Name Spotlight: Nellie


The next two names that I will shine a spotlight on are one of the many names that have made great strides in the Top 500 in England and Wales in 2015.

What used to be popular long ago in North America and elsewhere in the English-speaking world is now on the rise again.


According to Mike Campbell of Behind the Name, this is the diminutive of Nell¹,  which is, in itself, a medieval diminutive of names that either begins with or contains El, names like Eleanor, Ellen or Helen, which may have arisen from the medieval affectionate phrase ‘mine El,’ which has been later reinterpreted as ‘my Nel.’¹


The peak popularity of Nellie throughout the English-speaking world occurred in the late 19th to early 20th century.
In the United States, according to SSA data², the peak decade for Nellie is the 1880s where it was ranked 19th. Using a difference source (FamilySearch) where different birth indexes and records are added together from eight states (West Virginia, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Idaho and New Jersey), my quick findings determine that the peak half-decade by ranking and numbers seems to be 1885-1889 where it would have been ranked 9th (the half-decade before that, it would have been ranked 10th), which seems to fit in nicely with the peak ranking of 19th in the 1880s that the SSA data² has shown. The last time it was ranked in the top 1000 in the SSA data was 1979 and the year with the lowest number is 1993 where only 71 girls were given that name. Since then, it’s making a slight recovery with 195 girls being given the name Nellie in 2015.

Moving on to Britain, we first pay attention to data from England and Wales, where, according to Elea Nickerson’s data on the top 200 names from 1860-1900³, Nellie peaked at 22nd in 1890. For the General Register Office data from 1904-1994 (supplied by ONS)⁴, Nellie peaked in 1904 at 22nd place and last ranked in 1924 at 68th place.
Looking at the graph below, using different sources to add the numbers⁴:


By the late 1940s, the number of girls named Nellie were dropping to the 40s and then 30s and it got to a point that, starting in the mid 1950s, the number of girls named Nellie were in the single digits and it wasn’t until the early 2000s where double-digit numbers can be seen again. Interestingly, in 2015, the number jumped from 59 to 157. Why did that happen? After scouring Google News for clues, the conclusion seems to be that the jump happened most likely because of the arrival of the daughter of recently-became-former The Only Way Is Essex star Billie Faiers.
In Scotland, according to National Records of Scotland⁵, it ranked 37th in 1900 but it too dropped into near-obscurity by the mid-20th century and, in the period from 1974-2015, it was only given to 10 girls (+ 1 Nellieann). In 2015, it was given to 3 girls, the highest it’s ever been for a long while (compare to 2014 where no one was given the name Nellie).

Despite Nellie rising up in the charts again in the US and Britain, the only place where Nellie was and still is fairly popular is Sweden. It had come off its peak of 469 girls named Nellie back in 2007 and for 2015, 298 girls were named Nellie⁶.

That’s the name spotlight post for now. If you have any comments, leave them in the comments section below the sources.

Behind the Name

Social Security Administration –²
British Baby Names –³
FreeBMD –⁴
England & Wales Birth Index on FamilySearch –⁴
Office for National Statistics ––england-and-wales/index.html⁴
National Records of Scotland –⁵
Statistics Sweden (in Swedish) –⁶

One thought on “Name Spotlight: Nellie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s