What’s the deal with Myrtle? Myrtle is one of those super rare baby names that literally nobody is using, which surprises me for a few reasons. Firstly, “Old Lady names” are highly fashionable, and it’s not uncommon to find young girls with gloriously vintage names like Olive and Maxine that you’d expect a grandmother or great-grandmother to wear. Secondly, “myrtle” is a type of plant, tree, and flower, setting the name firmly in the “nature names” category that is so wildly popular right now. Everywhere you look, today’s children are named River, Sage, and all manner of words taken from the world and environment around us. Then, it’s a color name, which is mildly trendy considering options like Ruby and Indigo. Finally, its sheer rarity makes it an actual unique baby name. Myrtle has a lot going for it!
Derived from the Greek μύρτος or myrtos, Myrtle was a popular women’s name through the end of the 19th century and much of the 20th century. The Social Security Administration tracks U.S. birth data back to 1880, and while those early years before 1937 or so weren’t the most accurate counts, if a name is in the top 100 for that year you’d best believe it was popular or at least some kind of fashionable. Myrtle was already firmly in the top 100 by then, with its popularity remaining relatively steady for quite a while. It wasn’t until 1926 that Myrtle left the top 100, and 1965 when it finally dropped out of the top 1000. From then, it withered into obscurity. Myrtle doesn’t even chart in the SSA’s extended data most years after the mid-90s; there was a tiny spike in 2013-2014 after the 3rd season of American Horror Story, and another small spike in 2019 when just 12 girls were named Myrtle, but that we know of, no children were named Myrtle in 2021 (the most recent year we have data for). When I said earlier that literally nobody is naming their kids Myrtle, I meant it. Myrtle is an extinct baby name.
As far as baby names go, and like most baby names, Myrtle has its pros and cons. Let’s start with the pros!
This old-fashioned name is usually taken from the plant, a beautiful flowering shrub with powerful historical meaning. The Greeks and Romans associated myrtle with the goddesses Demeter (Ceres) and Aphrodite (Venus), the latter important deity representing love and fertility. With the popularity and trendiness of mythological baby names, perhaps Myrtle (or Ancient Greek Myrto) is a viable name option for a child born around Valentine’s Day? In Judaism, the myrtle is associated with the Sukkot holiday and takes the name Hadassah after brave Queen Esther, who saved her people (incidentally, Hadassah, her original name, derives from a Hebrew word that means “myrtle” or “myrtle tree”). British Royal Weddings have included sprigs of myrtle in bridal bouquets since the Victorian era – I wonder if that’s how the name became popular? Besides its historical and mythical connections, Myrtle is also a lovely shade of dark green. Families who spend a lot of time in Myrtle Beach may love associations with the ocean, summer vacation, and the beach. There’s even a book series for middle grade (grades 4th-8th) readers called the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, set in the Victorian era like Enola Holmes.
Those are a lot of things to love, but let’s create balance and discuss any possible negativity (this website is, after all, the “Well-Informed Namer”). The first con I can think of is Myrtle’s sound, which is consonant-heavy. Myrtle belongs in the same auditory realm as names like Bertha and Gertrude, names with an “er” sound that also haven’t returned into widespread usage. I don’t think that’s a major con though, and I can see some options (i.e., Gertrude) becoming fashionable again. I think the biggest issue with Myrtle is the potential for disgusting “Moaning Myrtle” jokes that some adults and teenagers of the Harry Potter generation unfortunately might make about a person bearing the name. Need I say more about that?
Ultimately, I think Myrtle has promising potential in the coming decades, but I don’t know if we’re ready for it now. As a vintage flower and plant name, I think we’ll see a few pop up now and again. Parents who want to be absolutely sure they will give their child a truly unique, one-of-a-kind baby name may want to consider this option. What do you think of Myrtle?
- Social Security Administration
- Myrtle: The Provenance and Meaning of a Plant, by Julia Blakely, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.
- Nancy’s Baby Names