How Historically Accurate Are the American Girl Doll Names?

I saw that TikTok, which was being discussed over in the memes section, of Dara Weinstein going off on this topic, and I decided to look into it. Some of you may know by now that I love to research these kinds of things. :face_with_monocle:

Samantha

The main one she complained about was Samantha. Her reasoning for why it’s not historically accurate is that it wasn’t in the Top 200 at the time. And that’s an understandable assumption to some degree. Yes, Samantha would have been rare, but it was not an implausible choice just because it wasn’t popular. (I feel like I remember this same girl making a TikTok claiming that it used to be “common” to give girl names to boys just because Mary made the Top 1000 for boys back when it took 5 births to get there — or something like that. Just saying.)

If Samantha is 10 years old in 1904, that would mean she was born and, thus, named in 1894. The name Samantha was #779 that year, given to just 16 baby girls. (That is, as far as we know, according to the Social Security site. It is possible that there were a few more born whose parents did not file for SS.) So, no, it was not popular, but it was in use.

The other thing to note is that Samantha comes from an upper-class family. It was not uncommon for upper-class families in the Victorian Era to use rarer, more pretentious-sounding names.

I once found a record of a family in Missouri in the mid-1800s with daughters named Nova, Italy, and Sicily. Were those names popular? Not at all. But clearly that doesn’t mean they couldn’t conceivably be used!

If Samantha had been called something like Savannah or Salem, or even Sicily…yeah, I might be questioning it. But Samantha? I think it’s perfectly reasonable. That’s just my take. :upside_down_face:

And I’ll add that her best friend is named Nellie, which is just the sweetest and perfect for the time period. (#30 in 1894, given to more than 1k girls, and that’s not counting those given the alternative spelling Nelly. Or those wearing it as a nickname for a more formal name.)

If you want the stats for the others, here they are:

Felicity (b. 1764)

There are no stats from the 18th century in the US, but one thing we do know is that virtue names were fairly well-liked, particularly among Puritan colonists.

Felicity is not a from New England, but from Virginia, which was not a Puritan area. However, there’s nothing to say that virtue names were limited to Puritan families.

Other names like Mercy, Grace, Patience, Prudence, Temperance can be found in records from other colonies in New England, not just Puritan Massachusetts and Quaker Pennsylvania, though, yes, those are the places where virtue names were most common. But that still pinpoints New England as the place for virtue names, which makes sense, given the very religious history of that area.

However, in Virginia, where Felicity is from, I found a couple of 18th-century women there recorded with the names Charity and Sorrow, making that kind of name rare, but not inconceivable. There may have been more, but those were the ones I stumbled across in my searching, leading me to imagine that elsewhere in the Chesapeake colonies (i.e., outside of New England), and potentially even further south, it was still possible to find virtue/religious word names.

But I think my point still stands that Felicity is not an inconceivable choice for a colonial American girl, even if she is not meant to be from the area where that style of name was popular. :woman_shrugging:t3:

Also, on a side note, her best friend is named Elizabeth — it really doesn’t get more appropriate than that!

Caroline (b. 1802)

I don’t think this one is under any scrutiny. We know without popularity stats that Caroline was a very common late-Georgian/Regency-era name.

Josefina (b. 1814)

I have always loved the names of Josefina and her sisters (Ana, Francisca, & Clara). And she has a friend named Ofélia! And her aunt is named Dolores! (Seriously, the names in the Josefina books are fabulous!)

But let’s just talk about Josefina. There were still no records this early in the US, not to mention a part of the US that was still part of Mexico at the time.

However, Josephine was in use at the time, so it would be reasonable to suppose that its Spanish variant could have been used then, too, among Spanish-speakers.

I say it’s appropriate. And it’s beautiful. :rose:

Kirsten (b. 1844)

Another one that’s difficult, not only because of the lack of stats going this far back, but also because Kirsten was actually born in Sweden.

