Name Spotlight: Bree
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:
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?