Category: traditional girls’ names
The trendiest girls’ names of recent years have been flowery and elaborate: Isabella and Sophia, Olivia and Arianna. They end in vowels….and often begin with them too. And if they’re not exotic confections, stylish girls’ names are often gender-and-tradition-confounding novelties such as Harper and Hadley and Neveah.
Well, fewer and fewer, in many cases, yet all the frippery in girls’ names is enough to make the old-fashioned buttoned-up standards feel downright refreshing.
A few of these buttoned-up names – Eleanor, most notably – are already making a comeback. But most are simply lovely standards that may feel buttoned-up, but come with fanciful nicknames for now that can be shed (or not) if and when the future demands more seriousness.
The buttoned-up names for girls we think deserve a closer look include:
“BRAHNwyn!” he said incredulously. “BRAHNwyn?”
“Well, when you say it like that, it doesn’t sound very pretty,” I pouted.
Granted, Bronwyn was a guilty pleasure. I didn’t really expect my husband to go along with it as the given name for any daughter we might have. But must his voice take on that grating nasal edge when he said it out loud? He sounded like a goose honking.
No more than eight weeks up the duff, I was still newly pregnant when my husband and I began discussing potential baby names for our unborn child. I had just informed him that I really liked the name Bronwyn Rose for a girl, but admitted that with the last name of Alexander, I was worried about her initials spelling “bra.”
“That’s your only concern about the name Bronwyn?!” my husband asked in amazement.
I recently watched one of the seemingly countless Masterpiece Theater/BBC/theatrical versions of Jane Eyre, and I couldn’t help noticing how many times this particularly dreamy Rochester (Toby Stephens) repeated the heroine’s name, imbuing it each time with various shades of sweetness, sadness, passion, and more–and it made me fall in love with not only him but the name Jane. And to start wondering what’s become of baby-name Jane, one of the most classic girls’ names.
For a long time Jane was so popular that she became the Generic American Girl’s Name, as in Jane Doe/John Doe and G.I. Jane/G.I. Joe and the everygirl in the Dick and Jane readers. In 1935 there were 8,900 baby Janes born in this country, whereas in 2010, there were just a little over 800 in all of the U.S.
So why did Jane get shunted aside, while her male equivalents have survived and thrived? Was it because—unlike Mary and Elizabeth—she didn’t have biblical roots? Was this strong, simple name a victim of over-smooshing—too many Maryjanes and Bettyjanes and Sarajanes for it to stand alone? Was it mortally injured by the pejorative phrase Plain Jane?
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!