Category: traditional baby names
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. Tina Fey 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.
In this era of boys’ or at least boyish names for girls, feminizations — classic feminine forms of male names such as Charlotte and Georgia — seem almost quaint. Why not just name your daughter Charlie….or George?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. And choosing a more traditional feminization can give you the best of all name worlds. Most are distinctly female without being frilly, have deep roots yet feel right for the contemporary world, let you honor a male ancestor without creating any confusion about the gender of his little namesake.
There are so many great feminine forms that it was difficult narrowing the list down to just a dozen. But these are our current favorites:
Antonia – Antonia is a lush and gorgeous name that has not found favor the way sisters Charlotte and Georgia have. In fact, it fell off the US Top 1000 in 2007 — which may be a very good reason to use it now. While some may find it too Old World, we think it’s lovely in its full form, not shortened to the considerably less classy Toni or Tonia.
We’ve talked a lot about Shakespearean literary names and characters in Dickens and Jane Austen, but we’ve overlooked three of the best namers in literary history—the sisters Brontë. We love their own names—Charlotte, Emily and Anne, and we love their initial-appropriate male pen names—Currer, Ellis and Acton. We even love their surname, which a number of parents have chosen for their daughters.
But it is the particularly rich cast of character names in their novels that we love the most. One of them, in fact, had a considerable effect on baby naming of its era. Though it’s long been said that it was Shirley Temple who promoted her given name in the 1930s, she wasn’t the first. In Charlotte Brontë’ second novel, following Jane Eyre, the protagonist of Shirley was given that name because her father had anticipated a boy, and Shirley was a distinctively male name at the time. The novel’s Father Keeldar made a gender switch that has proven to be permanent.
See lots more classic girls’ names.
But very quickly, as Linda and I discovered classifying names for our books, what’s classic and what’s not becomes really murky. Anne, sure, but Anna? Annie? If Annie’s in, does that mean that Laurie also gets to accompany Laura?
Then recently, we hit upon a quantitative formula for choosing the classic girls’ names: We’d define that as every name that had been in the U.S. Top 1000 every single year since 1880.
We came up with 114 names, but many on the list will surprise you as much as they surprised us. Elizabeth is there, for instance, but so are Elisabeth and Elise. Jenny makes the grade, but not trendier sister Jennifer. Caroline and even Carolyn, yes; Carol, no.
To make the roster of classic girls’ names easier to digest, we’ve divided it into groups. If you think we misplaced anything, let us know. You always do!
Once more this year the list of most popular names—particularly for girls—is vowel –heavy, with six of the top ten names starting with A, E, I or O, and five more filling out the top twenty.
As a result, naturally, there are fewer consonant-starters visible, some letters practically non-existent. One of these is F, with only a single representative, Faith, in the top 100, and a grand total of nine girls’ names out of the whole list of top 1000.
If we look back a century—testing the 100-year rule–it was a very different story, with 31 girls’ and 34 boys’ names starting with this initial. Several of them were versions of the same name (variant spellings are nothing new!); for instance, Freda, Frieda, Freida and Freeda all made the list—but not the current Kahlo-influenced Frida. Florence—no longer visible on today’s list–was represented in 1910 by Florance, Flora, Flossie, Flo, Florrie and Florene, and Frances (which hangs on at #802 today, with Francesca at 470) showed up in such variations as Fannie, Fanny, Francis, Francisca and Frankie, and there were three spellings of Fay/Faye/Fae.