Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Dorothy

Dorothy is the English form of the Greek Dōrothéa (Δωροθεος) which is made up of the Greek elements “doron” (δωρον) meaning “gift” and “theos” (θεος) meaning “god”. Consider the Greek masculine name Theodorus which is essentially the reversal of these elements and means the same thing: “god’s gift”. The name Dorothea was famously borne by an early 4th century saint, one of the so-called “virgin martyrs”. Dorothea of Caesarea had found Christianity and so refused to worship the pagan gods of the Roman Empire. For this she was sentenced to death during Emperor Diocletian's persecution of the Christians. According to later medieval legend, Dorothea cheerfully faced her execution rejoicing that she would soon enter the gates of the garden of heaven. A young man by the name of Theophilus mockingly asked her to send some fruits once she arrived. As she knelt and prayed before her death by beheading, an angel arrived with a basket of roses and apples for Theophilus (who converted to Christianity immediately thereafter and was later martyred himself). As a result, Dorothea and Theophilus share the same Feast Day (February 6). Interestingly, the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy (founded in 1835) is an order of nuns renowned for their cultivation of flowers in the name of St. Dorothy’s “garden”. Not by happenstance, St. Dorothy is one of the patron saints to florists, gardeners and horticulturists. Her legend and cult became widespread throughout Europe starting in the early Middle Ages (7th century) and her name was readily bestowed upon baby girls as a protective measure during difficult times. The concept of the “virgin martyr” was undeniably important in medieval times; such saints were extolled for their youth, beauty and commitment to virginity in the name of Christ. St. Dorothea of Caesarea was on par with other highly venerated early saints: The Great Martyr Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch – together they became known as “The Main Virgins”. Dorothea was more popular on mainland Europe than in England; the name wouldn’t come into general usage among English-speakers until the 15th century (when the name was truncated to Dorothy). Aside from Dorothy’s “saintly” influence, this is a name with some literary cachet as well. We’re all quite familiar with American author L. Frank Baum’s heroine Dorothy from “'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). But there’s also sharp-witted Dorothy Parker, founder of the esteemed literary circle known as the Algonquin Round Table.

All About the Baby Name – Dorothy



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There’s no two ways about it. Dorothy was a turn of the century favorite (turn of the 20th century, that is). When L. Frank Baum penned his classic fantasy novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900, Dorothy was already a household name. Entering the 20th century at position #27 on the charts (1900), Dorothy would hit her apex as the second most popular female name in America for eight consecutive years (1920-1927). The only other baby girl’s name more popular than Dorothy in the 1920s was the perennial favorite Mary. It wouldn’t be until 1962 that Dorothy finally fell off the Top 100 list of most commonly used girl names; this pretty much marked the beginning of her steady decline in popular usage. By the 1980s and 90s Dorothy was dropping like rocks as she joined other “old-lady” names in the category of Ultra-Passé. Since 2005 this is a name that doesn’t know if it’s staying or going. Ranked low on the charts today, Dorothy is a distant memory to most modern-day parents. Yet Dorothy is a name with a lot of old-fashioned appeal. She’s a staple name in the innocent world of children’s literature in the same vein as Alice, Heidi, Madeline or Eloise (which holds greater erudition than, say, Disney princess names). She’s got that antique charm that’s all the rage, but without the over usage. She’s got a few darling pet forms such as Dot, Dottie or Dolly. Oh, and if that’s not enough to entice you, she’s also “God’s gift”.

