What do you know about a name you don’t know?
The text came from my daughter at college: “Do you know anything about the girl’s name Justyn?”
Alas, dear reader, I didn’t. I had never met a female Justyn, or heard or even thought about one. Yet when my daughter asked, I had the instant impression that the name sounded youngish. Not baby-young, but maybe 10-30 years old. And most likely not from Boston where we live, but somewhere farther south. A college classmate, perhaps?
Spoiler: I was wrong. So, so wrong. I’ll explain that in a bit, but first I’d like to break down how we can form any impression at all of a person from a name we’ve never heard before.
The Raw Materials
Any thoughts of Justyn have to start with the familiar male name Justin. It’s an old classic that experienced a huge surge in the last quarter of the 20th century, peaking in the late 1980s. The French female form Justine rose at the same time, though to a much lower level.
A Justyn sounds younger than a Justine, don’t you think? The key is name endings, which carry a huge amount of generational style. Think of how Loretta sounds like 1940 while Lori sounds like 1965. The -yn ending has come around a few times, including a 1940s wave of Carolyns and Marilyns. But it hit new heights in the the first decades of the new millennium with hits like Brooklyn.
The types of -yn names chosen changed in recent decades too. One notable 21st-century innovation is to use -yn as a “feminizing” spelling for male -n names like Jordan and Austin. Female -yn versions commonly hit their fashion stride a decade after the original male names.
Put all of the cues together and a 10-30 year old Justyn sounds like a fair bet. As for the “not from around here” vibe, take a look at the geographic pattern of names ending in -yn on Namerology’s Ultimate US Name Map. It’s very heavy in the South, with the Midwest close behind. Then check out at the similar pattern on our map of unisex baby naming. A unisex-styled -yn name like Justyn is a double whammy of not-Northeast style.
Most who hear the name Justyn won’t break down the evidence they way. They may have slightly different instincts about the name, too. Yet they will have instincts about it, shaped by the generational and geographic naming patterns around us all. As unknown as the specific name is, it’s still part of our broader naming culture.
And Now, the Real Justyn Story
My daughter actually encountered the name Justyn in…a 1925 silent film she watched for a film history course.
The Big Parade was an acclaimed and hugely successful World War I film, one of the biggest blockbusters of the silent film era. Its breakout star was French actress Renée Adorée (born Jeanne de la Fonte). The name Renée reached the top 400 for US girls after the film came out, and stayed there for the next half-century. But audiences didn’t go for the name of Adorée’s character, the French love interest Melisande. Instead, it was the unlikely name Justyn, the film’s girl back home, that appeared in US name stats for several years before sliding back into obscurity. As my daughter pointed out, the name’s spelling was fully apparent to viewers because it was written on the screen for the silent film. Creatively spelled names are less effective in the modern talking pictures world.
In case you’re wondering, Justyn did make a very modest reappearance a generation ago. Yet for a baby born today, Justyn is more likely to be the name of great-great-grandma than mom. And for all of our instincts and knowledge, names can still surprise us.