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Buttoned-up Girls’ Names

classic girls' names

by Pamela Redmond Satran

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.

You can almost hear your granny asking: What ever happened to a nice name like AnneAren’t any babies named Mary these days?

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.

Supreme Court Justice names, anyone?

The buttoned-up names for girls we think deserve a closer look include:

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janeg.

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?

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classicgirldress

See lots more classic girls’ names.

 

So you’re interested in classic girls’ names for your daughter, and at first what constitutes a classic seems pretty clear: Katherine qualifies, for instance, and so does Elizabeth.

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 AnnaAnnie?  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 EliseJenny makes the grade, but not trendier sister JenniferCaroline 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!

Core Classics

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