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How Many Ways Can You Spell Catherine / Kathryn?

Updated on November 22, 2016
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P. Williams has a background in statistical analysis and has always been fascinated by the origins of names.

Yekaterina Alexeevna, known in English as Catherine the Great
Yekaterina Alexeevna, known in English as Catherine the Great

The classic name "Catherine" is most commonly spelled as "Catherine," "Kathryn," or "Katherine," but that doesn't mean people haven't come up with more kree8tyv spellings. In fact, with a some simple combinatorial math, you can come up with a staggering 288 different spelling variations of Catherine! In this article we also look at the meaning of the name Catherine and the most popular spellings according to US census data.

How to Count the Spelling Variants of Catherine / Kathryn with Math

If you try to count all the ways of spelling Catherine or Kathryn by writing them down, even systematically, you may miss some of the possible spellings. A simpler and more accurate way to find all the variations is to use combinatorics.

The formula is incredibly easy. Just find all the ways to write the "Cath," "er," and "ine" parts, and multiply the three numbers. In other words, the total number of plausible spellings of "Catherine" is equal to the number of ways to spell "Cath," times the number of ways to represent the "r" sound, times the number of ways to spell the unstressed last syllable "ən." The symbol ə is known as the schwa sound in English, the sound of an unstressed neutral vowel.

In the table below are all the possible spellings of the three components of Catherine. Notice that there are a lot of entries in the last column. This is because all of these syllables sound like "ən" when they are an unaccented.

Ways to Spell the "Cath" Part
Ways to Spell the "er" Part
Ways to Spell the "ine" Part
Total = 3
Total = 6
Total = 16

To come up with a spelling variation of Catherine / Kathryn, you take one element from the first column, one from the second, and one from the third. This means there are 6*3*16 = 288 different spellings of the name Kathryn or Catherine -- that could plausibly be pronounced as Catherine. Some of these are far less common than others, for example, "Khathren" or "Cathrrynd" are pretty bizarre, even by kree8tyv naming standards.

Meaning and Origin of the Name Catherine

Catherine may be derived from the Greek καθαρός (katharos), meaning pure, however it may also be derived from the ancient Greek name Αἰκατερίνα (Aikaterina) which is of uncertain origin. Some people think Aikaterina may be a derivative or corruption of the name Ἑκάτη (Hekate) the Greek goddess of sorcery and herbal knowledge. Regardless of its true origin, it is one of the oldest given names in continuous existence.

Most Common Ways of Spelling Catherine or Kathryn

According the US census and birth records data, the most popular spellings are the following:

  • (1) Katherine: Approximately 1 in every 524 women born or living in the US is named Katherine. The peak popularity of Katherine as a baby name was before 1880, again in 1945-1960, and again in 1980-1990.
  • (2) Catherine: Approximately 1 in every 562 women born or living in the US is named Catherine. The peak popularity of Catherine as a baby name was 1900-1920, and again in 1950-1960.
  • (3) Kathryn: Approximately 1 in every 727 women born or living in the US is named Kathryn. The peak popularity of Kathryn as a baby name was 1910-1920, again in 1945-1960, and again in 1980-1990.

Famous Catherines and Kathryns

  • Katharine Hepburn - American Actress
  • Catherine Deneuve - French actress
  • Katheryn Hudson - Pop singer known professionally as Katy Perry
  • Catherine Duchess of Cambridge - Aka Kate Middleton
  • Kathryn Bigelow - Academy Award-winning director
  • Catherine Keener - American actress
  • Catharine Beecher - Champion of women's education and sister of author Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Katherine Heigl - American actress
  • Catherine Blanchett - Aka Cate Blanchett, Australian actress
  • Katherine Anne Porter - American author

Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn

Diminutives, Nicknames, and Variants of Catherine

Catherine has many nicknames and variations in other languages. Some common and uncommon nicknames in English and other languages include

Kat/Cat, Kit, Cathy/Kathy, Kate/Cate, Kitty, Cath/Kath, Katie, Cather, Erin, Wren, Therrie, Cassie, Karen, Trinny, Katya, Kasia

Names related to Catherine in English and other languages include

Caitlin/Katelyn, Kathleen/Cathleen, Catriona, Cateline, Catalina, Katrina, Ekaterina, Katka, Kathe, Karen, Karina, Katrien, Katharina


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      Cathrynn 2 years ago

      Everyone always misspells my name.

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      That's Bob with one "O" 2 years ago

      Ok smarty pants, how many ways can you spell Bob?

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      Iris 2 years ago

      And then there's deciding whether to go by Kate, Katie or Kathy, and all the different ways of spelling Kate, Katie and Kathy. And if you go by Kathy, people don't know if it's short for Katherine or Kathleen. I'm glad my mom decided to name my sister after my grandmother Katherine instead of me! Everyone always has to ask how she spells it.

      There's no confusion if you're named nicknames and pretty much only one way to spell it. Unless you really want to count something weird like Iryss or Irice, and Rissie for short. I don't think that exists in real life though.

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      P Williams 2 years ago from France

      Interesting thoughts, Iris. As for Bob, I'm glad your parents choose the single-o spelling. Whether you put an extra o in the middle or at the end, it doesn't seem good, though I've met my fair share of people who can best be described as double-o'ed Bobs. The ways of spelling Bob are numerous if you allow things such as Baughbbe.

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