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I ran across something odd today...

I have an iPhone app that lists facts, trivia, and other useless information (it's called Cool Facts, downloaded from iTunes). So far, nothing I've found on it has been terribly inaccurate. However, flipping through it today, I came across this:

The name Wendy was made up for the book Peter Pan. There was never a recorded Wendy before it.

To say the very least, I'm skeptical. So the question is:

Was the name "Wendy" actually created by J.M. Barrie for Peter Pan?

Or, if this is a myth, does anyone know where it originated?

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3  
This probably belongs more on English.SE –  DVK Jun 1 '11 at 6:51
    
@michael I didn't mean to reject your first edit, I'm doing too many things at once, clicked wrong. You can re-submit it if you'd like. Very sorry. –  Monkey Tuesday Jun 1 '11 at 17:25
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Have just seen this - and had to comment. My mother was a Wendy, born in London England in 1918. She told me that when her parents wanted to register her name they were apparently told they could not as it wasn't a "real" name - so they actually took a copy of Peter Pan back with them to the registry to prove it must be 'real' as it was in print. She was very proud that she was one of the originals! –  user17123 Jan 13 at 23:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 62 down vote accepted

From The Straight Dope:

All kidding aside, J. M. Barrie did not invent the name Wendy for his 1904 play Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (the book form of the story, Peter and Wendy, was published in 1911).

But we have absolute proof that there were earlier Wendys, thanks to the just-released 1880 U.S. Census and the 1881 British Census (available here).

These documents show that the name Wendy, while not common, was indeed used in both the U.S. and Great Britain throughout the 1800s. I had no trouble finding twenty females with the first name Wendy in the United States, the earliest being Wendy Gram of Ohio (born in 1828).

Using the search above you can see the results for yourself.

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Any evidence the name become more popular after the book? Maybe that's the origin... –  Trufa Jun 1 '11 at 14:59
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@Trufa: Compare "Wend" and "Wendy" at Google ngram. Barrie certainly gave Wendy a kick but its use in books accelerated rather later. –  Henry Mar 26 '12 at 7:01

"Wendy" is actually short for "Gwendolyn".

This name was originally used in United States before Peter Pan was written, so "Wendy" was actually recorded before Peter Pan

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4  
+1 concise and I did not know that it was short for Gwendolyn. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 1 '11 at 9:18
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Wendy was still quite unknown before Peter Pan so Barrie may have independently created it. The book surely put the name on the map. –  webbiedave Jun 1 '11 at 23:15
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It's distinctly not always a shortening of "Gwendolyn" :) –  warren Nov 23 '11 at 15:12

Here's one source disproving the fact that the name didn't exist before Peter Pan (It's a quote from a third source, so take with some dose of skepticism :)

http://www.wendy.com/wendyweb/history.html

Mail from someone who does genealogical research shows that "Wendy" might have been in use before Peter Pan and might even have been a boy's name:

I must admit to being annoyed when I tell people my name. They always insist on mentioning Peter Pan. During my family reseach I have come across the name Wendy twice in the 1881 census of England, one born 1840, and one born in 1880. The magazine Family History also states that Wendy, along with the names Marian and Shirley were once boys names, and that in 1797 a boy named Wendy was apprenticed to some one in Glos.

It is theorized that the very-rarely-used name was derived from a Welsh name rooted in "gwen-" which means "white/dazzling/holy".

From what I have seen, there is no evidence to prove or dis-prove whether Barrie was aware of the existence of the Welsh-derived name or not; but due to its rarity pre-Peter-Pan, it is quite plausible that he was not aware and re-invented it on his own.

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"Gwen" is actually Welsh for "smile". "Gwyn" is Welsh for "white". –  billynomates Jun 1 '11 at 7:59

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