Samantha: The Ultimate New Classic

Jul 22nd 2010

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.


By Also ZR (not verified)
July 23, 2010 5:53 PM

(This is the alter-ego of Zoerhenne on different computer.)

Eo-Strangely enough, I like the name Lucasta from your list. I normally don't care for such exotic names.

Also, I normally recognize many of the posts here w/o really reading who is posting because many of us "regulars" have identifiable styles (Eo, PennyX, Linnaeus, emilyrae, Miriam and many others).

By sdh
July 23, 2010 6:30 PM

speaking of Sunny, i have recently decided it would be an adorable nickname for a baby girl. i would prefer it as a nickname for a more classic/old-fashioned style name, but can't think of what would work best. does anyone know anyone who goes by the name Sunny, and do you know their full name?
Sarah, Susan and Sandra would be out due to family/friends. i also don't love Samantha, to tie it in to this post. :)

July 23, 2010 8:44 PM

Eo- funny, I thought it must be you too, when I read Demelza, as I know you love Welsh/Manx/Cornish names!

Re: Stieg- a good friend of mine was married at one time to a Danish Stig, so I had come across the name. It was hard to pronounce. Definitely not as written. The g is silent, but there's a kind of sudden cut off to the 'ee' sound (almost like a glottal stop) which makes it different from how an Anglophone would say 'stee'.
Anna S.- can you help???
Of course, I don't know how it's pronounced in Sweden.

July 23, 2010 8:54 PM

It is strange to think that Samantha was an unusual name when Bewitched first aired. As a child of the 80s, who knew a Samantha and read the American Girl books (and later became a fan of Stargate SG-1), I agree with the other posters who commented that Samantha seems like a wholesome American girl's name (no pun intended). In fact, when I was younger I thought that was why the character Samantha had the name she did on the show. To my mind it showed her ability to blend into the mortal realm easily with a name like that.

@sdh -- I personally don't know anyone who goes by Sunny, but the author Robert B. Parker wrote a series about a private detective named Sunny Randall. Her real name is Sonya, which might work for you, or might help you develop other ideas.

July 23, 2010 8:59 PM

Sunny is a nn for Sunita, a Hindi name meaning "well-behaved." There's another Hindi name, Sundara, which means "beautiful." Sundara is classically a male name, but it would work.

Sunny can be used with names with a -s*n style accented syllable:

Any styles you like?

July 24, 2010 10:59 AM

emilie-I am carrying you over to this thread and responding to your dilemma.

You said you are in need of a boys name to match Charlotte and not be an F-name or end in-s. It must also match your LN which rhymes with cluck. The mn will probably be Robert. So my suggestions are:
Benjamin; Colin; Maxwell; Edwin/Edward; Alistair; Gilbert; Alexander; Matthew; Mitchell; Walter; Simon; Stuart; Andrew; Nathan; Samuel; Everett
I think the ends in -ew or -ll works well with the LN. I also like the idea of Ian which was mentioned on the last thread.

By Emilie (not verified)
July 24, 2010 10:59 AM

Sunny might be a cute nn for Sunday, like Nicole Kidman's Sunday Rose. Or maybe for all of these -son names now co-opted by girls?

@PennyX and others: you asked on the last thread if I might like to share qualities of my ln wrt brainstorming other names in addition to Ian... Here is a post on another blog that gives all the details. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated! Forgot to mention in that post that Oliver is also on the "no" list (I'm just not into it, but husband loves it).

By Emilie (not verified)
July 24, 2010 11:02 AM

OMG zoerhenne we were posting at the same time! Too funny!

Great suggestions. LOVE Simon, but can't use it for reasons I won't get into.

By Amy3
July 24, 2010 11:09 AM

Would using Soleil to get to the nn Sunny be too precious? I think it's very sweet myself and like the ability to choose between a down-to-earth nn and more sophisticated fn.

July 24, 2010 11:50 AM

@Elizabeth T - really, with the numerals in the name?
Is this the start of a new trend of cyborg-esque baby names?

July 24, 2010 12:49 PM

No numerals in the name. I just didn't want the name to be Googleable.

By sdh
July 24, 2010 1:28 PM

thanks for the sunny suggestions everyone.
our last name ends in -ton so we don't want to use -son first names, but that is otherwise a cute idea.

