Category: retro names
by Joan Lebow
There’s always something that rudely awakens us to the reality of age. The blank stare of the 30-something at the office when I mentioned “fiddling while Rome burns.” The moment I hesitated to use the words “pay phone” to describe a telecom job on my resume. Or simply that slightly panicky feeling I’ve felt when I’ve left home without even a tiny tube of concealer in my makeup bag.
But now the veracity of my age is starkly clear to me each day in black and white. With green trim. It comes in the Sharpie scrawl on my daily cup of Starbucks.
Wherever I go and give my name, Joan, to the cashier I almost always get back “Jone” hastily written on the side. That’s J-O-N-E. Sometimes it’s Joe, or JoAne, or Joni. Always the four letter, Mitchell version. (No flower to dot the i, like the one I added in junior high.) I’ve had Jen, Jodi, Juan and John. It happens at counters near home, in Penn Station, by my Brooklyn office, in airports and far away cities.
You probably remember a show from the eighties called The Golden Girls, which was about four “previously married” women living together in Miami. While they often seemed mismatched, the success of the show lay in the strong bonds of friendship these women shared, and is said to have been the inspiration behind many other shows and movies, including ‘Sex and the City‘ and ‘Girls‘.
Although the ladies had some great names (on and off screen), at the period when ‘The Golden Girls‘ was airing, from 1985 to 1992, people were rather unlikely to want to name their sweet babies after characters in a show about mature women, or the actors who played them. They would have seemed a little fusty in a world of Jennifers and Ashleys; Jessicas and Amandas.
These days their names have much more of an appealing retro/vintage feel, and are again finding favour with today’s parents.
Vintage names have been cool for a while now, but old school nicknames are just starting to come into their own.
The Brits have led the way on the revival of the retro nickname, with their fashionable little Alfies and Evies, Freddys and Teddys — though Teddy just might be a girl.
Using one of these new old nicknames for your child can be a way to give a fresh spin to a classic name, to distinguish a little girl from her namesake grandma, or to set your Henry apart from the five others on the block.
Here, a roundup of classic and vintage names and their old school nicknames.
Just as names move in and out of fashion so do sounds and initial letters. In the 70s and 80s, J-names ruled, from Jennifer and Jason to Jessica and Joshua, and then came the Ms –Michael, Matthew, Melissa, Megan, the Bs—Brianna, Brittany, Brandon, the Ks—Kayla, Kimberly, Kelsey, and the still continuing As and Es—Ashley, Amanda, Ava, Emily Emma.
But what did they replace? If you want proof of how an initial can fall totally out of favor, all you have to do is look at the performance record of the letter P.
In the last year counted, you have to scroll the Social Security list all the way down to #60 to find a single name beginning with that letter—the girl’s name Peyton—and for boys it isn’t until #124 that you get to Preston. When P-names were in their prime, in 1950, you would have found nine names in the Top 60—Peter, Patrick, Philip, Paul, Peggy, Phyllis, Paula, Pamela and Patricia, none of which is found in the Top 100 today.
I’m not saying Phyllis is necessarily ready for her comeback (though those boys’ names could be), but there are certainly other P-names worthy of trying to resuscitate the reputation of that lost letter. Such as:
PALOMA – Paloma is one of the loveliest options, and among the best bets for success. Meaning ‘dove’ and thus symbolizing peace, it’s both gentle and dynamic. A similarly appealing Latin name is PALMA, namesake of the charming city on the island of Majorca.
PATSY – Saucy, spunky nickname name that hasn’t been heard for so long that it’s beginning to sounds fresh.
PEARL – Definitely regaining some of its old luster.
PERSIS –A distinctive New Testament choice for the intrepid baby namer.
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: