Category: old baby names
The history of baby names is littered with former stars that burned brightly for a decade or two, only to fade from view.
Many of these once-hot names are lovely, even classic. They’re just not as stylish as they once were (although some, especially from the earlier decades, are on their way back in).
We looked at the Top 25 baby names for each decade of the 20th century to pick out choices that were hot back them, and are not today. Included here are Old People Names like Bertha and Clarence, Baby Boomer names such as Karen and Gary, today’s mom and dad names such as Jennifer and Jason, and names like Taylor and Tyler that are beginning to be heard much more often on babysitters than on babies.
The truth is that a century ago there were scores of invented names, names with kreeative spellings, surnames and words turned first names, gender crossovers, and trendy choices that were there today and gone — very very gone — tomorrow.
And then down toward the bottom of the Top 1000, below such oddities to our ears as Milburn and Mafalda, are names that seem eminently “normal,” even cool, in the modern world like Lilah and Reid, Lexie and Reese.
A while back we did a blog called Not Your Mother’s Baby Names, about names that fail to bridge the gender gap. That post focused on newly-minted names that the older generations may not get, but those aren’t the only kinds of names that don’t translate across the generations.
Mom may have liked perky cheerleader names — Kerry, Missy — while you prefer serious Biblical names — Abraham and Lydia. Time-honored choices such as August and Imogen that sound classic and handsome to you may feel hopelessly dowdy to her.
The fact is, each generation tends to reinvent baby names anew, gravitating to new choices and new tastes in names. It’s how we make our name choices our own — but by definition, that may mean that Mom (and Dad and Grandma and Aunt Sue) fails to like or understand them.
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:
I was in Williamsburg, Virginia not too long ago, where there was a wonderful show of folk art portraits at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum. I was transfixed by the art, of course, but even more transfixed by the colonial names.
These are names that are mostly rooted in the bible or mythology, but that you just don’t hear much in the modern world.
But that doesn’t mean that many of these colonial names aren’t ripe for revival. A few of the colonial names on this list — notably Mercy, Augustine, and Susannah — are being rediscovered by today’s parents.
The others, well, are they undiscovered gems or mere curiosities? What do you think?
This collection is simply based on the (real) 18th century people pictured in the portrait show.
- Burneretta — This is not a literally unique name — a few others are findable online — but seems to be an invention.
- Debrah — Interesting to see that Deborah had spelling variations 300 years ago.
- Delia — An old-fashioned name with a sleek modern feeling (like Celia), Delia can also be short for Adelia or Cordelia.
- Dorothea — Coming back along with brother Theodore.