Category: 19th century names
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 and first observed on May 30 of that year, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. So this year, instead of looking back again at the names of Civil War generals and such, I thought it could be more enlightening to look instead at well-known people (with interesting names) who were born in 1868—giving us a bird’s-eye view of some aspects of post-Civil War baby naming, both in America and elsewhere.
ALEEN Cust, first British female veternarian
ALMA Kruger, Shakespearean actress, later featured in Dr. Kildare movies
The boys’ names that ranked among the Top 1000 in 1880, the first year for which statistics were kept, include hundreds of choices no longer in use – or at least very rarely heard. Some of the categories of lost names overlap with the now-obscure girls’ names, while others are different.
Nickname-names, for instance, so packed with lost names for girls, include some lost choices for boys, though more of the nickname names in use in the late 19th century are still widely used today: Joe, Jack, Jake, Jim, and so on.
Those nickname names we’re not hearing much of any more but which were popular in 1880 include:
I was combing through the Top 1000 Names of 1880 the other day for another project (ah, the glamorous life of the baby name expert) and I was blown away by how many names on the list had been totally forgotten. I don’t mean just marginalized, like Ethel or Beulah, but no longer even in our naming lexicon.
We tend to think of strange, invented, unique names as being a recent phenomenon, as if in the past everybody was named John and Mary, and it’s only since 1968 that we’ve had names like Hallie and Freedom.
But in fact, naming innovations have always been a part of American culture, and examining the list for 1880 – the first year for which we have records – makes that crystal clear. The roster contains literally hundreds of names virtually unknown today.
Here, a two-part look at the lost names of 1880, starting with girls’ names.
The biggest name trend story of 1880 was nickname names – yes, dozens of the expected Minnie and Annies and Elsies (the name of the little girl in the Mary Cassatt painting that illustrates this post), but also dozen of names ending in –ie that have rarely been heard in the past hundred years. There was a notable collection of boyish nickname names such as Donnie and Vinnie and Gussie, but here are the most outrageous overall:
One of the most popular lists on nameberry is the Old Lady Cool Names: names that have been in retirement for several decades now but just might be ready for a comeback.
Antique names for both sexes are popular too, as parents search for names that are out of the ordinary yet have the backing of tradition.
Some of the quirkier old-school names — Olive, Rufus, Hazel, Edwin — have already been resuscitated by hipster parents. But what are the less obvious old gems worthy of a fresh look? We wouldn’t necessarily stake the farm (or the loft) on the comeback of the following, but parents who are both adventurous and tradition-minded may want to consider these choices: