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Classic Baby Names: 10 timeless choices

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Classic baby names can encompass several different categories. There are Biblical names, from Anne to Zachary. There are names rooted in ancient cultures, including Atticus and Juno, which have survived or are being revived today.

And then there are the classic names that have been well-used in English-speaking cultures over the decades and centuries. While classic names by any definition do move in and out of style just like other names, some manage to endure better than others and become, well, the most classic classic names.

Here, our picks for ten of the best classic baby names today.

girls

Catherine – The Duchess formerly known as Kate has done much to swing fashion toward the C-beginning version of this most classic of girls’ names.  Catherine, classic in any spelling, has been borne by saints and queens along with some of the most inspiring literary heroines, including Heathcliff‘s Cathy of Wuthering Heights.   Greek for “pure,” Catherine comes in countless international variations and with a wide range of nicknames.  Most stylish today are Cate or Kate or the vintage-feeling Kay or Kitty.

Elizabeth – Probably the most classic of the classic baby names for girls, Elizabeth dipped out of the Top 25 only once since 1880 — in 1945 — and is back in the Top 10 now after a brief slip.  One reason for Elizabeth‘s enduring popularity: Her wide range of nicknames and variations, which carry different personalities and veer in and out of style as Elizabeth herself endures.  Betty of a century ago gave way to Beth and Betsy, then to Lisa followed by Liz and Lizzie, while today Eliza and Libby feel more fashionable — with the return of Betty on the horizon.

Jane — After a decades-long slide, not-so-plain Jane is climbing back up the charts, appealing for its simplicity and long history.  Jane is a feminization of John borne by the great author Jane Austen and the great literary heroine Jane Eyre, by queens and everywoman — the generic Jane Doe.  Fresher once again that sister names Joan and Jean, Jane makes an enduring choice.

Sarah – The Biblical Sarah has an international quality that transcends her Old Testament roots.  She can be spelled with or without the final h, varied to Sarai or Zara, shorted to Sally or Sadie or Zadie — diminutives that have a life of their own.  Sarah was in the U.S. Top 10 from the late 1970s through 2002.  While it’s now slipped to Number 39, that doesn’t diminish its classic appeal.

SophiaSophia is a current fashion darling — she’s been the Number 1 U.S. girls’ name for two years running — that has a long and august history.  Sophia appeals to a wide range of parents with its blend of beauty and brains: think Sophia Loren crossed with the goddess of wisdom.  Sofia is a Latinate spelling widely favored by Spanish-American parents, vaulting the numbers of little girls with the name even higher.

boys

Charles — The name Charles dates back to Charlemagne, and while it’s slipped in the U.S. standings in recent years, it boasts many illustrious bearers, from Charles Dickens to Charlie Chaplin, the Prince of Wales to Charles M. Schulz.  Charles may have lost some favor as short form Chuck is seriously out of style while Charlie is now used over 40 percent of the time for girls.  Unlike James, full form Charles has not become fashionable, yet its still an attractive and enduring choice.

DavidDavid is the Old Testament name of an eminently appealing hero: the brave young David who defeated Goliath and grew up to become a wise king who was a poet who enjoyed music.  What parent wouldn’t want that legacy for his or her son?  David, especially in short form Dave, is an everyman name for our times.  Contemporary Davids in the limelight include soccer star Beckham and magician Copperfield, musician Bowie and television host Letterman.

HenryHenry is a newly fashionable classic, having shaken off its Old Time-y dust in the mid-eighties when it was chosen for the young ginger-haired prince better known as HarryHenry appeals to parents who like boys’ names that combine tradition with a strong dash of quirkiness: Funkier than Edward or William, but more straight-laced than Hayden, say, or Joshua, Henry represents the best of many worlds.  Henry has serious royal history along with artistic elan, via writers Henry James, Henry Miller, and Henry David Thoreau.  There’s also sports great Henry Aaron and Thomas the Tank Engine’s pal Henry.

JamesJames is another name that appeals to parents looking to blend tradition and style.  The English variation of longtime Number 1 boys’ name Jacob, James has transcended its midcentury Jimmy image and reclaimed its proper form.  There have been more presidents named James than any other first name, and its also royal and biblical.  Attractive Jameses from Franco to Dean to Bond definitely add to the appeal of this classic.

William William may well have claimed the crown from John as the most classic boys’ name, in the Top 5 until 1950 and now back there again, perhaps thanks to the popularity of the young British prince.  Originally a German name meaning “resolute protection,” it was introduced to England by William the Conqueror and has long been a royal name there as well as a presidential choice in the U.S.  Famous Williams who add different dimensions to the name include William Shakespeare and William Faulkner, Bill Gates and Will Smith.

Do you agree that these are the ten most classic names?  What would you add or subtract?

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