Happy Birthday to Mary Poppins, Maria von Trapp and Queen Clarisse.
Actress Julie Andrews turns 78 today.
Julie is the French form of Julia, the feminine of Latin Julius, name of an ancient Roman clan. That clan’s most important member, Gaius Julius Caesar, the general and dictator assassinated in 44 B.C., is arguably today’s most famous ancient Roman.
Traditionally Julius was derived from Greek “downy-bearded.” More likely it first meant “belonging to Jupiter,” Rome’s chief god.
Ancient Rome’s naming system was incredibly sexist. Women were just called by the feminine form of their clan name. All Julius Caesar’s paternal aunts, sisters, and daughters were named Julia. If a father had more than one daughter, the first two were Julia Major and Julia Minor. Any more would be Julia Tertia (third), Julia Quarta (fourth), etc.
A Julia is mentioned in Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the New Testament. Two Julias were early Christian saints. Julia of Troyes was a slave martyred after converting her master to Christianity. Julia of Corsica, a fifth-century captive killed for refusing to sacrifice to the local gods, is Corsica’s patron saint.
The saints made Julie and Giulia popular in France and Italy. In England, though, Julia was rare. Shakespeare probably chose it for a character in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” as an exotic Italian name.
Julia was first given to English and American girls after 1700, about the time other romantic Shakespearean names like Olivia began appealing to parents.
The 1851 British census included 27,480 Julias. In the 1850 U.S. census, there were 98,008, in about the same total population.
Part of Julia’s American success came from Ireland. Julia was used by the Irish as an equivalent for “Sheila” when native Irish names were suppressed.
More important was the Classical Revival of the early 19th century. Americans became fascinated by Classical civilization, erecting buildings with marble columns like ancient Roman temples. They also gave children Roman names, like Horace, Minerva, and Julia. By 1820, Julia was among the top 20 names for American girls.
In 1880, Julia ranked 26th and Julie 345th. Both were slowly going out of fashion. In 1913, Julia was 42nd and Julie 457th.
Around 1920 Julie began rising. One reason was Julie Dozier, a character in Edna Ferber’s 1926 novel “Show Boat,” and the hit 1927 Broadway musical based on it. Tragic heroine Julie is a mixed-race actress and singer. Her husband Steve famously cuts her finger and sucks her blood in order to claim he has “black blood in him” when their marriage is challenged in a state where mixed-race marriages are illegal.
In 1936, a film version of “Show Boat,” with Helen Morgan playing Julie, was released. That was the first year Julie ranked among the top 300 girls’ names.
“Show Boat” started Julie on a Hollywood feedback loop. In 1940 Joan Crawford starred opposite Clark Gable in “Strange Cargo” as a French cabaret singer named Julie. The name jumped to rank 180th.
In 1956, the movie “Julie” came out, starring Doris Day as the title character in a thriller about an airline stewardess fleeing her insane murderous husband. “Julie” was the first film to feature a stewardess landing a plane when the pilot was disabled. Day sang the film’s Oscar-nominated theme song, also titled “Julie.” The name’s biggest one year jump followed in 1957.
The name Julie’s boom prompted actresses born as Julia to switch. Julie Harris, who won five Tonys and three Emmys before she died in August, was born as Julia Ann Harris in 1925.
Julie Andrews was named Julia Wells, after her maternal grandmother. In her autobiography “Home,” she says when her divorced mother married stepfather Ted Andrews in 1943, they changed her name to Julie because they thought “Julia Andrews” didn’t “flow well.”
In the early 1960’s the name Julie had just started to recede when Andrews’ career gave it another boost. In 1964, the year she played her Oscar-winning role as Mary Poppins, the name cracked the top 20 for the first time.
As Julie fell out of fashion after the 1960s, Julia rose again to replace it. In 1990, more babies were named Julia than Julie, the first time since 1950.
Like Queen Clarisse, the character Andrews played in “The Princess Diaries,” Julie will soon have a grandmotherly image. It will likely be 2060 before many parents will want to give it to babies once again.