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classic girl names

By Pamela Redmond Satran

Think you have to pick between names that are classics, with deep roots and centuries of use, and names that are unusual?

You don’t, as these classic girls’ names, all ranked below the U.S. Top 1000, attest.

Some were popular in recent years and are now sinking from view — Pamela, Jean — while others are rising stars we predict will soon appear on the official Top 1000: Imogen is a prime example, along with Mabel, the Margos, and Clementine.

That still leaves dozens of classic girls’ names that are neither coming into style nor sailing out but simply holding steady below the radar.

A note on how we chose the names: We did not include variant spellings of more popular classic names such as Emilee, and for the most part excluded short forms unless they have been traditionally used on their own.  Our definition of classic embraces ancient names such as Phaedra and Keturah along with more recent widely-used girls’ names such as Maureen.

If you’re in search of a classic girls’ name that’s both traditional and unusual, consider these 100+ picks, ordered from those given to the highest number of baby girls in the U.S. in 2012 (Aurelia, at 250) to the least (Petal, used for just 5).

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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.

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charlotte-bronte-430x247

For the past couple of years, Charlotte has been at or near the top of the list of Berry favorites, and it’s not hard to see why.  It’s a name at the very center of the Sweet Spot of names with a ton of great attributes and references—literary, historic, and royal.  She’s demure, yet solid and strong, classic but not stuffy, British with the slightest trace of a French accent–one of the very best classic girls’ names.

She has so much going for her that we thought that she deserved a whole blog to herself.

History

Like her cousin Caroline, Charlotte is a feminine form of Charles, but arrived there in a roundabout way.  Charlotte is actually the English and French version of the Italian Carlotta, itself a feminine version of Carlo, the Italian Charles, and has been in English-speaking use since the seventeenth century.  In the fifteenth century, Carlotta of Savoy married King Louis XI of France, where her name became Gallicized as Charlotte, a form which then emigrated to England during the next century.

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antonia

Too often, it can feel like all the classic baby names are too, well, ordinary, while all the under-the-radar names stay undiscovered for a reason.  But swimming beneath the Top 1000 baby names are many choices that are both classic and distinctive.We’ve brought 14 such treasures for girls’ to the surface for your consideration.  They encompass a range of styles and origins, from biblical to literary, buttoned-up to offbeat.  One might be right for your baby.

Manipulated image of Princess Antonia by Linnea-Rose

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Classic Girls’ Names: All about Alice

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With a number of classic names taking a downward turn these days, it’s nice to see that a few are going in the other direction—William, James, Charlotte –and one that we’re especially happy to see making a return: our featured name of the day, Alice.

Alice is unique among the body of traditional, classic girls’ names.  She’s more feminine and dainty than Mary and Helen, more substantive than Ann or Jane or Jean, yet with more lightness, sweetness and innocent charm than Margaret and Katharine.

From the late nineteenth century through the 1920s, Alice was an enormously popular Top 20 name–reaching as high as Number 8 several times—then slowly made its way down until 2005 when it suddenly reversed direction again.  TinFey named her baby Alice the following year, and from then on its upward trend has accelerated, with the name getting to 142nd place last year.

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