah]) but I really like the spelling Breeja, I thought it might be Swedish or of origin that uses the "j" as a "y" sound but I haven't been able to find anything on the internet - does anyone know anything about this name?

12
By Hillary (not verified)
August 2, 2012 6:03 PM

I grew up with a Bree (full given name, 1979). I don't know the inspiration but I think the Jane Fonda role is highly likely.

13
By nameylikey (not verified)
August 3, 2012 2:02 AM

I remembered a news anchor named Bree Walker who was born way before 1971. Turns out she "made up the name". But it seems as though she started going by the name in the mid-70s, so perhaps she got it from "Klute" as well. Here's the info I found at http://www.abilitymagazine.com/walker_interview.html,

Raised Patricia Lynn Nelson in Austin, Minnesota, Walker created the name "Bree" as a word play on her father's "Breeze Automobile Service Station" when the radio program director who first hired her in Kansas City ordered her to come up with an unusual and catchy on-air name. It worked.

14
By TamaraR (not verified)
August 3, 2012 2:43 AM

Gwyneth, I agree about the Tolkien reference. That may have been a more positive naming association than the Klute connection (though I doubt it was the only reason for the sudden spike up the charts), and it certainly seems like the Tolkien names got a pick-up when a certain generation began having children

I was born in early 70s and my father's top choice for a boy's name for me was Earendil (luckily I turned out to be a girl) ... and I knew an Arwen and a Greenleaf (as in Legolas Greenleaf), both my age.

15
By Guest232 (not verified)
August 3, 2012 7:58 AM

A counter-example to the rise of "bree":  Brisa was the fastest falling girl's name of 2011.   (it's sudden upshoot/fall being associated with a telenovela baby if I recall correctly)

16
August 3, 2012 8:09 AM

I know a five month old Bria named for a family surname. Mothers maiden name was Italian but I speculate her maternal grandmother Bria could have been Irish or Italian.

17
By Guest - Robin (not verified)
August 3, 2012 11:55 AM

I am friends with a Brienne, who goes by Brie (like the cheese I suppose).  I'm not sure where that fits in?  It's NMS, but pretty nonetheless.

18
August 3, 2012 1:40 PM

There is a very appealing character called Brianna (primarily called Bree) in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series of books. Brianna was introduced in the second book, first published in 1992. I started reading the books when I was 12, in 1998. At that time, I'd never met a 'real' Brianna and loved the name on the basis of the book alone. In the book, 'Bree' is named for a grandfather called Brian. 

I mention it because the books are insanely popular- surprisingly so. They're kind of hard to describe, and sound more than a bit ridiculous when you try, but they're addictive in the extreme. Despite the fact that the original books are 20 years old, they're almost constantly out at my local library (I was going to borrow the 3rd book as an ebook-- but there are 4 licences, and 12 people waiting for it. Grr.).

I'll bet some of that uptick in Bree from the mid-nineties could be attributed to the series- so many people have read it. And Bree is perhaps more attractive (or at least, less annoyingly know-it-allish) than her mother Claire, who is the narrator.

If anyone is looking for a fun summer read, the books are great for that (well, the first four. the last three would have benefitted from better editing. has anyone else noticed that about popular series? the first few are great, and then when the publisher realises they have a bestseller...they just seem to rush to get the rest out on shelves. I noticed this for Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, and perhaps for bestselling authors in general- Neal Stephenson, China Mieville, and Jasper Fforde seem to have suffered this too).

19
By Guest3p0 (not verified)
August 3, 2012 3:11 PM

Blythe - I completely agree, I think that is essentially the reason, the authors have time to perfect their first few books without publishers/marketers etc. breathing down their necks and a deadline always looming in front of them so the quality of editing isn't nearly as high as the first few of a series. Thanks for the recommendation, was looking for a new series, will definitely check out The Outlander series

20
By Beth the original (not verified)
August 4, 2012 12:15 AM

Oddly, I have known only two Brees in my life, both spelled Brie, like the cheese.  I have never been able to figure out why parents do that.  I like the spelling Brie better than Bree, but I can't shake the cheese connection.

21
By Penny in Australia (not verified)
August 4, 2012 12:39 AM

Off topic, I saw a good new Australian film yesterday, called "Not Suitable For Children" featuring characters aged late 20s/early 30s. But it was a bit jarring to have two of the lead characters called 'Jonah' and 'Ava'. Real Jonahs and Avas are in high school at the most!  

 I kept renaming them during the film: Josh and Emily; Adam and Kate; Will and Jessica!  Distracting! 

22
By RB
August 4, 2012 2:32 PM

As soon as I saw the title of this post, I thought of the Jane Fonda movie. My guess is that is the most likely explanation. One way around the prostitute thing in a name dictionary would be something like: "The name was popularized by Jane Fonda's 1971 Academy Award-winning role in Klute." People who cared to know more would look it up; those who thought (rightly) that something that happened so long ago has ceased to be the primary meaning/reference behind the name might not bother, and why should they?

I don't know about the Tolkein reference having so much impact, though. Our dog when I was growing up was named Bree (after the town in LoTR) and I never met a single person who got the reference. (This was, however, in the late 80s, what was probably a low[er] point of LoTR popularity.)

