About A Name: Aubrey

September 22, 2011 § 6 Comments

(c) Bob D'Amico / ABC

One of the funniest shows on TV is Modern Family. I don’t catch it as often as I’d like but when I do, it freaking kills me! In advance of the third-season debut last night (I just might have watched US X Factor, instead…), and following their second consecutive Emmy win on Sunday for Best Comedy, they announced the recasting of Cam and Mitchell’s daughter Lily. Formerly played by twin girls Jaden and Ella Hiller, the role is now played by Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. (It’s also the name of another TV funny girl, 27-year-old Parks & Recreation star Aubrey Plaza, and former American pop star-turned-Playboy model Aubrey O’Day – also 27.)

Originally a male name, Aubrey is now the 44th most popular name for girls in the US, from a climb through the Top 1000 that began in the 1970s. To me, that clearly indicates it was influenced by the popularity of Audrey Hepburn, one of the shining film stars of the 1960s, as an alternative to a popular choice with the same lovely sound and a long history. Audrey, which has been a Top 200 US name for over 100 years, grew steadily thanks to the Hepburn factor, and today sits below Aubrey for girls born in the US at 52. The Hepburn factor surged again for Audrey in the late ’90s, which only pushed Aubrey even higher on the girls list because it’s such a viable alternative to a name that can often feel overused. In the last 10 years, Aubrey has cracked the Top 100 twice in Canada.

Wikipedia claims that the 1972 song by easy rock band Bread, called Aubrey,” is the primary reason the name exploded through the ’70s as a girl’s name, but it certainly has little to no effect on it’s popularity now. Of all the (awful) songs by Bread, this one hasn’t stayed on the pop culture radar at all (and only peaked at 15 on the Hot 100 charts when it was released).

All of this, of course, means boys born with the name Aubrey in North America – as the name was originally intended – are saddled with a “girl’s name.” Like Ashley, it’s so incredibly popular for girls that it’s become almost totally off limits for parents of boys. It may be why Canadian rapper/actor Aubrey Graham goes by Drake (his middle name), aside from it being a fairly more hip name for a rapper.

For boys, Aubrey was somewhat popular (Top 500) for boys in the early part of the 20th Century, but as the popularity of the name for girls grew, it’s use on males dropped. It fell out of the Top 1000 in 2002. In January 1977, American actor Peter Ford, son of 20th Century Tinseltown stars Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, welcomed a son named Aubrey Newton.

Since then, it’s been all about the girls, with Aubrey appearing in various forms on the daughters of former tennis star Jimmy Connors (Aubree Leigh), country singer Lee Ann Womack (Aubrie Lee), comedian and former Full House star Bob Saget (Aubrey Michelle), and in the mid-’90s both actor Terrence Howard and former SNL star Victoria Jackson welcomed daughters named Aubrey. But the name, in spite of it’s current popularity (or perhaps because of), hasn’t been selected much at all by the glittering stars of Hollywood in the last 10 years. It’s been left to regular folks to come up with the multiple ways to spell this name (there’s also Aubreigh, Aubery, Aubray, etc.), and ultra-femme variations like Aubriana (which probably started appearing thanks to popular names like Adriana).

In Old German this name was originally Alberic, which means “king of the elves,” from elbe (elves) + rex (king). In Old German mythology, Alberich was a sorcerer and king of the dwarves, who guarded the treasure of the Nibelungen until he was defeated by Siegfried (Sigurd), a hero of Norse mythology and prince of Xanten who was invulnerable after bathing in the blood of a dragon whom he killed, save for one spot on his back where a leaf adhered to his skin. (Achilles much?)

In Norman French, Alberic became Aubri, and the name set down roots in Britain during the Norman conquest in 1066. (The Anglo-Saxons still had Aelfric before 1066, which was directly from the German root.) Plenty of young, aristocratic Anglo-Norman men were called Aubrey, and today the name retains a far more balanced unisex status in the UK than in North America though the name is shrinking in popularity overall. 19th Century English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley was a contemporary of Oscar Wilde, a leading figure of the Aesthetic art movement that downplayed socio-political themes in favour of judgments of sentiment and taste. His work is said to have greatly influenced the Art Nouveau and modernist styles that followed. Beardsley succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 26 in 1898.

Among the first recorded uses of Aubrey as a female name is Aubrey of Buonalbergo – but hers was a nickname for Alberada – who was an 11th Century wife of the Duke of Apulia. Alberada may be a variation on the Spanish male name Alverado, which means “peacemaker.” Looking for soemthing else that would give you Aubrey as a nickname? Try Aubergine. Another name for an eggplant, it also describes the dark purple colour of the vegetable. But nothing about the name really says “eggplant” – it’s far more romantic than that!

But wait – could the Canadian model Gabriel Aubry (Halle Berry’s babydaddy, whom she seemingly despises), paired with rapper Drake, give way to seeing this name rise again for boys? As a surname in Quebec, the uncommon Aubry has multiple possible origins, including Irish O’Brennans who fought alongside the French in Quebec City near the Plains of Abraham, and felt it necessary to Francophise their surnames following defeat at the hands of the British in 1759. Dubbed The Battle of Quebec, it lasted only 15 minutes following three months of mounting pressure from British forces. Before that, in 1666, a man from Normandy whose surname was La Briere changed it to Aubry upon his arrival in Canada (in essence, “of Briere”).

My advice? Aubrey is no longer the lesser-known cousin of Audrey for girls. So if commonality is not your style, this one’s not for you. I also like it for boys. It’s strong, and reminds me of Gone With the Wind‘s Ashley Wilkes (who suited his name perfectly, thank you), but yes, in North America it’s considered a girl’s name, so you’ll always be up against that.


§ 6 Responses to About A Name: Aubrey

  • Here Aubrey is almost never used for boys, and is only just starting to be used for girls, usually spelled some other way, like Aubri.

    You can find a few famous Australians with the name born in the late 19th century, I think it might be too old-fashioned and too aristocratic for boys, and still a bit new for girls, although I’m sure it will increase.

    • namemuststay says:

      I did find it sort of interesting that in North America, at least, Aubrey for boys is almost non-existent, aside from a few very modern connections in pop culture! It also shocked me, I admit, when I saw it was MORE popular than Audrey!

  • cleo says:

    I just don’t understand the love for Aubrey. I never understand when parents choose a boy name almost identital to a girl name alreay in existance. Audrey is lovely and I don’t know why someone with a daughter would use Aubrey instead.

  • babynamelover says:

    I much prefer Audrey, I think Aubrey is ugly sounding.

  • aubrey says:

    You are all very pessimistic, why don’t you find something better to do than mock names. Thank you!

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