July 24, 2010 8:02 PM

Some friends are expecting their second child any day now, a little brother or sister for Finn. They are asking for name suggestions. Their last name is one syllable, very simple (think Jones.)

I will certainly let you know what they decide.

By ClaireP (not verified)
July 24, 2010 8:35 PM

Another "witchy" name: Zohara. The Zohar is a classic book of Jewish mysticism. "Zohara" means radiance or splendor in Hebrew. The Z is trendy, and to American ears, it's not as "old lady" as something like Zelda.

July 24, 2010 8:54 PM

PJ-Do they have the same style for girls as boys names? I know some don't so this is why I am asking. The first thought I had was Avery. I know many don't like the fact that it has been overtaken by the girls but I rather like it as a girls name better. Other ideas/styles:

July 24, 2010 9:03 PM

Speaking of witchy names, one of my favorite "witch" movies is Practical Magic. The names in that don't seem particularly witchy - Aunts Frances and Bridget "Jet" and then neices Gillian and Sally. But again I guess they aren't supposed to because they need to "fit in".

July 24, 2010 9:34 PM

Mentioning Gillian as a 'witchy' name brings to mind Gillian the witch, played by Kim Novak, in Bell, Book and Candle. Her brother sorcerer was Nicky (Jack Lemmon) and their aunt was Queenie (Elsa Lanchester). The head witch was Bianca, played by Hermione Gingold, of whom we have recently spoken.

BTW the witches in John Updike's Witches of Eastwick were Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie. The diabolical character (eventually played by Jack Nicholson) was Darryl van Horne. This last name is rather interesting. I mean, who would ever think the devil's name is Darryl?? Van Horne, however, is another story.

July 24, 2010 10:41 PM

Miriam-Do you think they picked Darryl because of its similarity in sound to devil? Which then leads to the question does Devon/Devin/Devyn remind anyone else of the sound of devil either? This of course is not my first association with these names. Personally, Darryl reminds me of either Darryl Hannah or the skit of Larry/Darryl/Darryl names on the Bob Newhart Show. Devon is a friend of my dd's.

July 24, 2010 11:57 PM

I think Updike picked Darryl specifically because it sounds very 'ordinary' and non-devilish, precisely the same reason that Samantha's exceedingly non-sorcerous husband is named Darrin.

July 25, 2010 1:59 AM

The spouse has an elderly relative who goes by Sunny... in her case, it's short for Sunshine! (Parents definitely not following trends at the time, nor with her siblings.) But I like Linnaeus's suggestions better!

Also thoroughly enjoyed the witchy names people came up with in the comments - you hit on some of my favorites!

I also wanted to pipe in and say that I loved Stieg Larsson's books and the names therein, and think we might have been swayed to use Elisabeth with an s as the middle name so that a nickname could be Lisbeth. We had been saying the protagonist's name as LEES-bet, but apparently we were wrong:
We really should have picked up on this when we watched the movie, but we were apparently too engrossed to pay attention!

ETA - Emilyrae totally got my son's name pronunciation question answered very correctly, in spite of my having been offline for a while! Thanks!

By rhodolady (not verified)
July 25, 2010 4:44 AM

Recently there was a fine British drama on PBS called Foyle's War, set in the last part of WWII. There was a police driver called Samantha Stewart, nn Sam. All the time I watched I felt she was mis-named for the times. Checking Name Voyager shows the name was not registering at all in 30s and 40s. Is it used much in England?
She was played by actress Honeysuckle Weeks - delicious name!

By Eo (not verified)
July 25, 2010 10:18 AM

rhodolady-- LOVED "Foyle's War"-- Michael Kitchen is one of my favorites.

I too was a bit put off by the "Samantha/Sam" naming-- she would have been a perfect "Mavis" or "Beryl"...

"Samantha" was not unheard of in Britain, as evidenced by actress Samantha Eggar, who was born in 1939. But I can't think of too many famous earlier ones, which suggests it was quite rare...

By Beth the original (not verified)
July 25, 2010 10:18 AM

Just to support Laura's analysis, in the 1970s when I was a kid we always gave our cats "old fashioned" names. So, Samantha and Cornelia.

I know a Sunny, who is about 5, with a sister named Daisy, about 7. Both are very blonde, freckled kids, and I have to say the names are cute on them, though at first I thought them a rather twee sibset. Don't know if these are nicknames, though.

