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Classic Baby Names: Where do they stand?

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This week, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel looks at the “quiet” classic baby names  and measures how they stand in the new popularity ratings. 

 There were dozens of stories in the baby name news last week, but they all shared a common theme: the Social Security Administration’s release of the 2012 baby name data

We talked about Titan and Briggs, Landry and Geraldine.  About how Jacob remained number one, but only if you didn’t tally up the many spellings of Aiden, Jackson, and Jayden.  Television’s influence was clear – Arya and Aria, Litzy, Major, and Jase.  Movies, sports, and music shaped our choices, too, as did faith.  Nevaeh’s little brother might just be called Messiah.

But what about the quiet classics, the names that rise and fall, but still appear in nearly every generation?  Hemlines change.  We graduated from the party line to the iPhone, the horse to the Prius.  And yet these names remain, worn by men and women, boys and girls of every age.

True, some classics are on the decline, from former #1s Mary and John, to Peter and Katherine, Edward and Laura.

Yet there were plenty that we embraced, too.  Here are nine boys’ names and nine girls’ names that all saw more use in 2012 – but would be at home in any era.

CLASSIC BABY NAMES FOR GIRLS

Elizabeth – She’s back in the US Top 10.  This Biblical staple never strayed far – she ranked #11 last year, and has been in the Top Ten more years than she’s been out.  Perhaps we love her for her incredible versatility.  Is there a name with more nickname possibilities?

Eleanor – This royal, literary choice jumped from #150 to #135.  Short forms Ella and Ellie are very much in vogue, while Eleanor feels timeless.

MargaretClimbing from #185 to #178, she has much in common with fellow classics Elizabeth and Eleanor.  And with so many little girls answering to Maddie, isn’t it refreshing to meet a Maggie?

Anna Anne and Ann inhabit the upper reaches of the list, but Anna went from #38 to #35.  Downton Abbey influence, maybe?

Caroline – She brings to mind the Kennedy family, as well as the Neil Diamond song.  Her –line ending stirs pronunciation debates, but despite that, Caroline rose from #87 to #80.  While she’s eclipsed by fellow Charles feminine form Charlotte – now at #19 – I’ll admit a preference for Caroline.

Alice Tina Fey’s firstborn and Lewis Carroll’s heroine, I’ve been tempted to call Alice trendy.  But how can a name so rich in history be anything but a classic?  She charted at #127 in 2011, up from #142.

Beatrice – She’s a perpetual name nerd favorite, but she’s still surprisingly rare.  At just #691 in 2012, Beatrice improved her ranking slightly from #701.  Still, she’s a former Top 100 name, so this saintly, regal, literary appellation seems like a classic likely to come back.

Miriam – Once upon a time, Miriam was your babysitter’s mom – definitely from another generation.  But nicknames Miri and Mimi make her feel current today, and she’s up from #336 to #314.  Actually, Miriam has hovered between 250 and 350 since the 1940s.  Perhaps she’s not catching on as much as she’s remaining in steady use.

Jane Ah, but Jane is catching on, staging a comeback thanks in part to Mad Men, though I always think of Jane Austen, Lady Jane Grey and Sweet Jane first.  Jane gained, going from #368 to #340.

CLASSIC BABY NAMES FOR BOYS

Charles – He inched from #62 to #61.  That’s not much of a move, and yet Charles feels like a classic especially at home in 2013.  Maybe it is friendly short form Charlie, or maybe it is a mix of the many famous Charles – from monarchs to the creator of Peanuts to Charles Dickens and beyond.

Henry – A stalwart classic who manages to be fashionable, too, Henry is up from #57 to #43.  He’s a favorite of mine, and a Hollywood baby name staple.  Minnie Driver and Heidi Klum are just two famous moms who have embraced the name.

Theodore – He climbed from #230 to #197, buoyed by Theo, an on-trend diminutive, an alternative to Leo.  He’s a brother for the equally ancient Alexander – or maybe a substitute.  Another similar choice is Benjamin, up from #19 to #16.

Patrick Patrick went from #143 to #142.  It’s not much of a gain, and the potential nickname Pat still gives parents pause.  But he remains a handsome Irish classic far more timeless than Brady or Aiden.

Joseph – The classic J name that everyone loves is James, but let’s not overlook fellow saints’ name Joseph.  He rose from #22 to #20.  Joseph is a classic, while Joe feels cheerful and a little bit retro.

Phillip – Here’s a surprise!  Phillip went from #378 to #350.  Was it all that talk about Pippa Middleton during the royal wedding?  An affection for Philip Seymour Hoffman?  Or is Phillip just the kind of classic appellation that never falls too far out of favor, a brother for Miriam?

Matthew – Strictly speaking, Matthew held steady at #12.  But there was a slight uptick in the percentage of boys receiving the #12 name in 2012.  I can’t resist thinking that Matthew, like Anna, was boosted by Downton Abbey. 

Louis Sandra Bullock revived this classic for her son in 2010.  Now he’s up from #332 to #312.  Besides the celebrity connection, Louis brings to mind New Orleans and all of those great Lu- names, like Lucy and Luna.

Francis – Before this name made headlines from Rome, Francis was already on the upswing, jumping from #617 to #593.  In previous generations, Francis was almost always shortened to Frank.  (Think Sinatra and Valli.)  Today, I suspect most of those boys will answer to Francis.

Which classic baby names are your favorites?  Are they gaining in popularity, falling out of favor, or holding steady?  Would you hesitate to use Elizabeth, Joseph, or another classic name that was very popular?

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