Dimity is a type of corded fabric, which since the 18th century has been made with cotton. The name was applied to two different types of corded cotton – one a heavy material used for bedcovers and curtains, and the other a lightweight, sheer fabric, often white with gingham checks, used for women’s dresses, skirts, blouses and lingerie. People usually think of the second meaning when they talk about dimity. The word comes from the medieval Latin dimitum, derived from the Greek dimitos, meaning “double thread”.
There is a great daintiness and femininity to the fabric, but at the same time it is surprisingly tough because of its double weave. These days, dimity is often part of vintage fashion and considered a lovely “old-fashioned” textile.
Its image in the past was twofold. On the one hand, it was seen as very ladylike and respectable, so that in her diaries, the novelist Virginia Woolf used the word in the sense of “niminy-piminy”, to indicate an overly refined and fussy femininity. On the other, it had rather a saucy side, because in Victorian tableau vivants of an erotic nature, the women wore body stockings and were draped in see-through dimity to preserve their modesty.
Information on the history of Dimity as a girl’s name is rather thin, but it seems to be much more common in Britain and Australian than elsewhere, and to be a name from the 20th century. The earliest Dimity I could find in the records dates to World War I, with an apparent peak in the years after World War II, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.
Although the name can be found in records from the United States, it’s a bit confusing, because there the name seems to have been used as a short form of the Russian name Dimitrya. I can’t even tell if the women were actually called Dimity in real life, or if this is used as a shorthand for Dimitrya by the people writing the records. So although the English name Dimity might have a history of use in the US, it is not possible for me to be sure.
The whimsical and lightly tripping sound of the name Dimity has made it very suitable for fiction, with Australian children’s author Bob Graham penning Dimity Dumpty, about the sister of Humpty Dumpty, and American children’s author Jane Yolen writing of Dimity Duck, the friend of Frumity Frog.
Another American author, Nancy Atherton, has an entire series about an Aunt Dimity who manages to solve mysteries from beyond the grave. Interestingly, Ms Atherton’s novels are set in Britain rather than her homeland, and she also has to explain to her readers how to pronounce the name Dimity (DIM-uh-tee). This lends weight to the notion that the name Dimity is less familiar in the United States.
I get the impression that in times past, Dimity was seen as rather upper-class, and like Verity, had the image of being a Head Girl/Debating Team Captain/Pony Club Champion sort of a name. These days I think it seems much more accessible, with the number of successful women named Dimity in the public eye giving it greater exposure. I suspect that the popularity of the similar-sounding Trinity may also broaden its appeal.
Famous namesakes include news reporter Dimity Clancey, opera singer Dimity Shepherd, ballerina Dimity Azoury, violinist Dimity Hall, United Nations Women Australia board member Dimity Hodge, and speech pathologist Dr Dimity Dornan, who has been honoured for her lifetime working with deaf and hearing-impaired children. There seems to be many successful women called Dimity, considering that the name is apparently quite rare.
Dimity is a dainty, feminine name with a hint of whimsy, but not one to be underestimated. Like the fabric it is named after, there is a strength to delicate Dimity. Although it is an uncommon name, it isn’t unfamiliar in Australia, and has many high-achieving namesakes.
Thank you to Brooke for suggesting Dimity as a featured name.
POLL RESULT: Dimity received an approval rating of 69%. People saw it as poetic and whimsical (20%), delightful (19%), delicate but strong (15%) and dainty and demure (10%). However, its detractors thought it was too odd and eccentric (10%), or even “frightful” (8%). Nobody thought Dimity was a lower-class name.
(Picture is of a 1930s-style white dimity dress)