Amy3, Soleil is really pretty, except for the association with that horrible child actress of the 1980s, Soleil Moon Frye, aka "Punky Brewster." I don't know what was up with 80s sitcoms and girls' names -- we also had Six and Blossom on Blossom, and Tootie on The Facts of Life. Was it a reaction to all the Tiffanys and Ambers and Ashleys?

July 25, 2010 2:02 PM

@Beth the original:
Punky was a nickname for Penelope. Tootie was a nickname for Dorothy. Somehow, I've managed to never see an episode of Blossom, so I have no idea if Sixx and Blossom are given names for these characters, though I'm sure if I was motivated enough I could check IMDB...

By Guest (not verified)
July 25, 2010 3:50 PM

I was born in '94 and Samantha seems like an 80's name to me! It's actually weird to think of it as an 'old lady name.' Interesting how a name can change its associations so quickly!
On a different note, I recently met a girl named Mercedes, nn Sadie. Love the name Sadie, and thought the fn was a much more interesting way to get to the nn Sadie than Sarah.

July 25, 2010 5:38 PM

interesting names from my local listings:

RYISE: pron Reese? Ry-ees?

ROMAN: i was surprised to see two of these today!





MUIRIN: trying to figure out if this is from another culture. MN is Hawaiian, LN is some kind of European, maybe Irish?


MATTEO: w/ Japanese last name



SABER: one of MNs is Talon-Raidon

By Allison (not verified)
July 25, 2010 7:00 PM

In my baby girl name search, I've been looking up hospitals in my area (and from a hospital in the neighboring state where we recently moved from) to see what names people are using right now.

I've noted a lot of baby Charlotte's being born, 4 born at the same hospital in the month of June! Quite a few Sophia's, Annabelle's, Lily's, Emma's, Isabella's and Brooklyn's. Still am seeing Makenna which I thought was considered "out." I've just been looking at names used for baby girls born during the month's of May, June and July. Funny, I did see (born on the same day at the same hospital) two girls named Caydence and the other spelled Kadence...made me think of the blog entry about that name rising in popularity.

The most interesting girl names I ran across were:

A cute name I read was Paisley. In my search for baby girls names looking at five different hospitals I only saw one baby Paisley.

I must admit I am very happy to report my findings of no baby girl Lila's born in those hospitals nearest me during the months of May, June and July (so far!) As Lila still remains my favorite baby girl name.

The search is still on so we will see...

By hyz nli (not verified)
July 25, 2010 10:35 PM

Kids at the playground this weekend, thought it was an interesting bunch (sibs grouped together):

C0lby(b), Prest0n(b), St3rling(g)
Marcus, Emily, Liam
Eliza and Emm3t
B@nyan(g) and Dorie(b--not sure on sp, could be a nn)
Astr!d and M!lo (I've mentioned these guys before, but could never remember if the boy was Miles or Milo--I've now confirmed Milo)

By Allison (not verified)
July 25, 2010 11:29 PM

@hyz nli

What a nicely named group of kids! I especially like the sib sets of Eliza and Emmet and Astrid and Milo.

July 26, 2010 12:46 AM

Allison: Talalelei might be Samoan or Tongan or something. Not sure...

By Guest - Tirzah (not verified)
July 26, 2010 2:27 AM

Sunny could be a nickname for Sonata.

By Guest - Tirzah (not verified)
July 26, 2010 2:40 AM

Banyan for a girl? It was on my list for a boy.

By hmf
July 26, 2010 4:15 AM

Semi-related to the post on Samantha: I'd love to read Laura take on the names of Mad Men. The most striking anachronism I've been able to spot is an exceedingly minor character, born probably in the early or mid-1930s, named Jennifer. Everyone else's name seems about right—or are they?

By Amy3
July 26, 2010 8:56 AM

@hyz, I had to smile at your list as I have a soft spot for Milo. It's always funny to me how, as Laura says, we're predictable in our individuality!

@Beth the original, somehow despite loathing the Punky Brewster show, Soleil hasn't been tainted for me. Maybe because she was listed as Soleil Moon?

July 26, 2010 7:04 AM

New baby: Maya R0se

July 26, 2010 9:42 AM

Re: Mad Men
I too have been waiting for a post on this very topic! I have to say that my opinions on the names Peggy, Trudy, and Joan have been greatly swayed for the better simply because of these characters. Maybe there will be some kind of speeding up on the trends from great-grandparent to grandparent names? I say this because my own grandma's name is Joan, and while I liked it as a possible family mn, the character has added a great deal of freshness as a fn.