23
By mr (not verified)
August 5, 2012 2:29 AM

RE:  Breeja Larson

 

Just a guess -- I'm thinking it's a phonetic spelling of the Irish Gaelic name Bride (with an accent aigue on the 'i'), which is a form of Brighid or Bridget.  In some Irish Gaelic accents, it's pronounced Bree-da, but in others the "d" between the two front vowel would be palatalized to a "j", so Bree-ja.....

24
By kathryn281 (not verified)
August 5, 2012 9:53 AM

I see Bree as a nickname looking for a formal name. Most of the women named Bree I know are either Brianne or Brianna. IMO, parents like the nickname Bree, especially after Desperate Housewives but want a less dated formal name to go with it. Seems like one of the more popular formal names for Bree now a days is Aubrey or Aubree. It fits the taylored more unisex names ala Madison and Morgan yet has a very girlie nickname to go with it. 

25
August 6, 2012 7:19 PM

This name has been on my mind.  In the last week, I met two "tween-age" girls with this name, one from each coast.

In my mind, I always spelled it "Brie", like the cheese.  "Bree" improves the name for me far more than I would have guessed.  I think it removes the cheese association.

Sadly, I didn't ask if it was a nickname or a full name in either case.

I do remember meeting a Bree in the late '70s who must be nearly 50 years old by now.

26
August 6, 2012 7:19 PM

This name has been on my mind.  In the last week, I met two "tween-age" girls with this name, one from each coast.

In my mind, I always spelled it "Brie", like the cheese.  "Bree" improves the name for me far more than I would have guessed.  I think it removes the cheese association.

Sadly, I didn't ask if it was a nickname or a full name in either case.

I do remember meeting a Bree in the late '70s who must be nearly 50 years old by now.

27
By Allison Margaret (not verified)
August 7, 2012 4:52 PM

I think the origin - at least, the origin for popular usage - is part of the Bre/Bri zeitgeist of the 1960s and 70s - Brenda, Brenna, Brianna, Brittany, Brian, Brent, Brendan... Even if the name was popularized by Klute, the writers probably didn't coin it, so while the movie looks like the origin of its popularity, I would doubt it's the origin of the name. The hole in the theory of Bree's origin as a nickname for Briana is that Briana hit the charts in 1973 and Brianna in 1976, whereas Bree hit in 1972. But maybe the Klute writers heard some ahead-of-the-curve friend using Briana "Bree" before it hit the top 1000. 

28
By E. (not verified)
August 7, 2012 10:11 PM

I find it interesting that people have mentioned both The Lord of Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Both series use Bree, one the name of a town, the other a name of a talking horse. The respective books in which they appear (The Fellowship of the Ring and The Horse and His Boy) were published in the SAME year, less than two months apart. Considering they're both very popular fantasy writers from the same country and generation it seems like quite a coincidence to both derive it independently. 

Simply a case of similar minds? Or was there and earlier inspiration they both drew from?

29
By Bree (not verified)
August 7, 2012 10:49 PM

My name is Bree, just Bree. My parent's criteria was that they wanted something that could lead to no nicknames (a peeve of my mother's) and would be unusual. I was born in the 90's, by the way. Funnily enough, I ended up being called Bee by my close family.

I have to say I have probably only met four Bree's, and none of them were just Bree. They were Brianna, Gabriella, etc. I love my name and wouldn't change it not one bit.

30
By Bree (not verified)
August 7, 2012 10:51 PM

My name is Bree, just Bree. My parent's criteria was that they wanted something that could lead to no nicknames (a peeve of my mother's) and would be unusual. I was born in the 90's, by the way. Funnily enough, I ended up being called Bee by my close family.

I have to say I have probably only met four Bree's, and none of them were just Bree. They were Brianna, Gabriella, etc. I love my name and wouldn't change it not one bit.

31
By Guest-2011 (not verified)
August 8, 2012 4:03 AM

To E.

 

Tolien and Lewis were personal friends and met togethe in a society called "inklings" where they read their works to each other. So there is no big surprise in both of them using similar names.

32
January 30, 2016 10:13 AM

I was named Brianne but called Bree my whole life, because my parents fell in love with the name Bree from the movie Klute

33
September 22, 2017 4:17 AM

My name is Bree...*just* Bree. My parents never even considered a longer version of it, and honestly it aggravates me when people hear it and call me Brianne or Sabrina because they assume it must be a nickname.

It was worse when I was younger, as my last name is also a female first name...teachers, etc would get so confused. For ages I was the only *just* Bree that I knew, although I know of at least 3 girls who were named after me after their mothers heard my name.

(Famous) women that are older than me with the name Bree (i.e.; Walker) were not born with that name. I'm the oldest original that I've ever known of, (and I've lived on both the East and West coast).

Here'a my origin; although I would love to say my parents derived it from my Irish/Scotch/Welsh heritage, or from Tolkien...they did not. I was born in January of 1973...when my mother was 7 months pregnant, my parents went to see the movie Klute...which made me Bree Dannelle (yes, my mother wanted a "different" spelling of Danielle...making me extra "weird" growing up! Haha!!)

34
December 10, 2018 5:47 AM

To my knowledge, My husband is the only man given the first name, Bree. The beforementioned horse from the Horse And His Boy being the exception, of course. I would love to know if anyone has heard of another man given the name Bree. My husband's mother just liked the name for her son when he was born in 1978. Bree is an extremely attractive, well-built, alpha-confident man who likes his name because it is so unique to him, and to his knowledge, he is the only man alive with the birth given first name Bree. 

35
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