Once upon a time, there was only Charity. In the early decades of U.S. national baby name stats, starting in 1880, Charity was the only -ty “concept” word being used as a name. It was the lone reminder of a past style of demure virtue names like Chastity and Amity.
Today, dozens of different -ty words grace America’s baby name stats, and the concepts they express range to, quite literally, Infinity. In the past five years, babies have been given names like:
- Dynasty and Prosperity
- Purity and Modesty
- Vanity and Celebrity
- Integrity and Eternity
- Gravity and Divinity
Almost any -ty concept is now fair game, especially for girls. Parents’ Affinity for the style has moved it from Rarity to Reality.
The turning point was a six-month period in the late 1990s when the tv series Felicity and the film The Matrix, featuring a character named Trinity, both premiered. They arrived at a moment when the “Destiny’s Child”-fueled reign of the name Destiny was at its peak, and parents were primed and ready for more ideas. Together, Felicity and Trinity solidified the template. Serenity became the next big hit, then Liberty caught on after 9-11 and has stuck around ever since.
Since Felicity and The Matrix, the number of babies receiving a -ty concept name each year is up 500%. In fact, the only examples that have declined over that period are two that harken back to the style’s demure virtue roots: Chastity and Charity. It’s a clear sign that demure is definitely no longer the target. For a further demonstration, over the past decade the fastest-rising -ty name for girls was Royalty; for boys, Majesty.
This style, with its bold sweep built on a foundation of celebrity, may seem like an emblem of our times. But before we go, let me leave you with just one more -ty name. One that dates back to the 1950s, the heyday of Hollywood westerns with their audacious cowboys—and cowgirls.
If parents of the ‘50s could name their daughters Calamity, then why not seek some Levity or Serendipity today?
As a baby born in 1976, almost named Liberty but ended up as an Amity, I was called Calamity by my grandpa, lovingly, often. My name is actually recognized as a name nowadays. I rarely get comments about if it’s really a name or if people have ever heard it. Now I just get compliments (as if I chose it!), and I’d guess that change started as you say, in the late 90s. Interesting!
I know of two fairly prominent adult women named Gravity Goldberg.
Laura, any idea how it transpired that “Chasity” ended up more common than “Chastity?”
@holey Chasity is a fascinating one, I can’t believe I’ve never written about it! As far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s no single origin/inspiration for the name but rather a convergence of two names, via film. 1969 was the release year of the movies “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Chastity” starring Cher–soon to be followed by Cher’s baby named Chastity. The names Cassidy, Chastity, and the midpoint Chasity all emerged simultaneously, with Chastity ultimately losing out, presumably because of its meaning.
Oh, how interesting! I hadn’t thought of Cassidy being involved, but that makes sense.
Also, I had always thought Chasity was just a modern variant/misspelling of Chastity, but I checked Namipedia and it said, “It is a Scandinavian derivative of the Latin word Chastity, meaning purity. This name has existed roughly since the 10th century in Scandinavia, mostly in the regions North of the Arctic Circle in what is today Northern Norway and Sweden.”
My favorite of these (which I considered as a middle name and would push more strongly for in case of a subsequent kid, but have never seen used) is Lenity–the quality of being lenient, and the name of a rule which impels judges, when all other things are equal, to err on the side of being lenient to criminal defendants (of special significance to me as a former public defender).
I think of this as a Scrabble-challenge name–sounds made up, but actually a real word 🙂