Sometimes a name is more than a single name. It’s a spark; an idea that opens up a new realm of possibilities. Take the girl’s name Jaclyn. It was only a modest hit on its own, launched in 1976 when actress Jaclyn Smith debuted on tv’s Charlie’s Angels. Yet it helped spark a whole generation of creativity with the letters LYN.
-LYN before Jaclyn
Once upon a time, the -lyn ending was just an alternate spelling of -line that clarified the pronunciation, as in Carolyn vs. Caroline or Madelyn vs. Madeline. Even the classic Evelyn ultimately derives from Aveline.
For generations the spelling was familiar, but not common. In 1880, the first year tracked by US baby name statistics, occasional Evelyns and Carolyns accounted for the vast majority of all -lyns (and -lynns, and -lynnes). The ending was simply part of those names, not a combining suffix.
As the years passed Evelyn and Carolyn became increasingly fashionable, and by the 1920s Marilyn joined them to form a -lyn big three. That wave peaked in the 1940s, bringing some similar names like Rosalyn and Jacquelyn along for the ride. The -lyn style then slid into decline for decades, sustained mostly by Lynn as a given name in its own right.
Then came Charlie’s Angels. The ground-breaking, crowd-pleasing, oh-so-1970s series about three female detectives made its stars household names. A famous 1979 poll declared Jaclyn Smith the woman “whose face most women would like to have.” That same year, Jaclyn became America’s #1 -lyn name.
Smith’s birth name was actually Jacquelyn. Shortening it to Jaclyn made all the difference. The modern twist took the name out of the three-syllable realm of -lyns past and into the then-trendy world of Kristin, Megan and Erin. The recent popularity of Lynn also made the name sound like a two-part combo: Jack+Lynn.
This new blueprint cast other names—and non-names, and name elements— in a new light. It paved the way for the Irish name Caitlín to become Katelynn. The place name Brooklyn started to look like a girl’s name, which in turn inspired geographic -lyn creativity like Irelyn. The combo sound opened up a new realm of mashups like Gracelynne and Riverlynn. The trend also crossed with other popular names, turning Jasmine into Jazlyn.
In this chart, the top blue line represents all girls ending in -lyn/lynn/lynne; the lower orange line represents just the usage of the top 3 -lyns of each year. The premiere of Charlie’s Angels is highlighted in yellow.
As you can see, in the 21st Century the ending is no longer just a feature of a defined set of names. It is an entire style category. The 1880 name stats included just six -lyn names. At the style’s peak in 2014, the stats boasted 872 different -lyns.
While the trend is now ebbing, -lyn creativity continues. The latest innovation is using the ending as a female extension of typically male names, as in Rhettlyn and Knoxlyn.
Would all this have happened without Jaclyn Smith for inspiration? Possibly. A celebrity name only takes off if parents were already ready for the style. But as the historical chart shows, Charlie’s Angels was a turning point. And the mothers who made Katelynn the sound of a generation were the girls who grew up watching Jaclyn Smith fight crime. I think it’s fair to say this name trend was touched by an Angel.