TRAVERSE CITY — First there was Elizabeth. Then there was Betty. And finally, there were Betti and Bettie.
Now the once-popular name has all but died out, causing Betty Club numbers around the country to dwindle.
“We’re down to about 12 and maybe eight are regulars,” said Betty Plough, 78, organizer of the Bettys by the Bay in Traverse City. “I have not seen a baby named Betty in I can’t tell you how long. And I’m one of the youngest in the group.”
Plough is looking to boost her club’s numbers and is counting on all Bettys — and Elizabeths nicknamed Betty — to answer the call. Members get together monthly to lunch at area restaurants and to talk about ... well, whatever comes up.
“The one thing we have in common is the name and that’s about it,” said Plough, a medical transcriptionist who was named after one of her mother’s best friends. “The waitresses always get a charge out of it. They’ll come over to the table and say, ‘What’s your club?’ and I’ll say, ‘We’re all named Betty.’ And they’ll say, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Betty came into vogue In the 1920s and ‘30s, when it was the fourth and second most popular name respectively, according to census records. By the 1950s it had slipped to number 35. And by the 1960s, it didn’t even qualify for the list of top 100,000 female names — though Betti with an “i” did. So did Bettyann, Bettyjean, Bettylou and Bettyjo.
Plough, whose mascot is the cartoon character Betty Boop, likes her moniker but acknowledges that these days “it’s just not a catchy name.”
“You’ve got all the Jordans and Megans,” she said — not to mention the Apples and Sages and Suris and Tullulahs. “Betty is kind of an ‘eh’ name.”
Betty VanRiper is really an Elizabeth but was allowed to join the club because of her nickname.
“My mother named me Elizabeth because she said she just didn’t want people calling me lizzy,” said VanRiper, whose great-great-grandmother also was an Elizabeth. “So instead I’m called Betty. I’m very comfortable with that. I feel more like a Betty than an Elizabeth.”
VanRiper was born in 1935, during the decade when Betty reached its peak in popularity. As a result, she said, she palled around with two other Bettys in her neighborhood — both on her block.
Betty Koons shared her name with three other Bettys in her high school graduating class of 1947. Growing up, she was habitually asked whether she was a Betty or an Elizabeth, she said. But that beat being called “Betty Jean” by her mother’s Sourthern relatives.
“Those Southerners are big on two names,” said Koons, whose family eventually settled in Michigan. “So I was just as happy to go back to Betty.”
Koons said she joined the Bettys by the Bay because it sounded interesting and like another way to get to know people. Members don’t pay dues or travel to Betty Conventions, Plough said.
And while socializing in groups can offer trigger anxieties, the club strips away one of the most common fears.
“I don’t have to remember each other’s name,” Van Riper said.
To learn more about the group, call Plough at 633-6068.