Happy birthday to the mother of sparkling vampires! Stephenie Meyer, author of “Twilight,” turns 40 today.
Stéphanie is the French feminine form of Stephen, derived from “stephanos,” Greek for “garland.” That name spread because of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
The earliest example of a Stephanie is St. Stephanie (or Stephania). She's revered by Eastern Orthodox Christians as a soldier's wife martyred along with St. Victor in Damascus in 160. Most historians think St. Stephanie is purely legendary.
The first famous real Stephanie lived near Damascus, though she was of French descent. In the Crusader-founded Kingdom of Jerusalem, Stephanie of Milly (1145-1197) was the first mother-in-law of Queen Isabella, and for a while a power behind the throne.
In the 19th century, Napoleon adopted his wife's cousin Stéphanie de Beauharnais and married her to the Grand Duke of Baden.
In the 1850 United States census, first to list all residents' names, there were only 51 Stephanies; 36 were born in French-settled Louisiana, or in France and its colonies.
Americans without French ancestry adopted Stephanie slowly. It was first among the top 1,000 baby names in 1896.
Stephanie peaked at 302nd in 1916. Perhaps the positive press France received during World War I helped.
After the war, Stephanie dropped to 715th in 1931. Then Hollywood noticed it. That year Constance Bennett played Stephanie Dale, a woman rejected by her socialite fiance when he discovers her parents were unmarried, in “Bought!” The name jumped 47 percent to rank 573rd.
In 1935 RKO filmed Broadway musical “Roberta.” Irene Dunne starred as Stephanie, whose dress designs have made Paris boutique “Roberta” famous. When American John Kent (played by Randolph Scott) inherits the store, she quits when he says her gowns are too revealing. Later Kent proposes after seeing Stephanie in one of her own gowns at a fashion show.
“Roberta,” featuring songs “I Won't Dance” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” was a smash hit. In 1936, Stephanie was back in the top 500.
The name rose steadily, entering the top 200 in 1946. In 1960, it reached the top 100.
In 1972, when 16,881 newborn Stephanies arrived, it ranked eighth. Stephanie's similarity in sound to the top name at the time, Jennifer, undoubtedly helped.
French sociologist Philippe Besnard says Stéphanie rose “like a hurricane” at just the same time. Stéphanie was No. 1 for French girls between 1974 and 1977. Princess Stéphanie of Monaco (born in 1965) spurred the boom. In France, the name then fell almost as quickly.
Stephanie was receding in America, too, ranking 16th in 1978. Television gave it another bounce. In 1978, “All in the Family” introduced 9-year-old character Stephanie Mills (Danielle Brisebois) as Archie and Edith's foster child. After Edith's death, Stephanie continued on “Archie Bunker's Place” until 1983.
Between 1984 and 1990, comically spoiled rich girl Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) was featured on “Newhart.”
Three actresses on detective shows also helped. In 1979, Stefanie Powers began five years as Jennifer on “Hart to Hart.” The number of babies given spelling “Stefanie” almost doubled. In 1983, Stefanie ranked 105th all by itself.
In 1982 another light-hearted show, “Remington Steele,” starred Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt. The chemistry between Zimbalist and co-star Pierce Brosnan made the show a hit.
In 1984 began the more serious “Hunter,” starring Stepfanie Kramer as policewoman Dee Dee McCall. (Kramer changed her spelling to Stepfanie because the Screen Actor's Guild had another Stephanie Kramer registered.)
All this lifted Stephanie to sixth place between 1984 and 1987. In 1985, 23,233 Stephanies were born — 25,228 with other spellings added.
By 1987 parents knew Stephanie was popular. The name began to drop despite the hugely popular sitcom “Full House,” where child actress Jodie Sweetin played Stephanie Tanner. (This was a rare case of television giving a character a name just right for her actual age.)
Like other 1980s names, Stephanie is quickly falling, ranking only 168th in 2012. It's now for definitely adult characters — such as sexy New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich's best-selling comic mysteries running from “One for the Money” to 2013's “Takedown Twenty.”
Stephenie Meyer's parents are Stephen and Candy Morgan — explaining the second “e.” Her fame won't revive any spelling of Stephanie. “Twilight,” though, has inspired thousands of babies named Isabella, Edward, Carlisle, Esme, Emmett, Rosalie and Renesmee. It will be a long time before Stephenie Meyer's own name is forgotten.