Still, Kirsten is a variant of Christina/Christine, which may not have been at its most popular in the English-speaking world at this time, but neither was it odd or unheard of. Christina and its variants have a long history of use, which indicates that, barring any direct evidence to the contrary, Kirsten would be a perfectly plausible choice for a Swedish girl in the mid-19th century. But, again, research is very limited.

Addy (b. 1854)

Addy was born on a plantation in antebellum Georgia. Based on the research I have done, I have concluded that enslaved women and girls of the time might have any kind of name – they did not seem to be limited. I found records of nickname-names (e.g., Peggy, Sukey, Doll), of your average timeless, classic names (e.g., Harriet, Eliza, Sarah), and of antique gems (e.g., Araminta, Dido, Chloe). Addy definitely fits in with the nickname-names.

In her book series, it is explained that Addy is named for her grandmother or great-grandmother (I cannot recall which exactly), and her full name is Aduke, which, according to Nameberry, is a Yoruba name, meaning ‘beloved’.* Addy is a natural nickname for it and seems perfectly in line with other Addy-names that were in use at the time, such as Adelaide.

I do know that some chose new names when they gained freedom. This was not the case with Addy, who did not change her name upon reaching Philadelphia. However, it is clear that her mother gave her her name, so it makes sense that she would keep it. (i.e., It was not a name that was given to her by a slave owner or trader.)

*The one thing I cannot find is research that supports the use of traditional African names among enslaved people in the 19th century. Generally, their names tend to be European in some form or other, as listed above. I cannot say if it was a common practice or not or even if it was done at all. So, while Addy is perfectly plausible as a name, I cannot vouch for Aduke. I do know that the use of traditional African names became big in the 1950s and '60s, but prior to that it seems less and less common the further back you go.

Rebecca (b. 1904)

Rebecca ranked #146 in 1904, with 371 births. Rebekah was unranked, but it is possible that as many as 13 girls were given that spelling, since it took 14 births to rank.

Rebecca is actually Jewish, particularly a Russian Jew, but I forget whether it said in the books if she was born in Russia or New York. Either way, Rebecca/Rebekah seems historically to be a fairly common name among Jews and Christians alike.

Interestingly, Rivka, the original form of the anglicized Rebecca, was not Rebecca’s given name, which would have made sense for an immigrant family. I know from my own family that immigrants were often given – or often took for themselves – more “English” names. The Rebecca books do address that, as I recall her aunt Fanya taking the name “Fanny” when she arrives in New York, and her cousin Moshe calls himself “Max” when he becomes an actor.

The weirdest part, to me, is that Rebecca’s best friend was named Rivka, but her English name is “Rose”. Why Rose when Rebecca is the legitimate English version of that name? I’m just a bit puzzled by that, not least because Rebecca and her best friend technically have the same name, yet that is never acknowledged. :woman_shrugging:t3:

Kit (b. 1924)

Kit’s given name is Margaret Mildred Kittredge, but her mother is Margaret; she has always gone by “Kit”.

Margaret and Mildred were both in the Top 10 in 1924. Margaret was #5 (26,000+ baby girls); Mildred was #8 (15,000+).

It makes perfect sense that an average, middle-class girl would be given a strong classic name like Margaret, after her mother, and a middle name like Mildred, an honor for her Aunt Millie. But it is a little buttoned-up for this particular girl: Kit definitely suits her better! :grin:

Molly (b. 1934)

This was the other one that Dara had an issue with. Molly ranked at #368 in 1934, and Mollie was not far behind at #378. 292 Mollys were born that year, and combined with the Mollies there were 586 baby girls with the name. Not to mention Molly had a long history of use prior to the 20th century, meaning it would not have been an odd choice. It could have honored a grandmother or great-grandmother. It could have been seen as a nice alternative to the ever-popular Mary — especially in a time when nicknames were quite popular as given names (e.g., Betty, Peggy, Annie, Sally).