By Beth the original (not verified)
July 26, 2010 10:02 AM

On Mad Men -- seems to me that Betty and Don are right on, as well as Sally and Bobby.

The thing that made me finally like Don Draper was when he called Sally "Salamander," and Betty "Birdie."

July 26, 2010 10:08 AM

naming challenge:

know of a couple that wants to name all of their children names that have an "x" or a "z" in them (does not have to start the name, only has to be in it). they have one son: alexander, called zander (not sure why they didn't use the "xander" spelling....that kind of irks me). but anyway! thoughts?

July 26, 2010 10:50 AM

Accuracy of Mad Men names? Check out this detailed post from Name Candy last week:

By hyz (nli) (not verified)
July 26, 2010 12:00 PM

Tirzah, I know. Banyan on a girl really threw me, and I was a bit vexed by Linden on a girl, since it is/was on my boy list. I was dying to know Banyan's brother's name, though--I can't imagine "Dori3" is the whole thing--maybe Dorian? Eliza and Emm3t were definitely my favorite set, though. I just love them, especially together. Amy3, I agree that name choices usually seem to fall more along the lines of definable style preferences than true "individuality". That doesn't really bother me, though--I enjoy running into people who seem to share my name style, the same way I like finding people who like the same kind of music or hobbies or whatever else I do.

By EVie
July 26, 2010 12:36 PM

hyz - I was just going to say that I actually really like Linden on a girl, even though I'm usually not crazy about that style. It feels very feminine to me, possibly as an update on Linda the way Lauren is a modernized Laura. For some reason, the Linden spelling is completely separate in my mind from the presidential spelling Lyndon, which is pretty firmly male (maybe it's the -on ending... Lynden would read more female to me, Lindon more male). I really like the nn Lindy as well, with its swing dance connotations.

I still like Linden despite being familiar with the town in New Jersey, which isn't a very pleasant association... that probably says something, being that NJ towns have put me way, way off other names like Camden and Trenton.

July 26, 2010 12:40 PM

Emilie- I definitely thought of Gabriel also... or how about the dashing Raphael?

By Amy3
July 26, 2010 12:41 PM

@hyz, yes, "definable style preferences" ... that's exactly what I meant. And I agree, it's fun to find someone who shares your taste.

By hyz (nli) (not verified)
July 26, 2010 12:51 PM

EVie, if I weren't biased against Linden on a girl, I'd probably feel the same way you do. I did a lot of thinking/looking for a nature name that could definitely work on a boy and sound more traditional than hippie. Linden satisfied these criteria for me because of Lyndon. That said, Linden does seem a bit like an updated Linda, and the blossoming tree itself has a lovely, delicate, perfumey scent, much more feminine than masculine. Sigh.

By hyz
July 26, 2010 1:37 PM

Oh, this talk of Linden has made me a bit wistful for it. The linden tree is such a stately and handsome tree, so steeped in history and symbolism (a reread of the wikipedia page reminded me of so many neat things about it). And on our honeymoon in Switzerland, DH and I walked through a promenade of flowering lindens--the scent was so incredible, I don't think I'll ever forget it. I wonder if Lyndon could work. That spelling makes the gender more clear, and the meaning is basically the same, if a bit obscured (behindthename says Lyndon is from the surname meaning "lime tree hill"--and the linden is called lime tree in Great Britain). On the other hand, since the only prominent Lyndon I can think of is LBJ, would it make us look like some kind of LBJ fan club? The Linden spelling avoids that, I think. Argh. I'll have to run this by DH again, and see if it has a chance.

July 26, 2010 2:09 PM

I would guess that based on their first stop at Alexander, they'd consider nn Max (short for maybe Maximilian) for a brother first. Then next choice would be Zachary or variant. If they're more hipster types (which Zander sort of suggests the possibility of, to me - and I say that as someone who totally qualifies so I don't mean it in a bad way), Felix also I think would fit the bill. Xavier, too, though to me it reads much more exotic than the others I mentioned, but I think it contains a lot of very fashionable sounds!

A lot of the Maddox, Paxton, Jaxon, etc. names also are a major style departure from Alexander nn Zander (which strikes me as a combo of "New Classic" and "Greco-roman Classic"), so I would find those unlikely as a next choice for this couple unless the theme were really the only major deciding factor in whether they liked a name.

