The SSound of a Decade?

Nov 14th 2013

As rumors recently swirled of a royal engagement between England's Prince Harry and one Cressida Bonas, I was approached with questions about the name Cressida. How much fashion potential does it have?

Cressida is an old and rare name, most familiar from Shakespeare's play Troilus and Cressida and from the Toyota Cressida sedan, now long out of production. Yet when I was asked, my immediate reaction was that the name Cressida, while attractive in many ways, would probably be held back by its '80s vibe.

But this is a rare Shakespearean name. It wasn't at all popular in the 1980s. How could it possibly give off an "'80s vibe'"?

No, it's not just about the car. (The Toyota Cressida was the '80s counterpart to today's Avalon.) It's about the sound and spelling: a double s and an -a ending. Take a look at the popularity history of names that fit that description:

That's a heaping helping of '80s, with '70s and '90s on the side. You may never have noticed the generational gathering of names like Melissa, Jessica, Cassandra and Vanessa, but the trend was nonetheless powerful enough to give any name with the ss & -a combo an aura of feathered hair.

If the ss name in question had been a nickname instead of a formal -a name, it would have rolled back the clock to the previous high point of ss names. The late 19th Century was the age of Bessie, Flossie and friends. Even Jessie, which we think of today as a nickname for 1980s queen Jessica, was actually an 1880s queen as a given name (from a Scottish pet form of Jean):

In the long ss & -a names, the double ss is like the rustle of lace on the train of a gown. Today that rustle has been hushed in favor of well-oiled letters like nn (Arianna) and ll (Gabriella). A Shakesperean royal name-to-be along those lines -- Mariana, perhaps, or Celia? -- would be a safer bet to inspire a flowing train of namesakes.

Comments

1
November 17, 2013 7:21 AM

Hmm, to me Cressida doesn't sound dated at all - there's something different about it, but I don't know what.  Nerissa, though, does sound dated to that period despite never having been popular.

2
By mk
November 18, 2013 2:10 PM

Cressida does not make me think of the 80s at all. I think it is unusual enough to not tie it to anything. Plus, the -ssa names seem more 80s to me than the -ss- names (Melissa vs Cassandra, for example).

3
November 18, 2013 2:44 PM

mk, I agree on both accounts.

4
November 18, 2013 10:30 PM

I agree, mk. Cressida sounds much fresher than Larissa, Clarissa, or Vanessa. Even Jessica, despite its extreme popularity during the 80s, sounds fresher to me than those names.

5
November 21, 2013 2:01 PM

Cressida does have an 80's vibe for me, but I am probably more conscious of it because I have one of those ss+a names, and I've always felt very date-stamped.

6
December 2, 2013 11:55 PM

Cressida is also a character in the Hunger Games series (Mockingjay, I believe), which seems relevant. I'm trying to figure out if the emphasis on the first syllable (which Jessica shares) separates it a big from the Vanessa, Marissa, Alyssa crowd. Maybe?

8
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12
September 8, 2016 10:38 AM

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