Julie (b. 1964)

Julie ranked #17 in 1964, making it a perfect choice for this girl. It’s actually a surprisingly classic choice, considering her bohemian mother. But it feels just right — friendly, fun, not too formal, but not too cutesy or girly either.

And there you have it!

My Final Thoughts

In researching all of this, I came to the conclusion that there is a good balance among the American Girl Doll names. There are some that would have been rare in their time and some that would have been worn by seemingly every other girl. I think that’s realistic. We don’t expect every child today to have a name from the Top 10 or the Top 200 or even the Top 1000 — many of them do, but it’s not the rule. Therefore, I think the same goes for people in the past, whether real or fictional. If there is prior history of the name being in use and it is plausible given other names of the time period, then I think it works. Such is the case with all of these.

Now, if you made it this far, you probably grew up with these beloved characters like I did. (That is, of course, why I had to defend their good names.) And if you have any thoughts on these stats, feel free to share! If you disagree with any of these choices, I’d be genuinely interested to hear what you think may have been better names for any or all of these characters!

In fact, even if you like the names they have, feel free to share what would you rename one or all of them if you could? (I know we all love to name things! Wouldn’t it be lovely to get to name American Girl dolls?) :wink:

But what about…

I don’t pretend to know anything about Native American culture or names, nor did I know where to begin researching it, so I cannot speak to Kaya’s name. However, her story seems to be very well researched and her name is explained in the books, so…I assume it’s appropriate.

Also, I did not bother with any of the newer ones (Courtney, Maryellen, etc.) because they are after my generation.

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This was really fascinating!! Thanks for sharing.

I wonder with [name_f]Aduke[/name_f], if her mother gave her one name and she was known by another (perhaps given by the plantation owner) when on the plantation -or was simply always known by [name_f]Addy[/name_f] and her full name was never brought up?

It’s probably also worth noting in these cases that, like today, sometimes people just had unusual names :woman_shrugging:

Again, great research -enjoyed reading this

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I was really excited to read this after you teased it in the memes thread! American [name_f]Girl[/name_f] dolls are among my niche interests lol and I grew up with them too (I have [name_f]Felicity[/name_f], [name_u]Julie[/name_u], and 2 lookalike dolls)! I didn’t see the initial TikTok but I agree with your commentary on the ones [name_u]Dara[/name_u] disagreed with, especially [name_f]Molly[/name_f]. It seems like a completely reasonable stands-out-fits-in choice for that time. [name_f]Samantha[/name_f] is a little harder but I always did wonder how they managed to get accurate data in 1880 when there obviously wasn’t internet and not all of the states we know today existed :thinking:.

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This is so interesting, as a American [name_f]Girl[/name_f] lover and name nerd!

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That’s generally how it was in the books, if I remember correctly, so you may be right about that distinction! Very good point.

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I always wanted [name_f]Felicity[/name_f]! (But I wanted her original dress, not the purple one.) I actually almost bought her when they rereleased them last year for the 35th anniversary, but by the time I made up my mind to just go for it, she was sold out.

[name_f]My[/name_f] cousin had [name_u]Julie[/name_u], as did my best friend — I remember she was pretty popular when she came out.
I have [name_u]Kit[/name_u], who was my other favorite because she was a writer like I aspired to be (her typewriter was my favorite accessory to play with!), and a lookalike, and they were pretty much my favorite things as a kid! :grin:

Right? That’s exactly what I think.

I’d imagine they were pretty thorough in record-keeping since social security was newer and not everyone wanted it. It wasn’t like a census or something. That’s why I mentioned that it’s possible there were more than 16. But it’s also possible that there were less because who knows what mistakes could have been made without computer technology! :woman_shrugging:t3:

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Thank you for doing this! I always found their names to be appropriate for their times.

[name_m]Even[/name_m] if they aren’t top 200 names for their time, they were still reasonably usable. It’s not like having an [name_f]Everleigh[/name_f] in WWII. That would be rather odd. They were never so far off they didn’t feel like they could be real people.

