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Category: old baby names

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Are you lucky enough to know the names of your great-grandparents?

I know most of them: Garrett and Elizabeth/Lizzie, Patrick and Catherine, William and Margaret, and something and Eugenia.

They were born in Ireland and Austria and Scotland and  right here in the U.S.A., and their names make a combination of classic standards and intriguing vintage names.  Plus at least one great-grandmother had an intriguing maiden name that might work as a middle: Early.  Love it.

What were your great-grandparents’ names?  Do you know anything about their names or the lives of those more distant ancestors?  Where did they come from and what did they do?  Would you name a child after them?

Here, some notable names of famous people’s fathers.

Augustine Washington

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George Washington’s father was a Virginia Colony-born tobacco planter. Augustine, the influential saint’s name, snuck back onto the 2012 Top 1000 list at Number 999, after being in limbo for decades, perhaps slip-sliding in the wake of the growing popularity of August.

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Baby Names: Once so hot, now so not

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The history of baby names is littered with former stars that burned brightly for a decade or two, only to fade from view.

It’s hard to believe, from this vantage point, that Gladys or Edna ever made the Top 20, that names such as Harold or Larry were ever popular enough to dominate an entire decade.

It’s difficult to see Irene and Albert as the Isabella and Alexander of their day, to view Tammy or Tiffany as the height of cool.

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.

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The Lost Names of 1913

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It’s a fallacy that, in the sweet old days, baby names were conventional and “normal” — children were named Mary and John or, at the outer fringes of adventurism, Ethel and Irving.

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.

The Top 1000 list of 1913 — go here to find it — is full of such unconventional baby names: Girls named Joseph and boys (lots of ‘em) named Mary, boys named Prince and girls named Queen.

Among the most popular names are choices rarely heard today — Edna and Gladys, Elmer and Floyd — along with rising stars of the baby name world such as Ruby and Hazel, Oscar and Everett.

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.

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Names Your Mom Hates

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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.

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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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