Celebrity Names Blog

Happy Birthday, Betty White! (Or Is It Elizabeth...?)

Happy Birthday, Betty White! (Or Is It Elizabeth...?)
Juan Rico/Fame Pictures

Your imaginary adopted grandma, legendary actress and comedian Betty White, turned 90 years young yesterday. No one in America is immune to her irresistible charm, humor, and all around positive energy -- not even President Obama himself, who lovingly requested a copy of her long-form birth certificate as proof of her age in an adorable happy birthday video that aired during her star-studded birthday bash.  

At NameCandy, we were curious about that certificate too, but for different reasons. Is Betty White really Elizabeth White? Is that her real last name? What’s her middle name? In celebration of all things Betty, we decided to check it out.

(Read about the Golden Girls names here.)

There’s no nicknaming involved in this case. Apparently (though we couldn't check her birth certificate) Ms. White is a true blue Betty, named Betty Marion White on January 17, 1922, in the midst of her name’s golden era.

The common understanding of Betty is as a nickname for Elizabeth. This is true among many (real and fictional) famous Elizabeths-turned-Bettys like Betty Ford, Betty Grable, and Betty Draper.

The desire to spare one’s child of unsolicited nicknames is anything but new. Elizabeth, with its widespread popularity*, international appeal, nine letters and four syllable, has spawned more commonly accepted nicknames than perhaps any other “classic” girl’s name. In addition to Betty, there’s Liz, Lizzie, Libby, Betsy, Beth, Bess, Bitsy, Ellie...to name a few. (*Social security data shows Elizabeth dipping out the top 25 names for only two years since 1880, the earliest year data is available. It’s spent 71 of those 132 years in the top 10).

It’s fitting that one of Elizabeth’s longer and steeper drops in popularity, from about 1920 to 1948, is in direct contrast to the huge surge, and subsequent decline, of Betty. Betty skyrocketted from number 44 in 1916 to number 2 in the late ‘20s/early ‘30s, and fell below 100 by the time the 1960s rolled around. With Bette and Betsy following similar patterns, it’s likely that parents began to dismiss the idea of giving their daughters a “formal” name, only to immediately disregard n favor of a nickname.

It’s not one of the favored antique names, so Betty hasn’t seen the Top 1000 since 1996. Today, the original, tried-and-true version, Elizabeth, far outranks any of its variants.  

It somehow seems fitting that Betty White has never used a stage name, or even a nickname, during her long and impressive career. She’s the real deal. After all, her genuine nature is one of the things we love about her! And who knows, with all of her recent success, could her name make a comeback, too?

What do you think of the name Betty? What are your favorite nicknames-turned-real-names?

--K.L.

Comments

Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

January 19, 2012 11:58 AM
By Jen (not verified)

I *love* Betty. It's looking like we won't ever have a girl, but if we had, she'd probably have been named Beatrice and called Betty (because of the Elizabeth nickname-variety-problem).

January 20, 2012 3:33 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have a friend who had a baby in 2009 and named her B3ttie Francesca (the latter after her father Francesco). I love it!

January 20, 2012 10:31 AM
By Kelly (not verified)

Another younger Betty that I heard of recently was one of the Miss America contestants (Betty Thompson from Oklahoma; she's probably in her early 20s):
http://missok.org

January 24, 2012 2:36 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think Bettie could be cute...should have a comeback!

July 16, 2012 4:27 AM
By ueeao (not verified)

Birthday are the day of happiness and joy and it is hard to find a fine gift for some one special so we a solution for all that is to use the lovely Birthday Quotes that can explain all in one.

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