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I 100% agree! :slight_smile:

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[name_f]My[/name_f] sister has [name_u]Kit[/name_u] or else I would’ve gotten her too! Between my sisters and I, we have [name_f]Felicity[/name_f], [name_u]Julie[/name_u], [name_u]Kit[/name_u], [name_f]Josefina[/name_f], [name_f]Molly[/name_f], [name_u]Kaya[/name_u], Marie-Grace, [name_f]Samantha[/name_f], [name_f]Isabelle[/name_f] (Girl of the Year), 3 lookalike dolls (Simone, [name_u]Everly[/name_u], and Victoria), 2 bitty babies (Sarah and Rosie), and 2 sets of bitty twins (Jack and [name_f]Phoebe[/name_f], and [name_f]Audrey[/name_f] and Claire). There were about 12 years there where there’d be at least 2 American [name_f]Girl[/name_f] box-shaped presents under the tree at [name_u]Christmas[/name_u] haha (thank you, grandparents!)

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Haha! Same (though generally clothes and accessories)! I remember going through the catalog every year in, like, [name_u]October[/name_u] and circling everything I wanted, and I’d give it to my mother, like here’s my [name_u]Christmas[/name_u] list. :sweat_smile:

[name_f]My[/name_f] sisters and I each have a historical doll, a lookalike, and a bitty baby. [name_f]My[/name_f] one sister has [name_f]Molly[/name_f], and the other got [name_f]Ruthie[/name_f] because she wanted her to be bffs with my [name_u]Kit[/name_u]. <3

I have always wished I had collected more of the historical dolls I loved! Their books were my favorite in the first and second grades, and I wanted them all!
It’s incredible how many you and your sisters have! Wow.

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i actually made this comment on that tiktok that i think for marketing purposes they chose names that were more in use the time the DOLLS were created. not the most popular names, but a name little girls would see as a friend, not a grandparent.

ex. [name_f]Samantha[/name_f] was released in 1986, ranking #21 for names that year.

while they do try to be historically accurate in the stories, they have to balance being too historical for their own good. kids don’t want a doll to feel like a teacher, but a friend.

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[name_f]Molly[/name_f] is definitely very accurate it’s a very old name that has been used all through time!

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That was me and my sister! I had [name_u]Kit[/name_u] and she got [name_f]Ruthie[/name_f]!

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That’s a good point, too, and definitely something I thought about, particularly with [name_f]Samantha[/name_f] and [name_f]Molly[/name_f], that I probably should have mentioned. So thank you for bringing that up! :slight_smile:

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[name_m]Ah[/name_m], I jumped at seeing this topic!! [name_f]My[/name_f] sister, my girl cousins and myself each had at least one of the dolls growing up. I unfortunately only read the books of my doll (Kit) and my sister’s (Kirsten) so wasn’t too familiar with the other girls. I’m actually going through and reading all of the books to my little boy, so it’s been fun to read what I missed out on.

I’m not anywhere near an expert on the names used when the dolls “existed” in their respective time periods. Names like [name_f]Abigail[/name_f], [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f], Sarah…those ones seem very timeless. The names that the girls were actually given, I don’t know. They seem appropriate to me. The only one that I actually questioned was when I read Felicity’s books. They call her [name_f]Lissie[/name_f]. That kind of struck me as curious…that seems almost like a modern nn rather than one used back then. Then again, it could be that I’m associating that time period with the more buttoned-up way of life (compared to how much of [name_u]America[/name_u] is today).

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You know, it’s interesting that your bring that up. I am under the impression, based on what I know of real historical figures from the 18th century, as well as fictional characters in books written in the Georgian Era, that they were actually very big fans of nicknames, particularly for girls. Catherine was often Kitty, Elizabeth might be Eliza or Betsy or Lizzy or a number of others, Mary could be Polly, Molly, sometimes even just Moll, and the list goes on. John Adams called his daughter “Nabby”, short for Abigail. (Dolley Madison was even just plain Dolley, though that would generally have been short for Dorothy or Dorothea.) And Felicity’s sister, Nan, was probably an Ann/Anne, since Nan or Nancy was a common nickname for Ann/Anne. Lissie makes sense given that, except that I think it would have been more likely spelt Lissy at the time. The -y definitely seems to have been more common than -ie at that time from what I can tell.

