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Category: classy names

What Are The Classiest Names?

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Names and class is a touchy issue, particularly for Americans.  In the U.S., we like to pretend that class doesn’t exist, much less get signaled by factors like names.

In Britain, the class standing of names may be more widely acknowledged, yet everywhere the question of which names are classy and which are trashy changes over time.

Take Harry, the name of one of the young princes of England.  A royal connection definitely gives a name class.  Yet for years in the U.S., Harry has been one of the ultimate working man names, its image more pauper than prince.

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If you’ve spent any time on Nameberry recently or if you get our newsletter, you’ve seen the ads for my new novel, The Possibility of You.  The story of three women at three key moments of the past century dealing with unplanned pregnancies and questions of motherhood, the book required me to spend a lot of time researching the fashion and music, home decoration and child-rearing practices of 1916.  And of course, while I was at it, I couldn’t resist digging up information about names.

One of the most fascinating sources I found was the 1916 Social Register, which listed everybody who was anybody in New York.  It took both money and social standing to get your name in the Social Register, and so it was a window into upper class naming practices at the time.

One notable trend in evidence, mostly with male names but occasionally with female ones too, was last names used in first place.  Long a practice in moneyed families looking to cement ties between fortunes, these surnames are not the faux Coopers and Parkers that rose up over the past few decades but the genuine article: wealthy Great Aunt Fanny‘s maiden name, for instance, or maternal grandfather’s surname.

Of course, if you’re interested in using a surname as a first for your child, it’s best to use one from your own family, honoring someone you love even if you don’t expect them to leave you a million bucks.  But failing that, there’s no reason you can’t steal one of these choices. If you like the whole last names as first style, these sound fresher and more interesting than Taylor or Logan.

Choices from the 1916 Social Register:

Abbot

Averell (an appealing April update)

Breevort

Bridgeham

Bronson

Caswell

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I love the day once a quarter or so that I allow myself to wallow in the London Telegraph birth announcements. Britberries regularly admonish me not to take the names in the Telegraph to mean anything about typical British baby-naming behavior: Those are names chosen by mostly upper class families, they say, and are examples of a rarefied taste.

Point taken, but I still can’t help but be struck by how different many of the names are from what you’d hear in similar stratospheres of American society: on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, say, or in Beverly Hills.

There are dozens of names that are mentioned over and over in the British birth announcements that are nowhere near as fashionable here. But they’re attractive names, traditional yet quirky, excellent choices for any American parent — or British, Australian, or Canadian one, for that matter — who wants to emulate the English upper classes.

Prime examples from the recent crop of British names:

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