Kimberly is the transferred use of an English surname derived from a place name, Kimberley in Nottinghamshire, first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Chinemarelie”. The town of Kimberley in Norfolk was likewise recorded in the Domesday Book as “Chineburlai”. Lastly, there’s a Kimberley located in Warwickshire first recorded in the early 14th century as “Kynebaldeleye”. While you may not think any of these words even remotely bear any resemblance to Kimberly, one has to remember that the rate of illiteracy was quite high in medieval England, not to mention the radically different dialects spoken from region to region. It was basically up the scribe – how he heard and spelled the name – as he recorded it. What’s more, each of these towns have differing etymologies; although all three possess the Olde English element “cyne” meaning “royal, king”. Kimberley in Nottinghamshire is believed to have originally meant “royal and famous”; the one in Norfolk “royal-fortress meadow” and the Warwickshire one “royal and brave”. Suffice it to say that the general theme here is “royalty” as in “nobly-born”. However, it was a totally different place called Kimberley (South Africa) which would ultimately influence the usage of Kimberley as a gender-neutral given name. Diamonds were discovered in Kimberley in 1866 which prompted a diamond-rush of foreigners, exacerbating an already tenuous relationship between the British and the Boers (Dutch settlers). Kimberley, South Africa was ultimately named for John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley (Norfolk) when in 1870 he became the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The British ultimately won the war against the Dutch Boers, and the name Kimberley saw its first success as a personal name in the English-speaking world for both males and females. Today the name is considered almost exclusively female and sees most of its usage in the United States.
Kimberly first hit the U.S. female naming charts in 1946. It’s not clear what prompted its debut right at that moment, but it spent the next 10 years climbing to the Top 100 list where it has parked itself for over 50 years now. The peak of Kimberly’s came in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, she even claimed the #2 position in the country for two years in a row (1966 and 1967), beaten only by Lisa. While Kimberly is not as popular today as she was 40 years ago, the name is nonetheless holding strong. Parents looking for a lyrical three-syllable name with a sturdy “K” sound will likely find it an appealing choice. Plus, the name can be shortened to the cute “Kimmy Kakes” in her youthful days or simply to “Kim” later in life adding extra flexibility. The omnipresent celebrity Kim Kardashian has shown little impact on the popularity of this name (unlike her sisters have with their respective names). We think Kimberly’s heyday is behind her as she heads off America’s Top 100 list, but she had a great ride while she lasted.