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This is such a fun topic! I’ve always loved dolls and the American girl doll stories were always interesting. These are my opinions on the authenticity of their names:
[name_f]Felicity[/name_f]: I think this is a fairly authentic name for someone a Colonial person. Although I don’t think it was ever extremely popular, it definitely has an old fashioned sound to it and I’m sure it was used at the time.
[name_f]Caroline[/name_f]: This is extremely authentic and suitable for the time!
[name_f]Josefina[/name_f]: I think this was likely a common name for Spanish speaking people like her family, at any time, but certainly at that time.
[name_f]Kirsten[/name_f]: While there are names that sound more recognizably Scandinavian, I know this name is used there, but could also sound American, and was probably used at that time.
[name_f]Addy[/name_f]: I think this sounds like a very old fashioned nickname, probably at that time it would have been short for something else. though.
[name_f]Samantha[/name_f]: I’m sure the name [name_f]Samantha[/name_f] was used somewhat in the late 1800s-early 1900s, but being born in the early 2000s, I can’t help associating it with that time since it was so popular in my generation.
[name_f]Rebecca[/name_f]: I think this a very versatile name that has been used for centuries, so while it was also common later, it would also be very authentic to the early 1900s.
[name_u]Kit[/name_u]: This is certainly a 1920s/30s sounding nickname, and if I recall correctly, it was a nickname for [name_f]Katherine[/name_f], which would have been popular at that time.
[name_f]Molly[/name_f]: I think this name sounds very accurate, similar to names like [name_f]Sally[/name_f], [name_f]Betty[/name_f], or [name_f]Lucy[/name_f] that would be popular at the time.
[name_u]Julie[/name_u]: I know this was a very common name in the 1960s and 70s, so it’s very accurate.

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Thank you so much for sharing! I loved American [name_f]Girl[/name_f] growing up (I have [name_f]Samantha[/name_f], [name_f]Nellie[/name_f], and [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f] while my sister had [name_f]Molly[/name_f], [name_f]Emily[/name_f], & Felicity) and it was fascinating to learn the history behind their names.

Growing up I never really questioned any of their names, and I actually thought [name_f]Samantha[/name_f] was more old fashioned than modern. Also if we think about the classic 100 year rule it is entirely plausible that [name_f]Samantha[/name_f] would have been used in the 1890’s and then used again (and much more frequently) in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

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[name_u]Love[/name_u] this! These were the American [name_f]Girl[/name_f] dolls I remember.

I had [name_f]Molly[/name_f] (and a Bitty Baby).

I had forgotten so much of the backstories on them all. I never have felt like any of their names were out of place with their eras. I didn’t see the original Tik Tok, but I’m in total agreement with you!

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Very interesting topic! I had [name_f]Josefina[/name_f] - I thought she was so cool because I was learning Spanish at school. I was very insistent about [name_f]Josefina[/name_f] being pronounced in Spanish & never with the J sound (which I am now realizing might not even be correct for all I know :sweat_smile: but seven-year-old me was really trying to say it right!)

I would’ve looked closest to [name_u]Kit[/name_u] or [name_f]Kirsten[/name_f], and looking back I think that my parents were a bit hesitant to buy [name_f]Josefina[/name_f] for me. All of my friends that had American [name_f]Girl[/name_f] dolls had whichever one looked most like them, so I think they were surprised that I wanted [name_f]Josefina[/name_f] & worried that I’d change my mind after they bought it. They gave me the [name_f]Josefina[/name_f] books, paper doll set, and miniature doll before they bought the [name_f]Josefina[/name_f] doll.

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