Quick Facts











DAWR-ə-thee; DAWR-thee


Gift of God










Cultural References to the Baby Name – Dorothy

Literary Characters


Harriet Vane is a character in the mystery novels of British writer Dorothy L. Sayers, which feature her aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. Harriet eventually weds the fine lord, but not after a rather long and torturous courtship. She finds him (rightfully so) to be rather snobbish and domineering, and resists him valiantly for a while. Harriet is an Oxford educated, independent young mystery writer herself, who meets Lord Peter when she is on trial for having poisoned her lover (no, not Lord Peter, not yet). Certainly she didn’t do it, and certainly Lord Peter proves her innocent. Somehow, Lord Peter finds her circumstances to be utterly charming and he immediately proposes. Thank goodness for the sensibility of the somewhat lower classes – she declines, at least at first. Naturally, fate throws them together in mysterious and murderous ways, and eventually Harriet accepts and becomes Lady Peter Wimsey, but only on the stipulation that they enter marriage as equals. Her altered state, both martially and monetarily, does not detract from her ongoing forays into the world of the genteel underground, however, and she and her lord partner on many more capers. Harriet also finds the time to have three sons, to soften up that stodgy lord a bit, and to live as if to the manor born. Our kind of gal.

Dorothy Gale is the plucky young girl who takes a tornado-induced dream trip from Kansas to the Land of Oz, along with her little dog, Toto. L. Frank Baum’s famous children’s series began with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, which was further immortalized by the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is an orphan, being raised on a farm by her Uncle Henry and her loving but strict Auntie Em. The beauty offered by the make-believe Land of Oz is novel and entrancing, as are her new-found friends, all in search of something they feel they need. For the Scarecrow, it is a brain; for the Tin Man, a heart; for the Cowardly Lion, it is courage. And for Dorothy, of course, it is the ability to go back to Kansas again, because the lesson she learns is that “there’s no place like home”. All of the wishes of the participants are granted, and the moral is clear – all of these sought-after treasures are to be found in our own back yards. The story delighted children all over the world, and the film has been an icon since its release. For most of us, it is the lovely and vulnerable figure of Judy Garland that we see when we think of Dorothy, but the original illustrations of W. W. Denslow are utterly charming and worth a look. As for those iconic ruby slippers? They were silver shoes in the book. Either way, they did the job – Dorothy and Toto went home again.

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Dorothy

Popular Songs


The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
a song by Prince [explicit]

a song by Alison Moyet

Famous People


Dorothy Parker (author/quipster)
Dorothy Dandridge (actress)
Dorothy Hamill (figure skater)
Dorothy Lamour (actress)
Dorothy Faye Dunaway (actress known as Faye Dunaway)
Dorothy McGuire (actress)
Dorothy Gish (actress)
Dorothy Fields (lyricist)
Dorothy L. Sayers (author)
Dorothy Day (notable Catholic anarchist)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Dorothy

Historic Figures


Dorothy Rothschild Parker was an American writer of short stories, poems, plays, screenplays and entertainment criticism, whose acerbic wit made her the doyenne of the sparkling (albeit alcohol-fueled) company at the Algonquin Round Table in New York in the roaring twenties. In her heyday, she wrote for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, among others, and was a formidable theatre critic (once describing Katharine Hepburn as running the gamut of emotions from A to B). She espoused liberal causes early on, including the Spanish Civil War, the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and civil liberties for African-Americans (in fact, leaving her entire estate to the N.A.A.C.P.). She was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s, which she considered an honor. Ms. Parker was married once to stockbroker, Edwin Parker (being half Jewish in an era of anti-Semitism, she joked that she did it only to change her name), and twice to Alan Campbell, a screenwriter and sometimes actor. Probably the love of her life was the writer, Charles MacArthur, but their affair ended disastrously; he went on to marry Helen Hayes and she went on to her first suicide attempt. In her later years, Dorothy, who was childless, lived in a residential hotel in Manhattan with her pet dogs, and died alone of a heart attack. Her remains were unclaimed for 17 years; finally the N.A.A.C.P. put them to rest in a memorial garden in their Baltimore headquarters. She had her share of sorrow in her life, but she certainly contributed to laughter in ours. Our favorite Parkerism? Asked to use “horticulture” in a sentence, she replied, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Apocryphal? Maybe. Who cares – we believe it!