Sunday, March 9, 2014


I have to admit, Serenity is far more popular than I thought it was before I started researching this post. It's rarely seen in Australia, and I thought it might be similarly rare in the U.S - somewhere in the top 1000, perhaps in the 800-900 range. But to my surprise, positioned at #58 in 2012 Serenity is a top 100 name for girls in the U.S, rising quietly for the last 21 years.

Serenity caught my fancy this week as a name inspired by the short lived Joss Whedon TV show 'Firefly'. There is a great range of name styles on the show - the exotic Inara, perky Kaylee, serious River, popular Zoe, occupational Shepherd, classic Simon, quirky Hoban "Wash", timeless Malcolm ("Mal") and the gender-bending Jayne. But Serenity is special - she's the spaceship they travel in, the reason the characters are together and the way the crew make their living. She may not be a person, but she has character. And like her name, she is a place where the characters find some sense of peace in their world. The first episode of the series 'Firefly' was named 'Serenity', as was the movie follow up to the TV show.

But of course there are plenty of reasons to love this name, even if you're not a fan of the show.

Pronounced suh-REN-i-tee, this is a very pretty sounding name. The dictionary gives two meanings for this word. One is that it is a title of honour, respect or reverence used when speaking to certain members of royalty, as in "Your Serenity" or "His Serenity". The best known definition though is "the state or quality of being serene, calm or tranquil', and hence Serenity is most often thought of as a peaceful virtue name, in the same company of names such as Amity, Felicity, Harmony and Verity.

Serenity could also be thought of as a spiritual name. You may be familiar with the Serenity Prayer:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference" 

This is the most commonly recognised form, adapted from an originally untitled prayer by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It's quite well known due to it's use by many twelve step programs (such as alcoholics anonymous) and appearance in songs, movies and books such as 'Slaughterhouse-Five', 'Flight' and 'The Fault in Our Stars' to name a few.

It's hard to pinpoint though exactly when the tide turned for this name though. Serenity first charted in the U.S for girls in 1972, a decade when peaceful, hippy type names were a trend. That year also saw Psychadelic Funk inspired group Serenity release an album titled 'Piece of Mind', an episode of TV show 'Kung Fu' featured a male character called Serenity Johnson. It increased in popularity but remained outside the top 1000, losing speed in declining slightly in the 80's.

In the early 90's it started picking up momentum once more. In 1992 'Sailor Moon' was highly popular, the title character also known as Princess Serenity, daughter of Queen Serenity. This was followed by another anime character named Serenity Wheeler in 1997 on 'Yu-Gi-Oh'. 1997 was also the year that the name Serenity entered the top 1000 for girls in the U.S. And the year that 'Firefly' premiered - 2002 - was also the first time it charted as a boys name, although it remains overwhelmingly preferred for girls.

With so much exposure in so many different arenas, it's a little less surprising that Serenity is actually such a solid performer. There is something very pleasing about the soft, lyrical sound of this name. It has such an uplifting feel. And while nicknames for this four syllable name may not seem plentiful at first, Seren - a Welsh name meaning 'star' - is one great option. Others include Ren, Rina, Nita, Reni or maybe even Zen.

Whether you love it for it's virtue, spiritual or varied geek cred, there's a lot to like about Serenity. At first it may feel like just another trendy flash-in-the-pan. But more and more people seem to be searching out names with deeper spiritual connections, particularly ones that emphasise peace, tranquility and personal understanding, such as Pax, Bodhi, Dove and Shiloh. Serenity is definitely one of the more feminine names of this ilk. I think this alone may give it more staying power than it is given credit for.

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