For girls: Elizabeth is similarly versatile as Alexander (in having a classic resume name and lots of spunky nicknames), so that would be my first choice assuming their girl naming tastes run along the same lines as their boy choice. Bigger departures: Beatrix? Roxanne? If hipstery, Hazel, Zelda, Zora? If no boy Max-, then Maxine?

It strikes me that there aren't that many girl names with an x in the middle or end that don't also contain lex-, unless you consider "creative" spellings (Margaux came up here recently) or newer innovations (Phoenix). If they exclusively call their son Zander then perhaps repeating sounds from Alex wouldn't bother them, but you never know what nicknames will stick later on.

It also strikes me that a lot of the X as first letter names seem a good deal more exotic than Alexander, and I'd have a hard time seeing the same parents picking Xiomara or Xenia or Xerxes or Ximena. Ditto lots of z-containing names like Almanzo and Balthazar and Lorenzo.

But really, to be able to extrapolate better I would want to know what drew them to Alexander, since there's so many different reasons you could arrive at that particular name!

By EVie
July 26, 2010 2:15 PM

hyz - I understand, boys' names are hard! I have a feeling you're not really into surnames or place names, but have you considered any of those? I've been on a kick lately in which I've been studying dictionaries of English surnames and place names, and they're a goldmine of nature meanings. "Lind" in Old English originally referred to the lime-tree, and there are a ton of names that include it, like Linder (dweller among the lime-trees), Lindhurst (lime-tree wood), Lindley (lime-tree clearing), etc. The same goes for any number of other Old English nature terms, for example "ac," meaning oak (Ackland, Ackroyd), "alor," meaning alder (Alder, Aldren, Aldritt, Arlet), "æsc" meaning ash (Ashcroft, Ashfold), "birce," meaning birch "cærse," meaning watercress (Carslake, Carswell, Carsbrook), "golde," meaning marigolds (Goldbrook, Golder), "hæsel," meaning hazel (Haslam, Haslin, Haslop, Haswell, Hazelden, Hazelgrove, Hazlett).

I'm sure most of these are not actually your style (though I think Alder might actually be a good one)--I'm just trying to illustrate the huge number of nature options hidden in these names. One thing that has been particularly interesting to me is how many different terms Old English has for the same thing--for example, if you wanted the meaning "valley" in your name, you could pick from the elements "cumb" (in modern names, usually taking the form "combe"), "denu" (dean, den, dane, dann), "halh" (hale), "byde" (bed, bid), "hop" (hop, hope, opp), "cetel" (chittle), "cloh" (clough), dæl (dale, deal), slæd (slade), dell (del, dal), or you can also combine terms from Old French like "val" (vale). Old English also has a ton of different words meaning "enclosure" or "field"--it really illustrates where the society's priorities lay! (i.e. animal husbandry and agriculture).

By hyz
July 26, 2010 3:39 PM

EVie, I do love the nature meanings behind so many English surnames, and I've struggled with that category as well. Honestly, before getting pregnant the first time (i.e. before realizing how trendy certain surname names had become), I thought this was the route I might go. I was put off, though, by concerns of the child sounding like a blue-blood prepster, or a country club, or worst of all, a suburban subdivision (like Hazelhurst Estates, or something). Some of the shorter ones still work for me, like Graham, and Lyndon (maybe), and my brief flirtation with Tilden. I did also consider Alder for awhile--my concern was that it sounds too much like "older" or "elder" or "alter". I do like it, though--maybe I should run it by DH.

Thanks for all the good OE terms, though--I'm familiar with many of those, but some are new to me. I fantasize that we'll move to a little farm someday, and at the very least I might like to use these sorts of terms to name the farm. I also like your point about the variety of terms indicating the culture's emphasis on agriculture/nature--the nuances they represent have been largely lost in modern society.

By Kern (not verified)
July 26, 2010 4:33 PM

Another girl name with a "Z" that I love--Maizie.

By knp
July 26, 2010 5:29 PM

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on Vera last week! I'm a little sad-- I dislike the Veera sound, would rather it rhymed with Sarah. So, even though I like it, not going to bring it up to dh.

Like (someone--emilyrae?) said above, I thought they chose Samantha as a common name for the witch, not an uncommon one (that just sounds common now). It makes me see the character differently being able to think of it is the correct cultural context. Great post!