Category: vintage girls’ names
“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.
We’ve all pretty much on board with the Hundred Year Rule that says it usually takes a full century for a name to shake off its musty image and start to sound fresh again. Which is why so many turn-of-the-last-century names have returned, names we don’t associate with any older person we have actually known–those belonging to the great-great or great-great-great grand generation–all those lacy girls’ names like Amelia and Matilda and Clementine that now sound so appealing.
But what about the girls’ names of the generations that followed those in the first half of the twentieth century? Most of them are much more simple and matter of fact, often two syllables rather than three or four, feminine rather than feminissima. These would be the names of our grandmothers and great-aunts and mothers-in-law—the older women in our lives.
Though there are some exceptions, such as the relatively recently revived Sylvias, Audreys, Lillians and Evelyns, and starbabies like Julia Roberts’ Hazel and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Marion—most of these examples that were mega-popular from the twenties to the sixties have been consigned to onomastic limbo.
Our question today is: Are any of them ready to be sprung?
If you’re wondering about the origins of the term, it dates back to Florodora, one of the first big Broadway musical hits of the twentieth century—it opened in 1900– and the term came to symbolize a kind of saucy, high-kicking, wasp-waisted show gal who might well have been named Flora or Dora—or Cora or Nora—all names then near the height of their popularity.
In 1900, Flora was Number 106 on the list, Dora, 79, Cora 55, and Nora 83, but their rankings would experience somewhat disparate trajectories. While all four peaked in the 1880s, it was only Nora, with her more classic feel, that would maintain respectable numbers throughout the succeeding decades–Flora was the first to vanish completely, in 1972.
But while these names appear to share such a strong family resemblance, they actually have quite different résumés.
CORA. Though Cora‘s roots go back to the ancient Greek — the word kore, meaning ‘girl, maiden’–and it was a title given to Persephone, goddess of springtime, the modern introduction of Cora to the English-speaking world is credited to James Fenimore Cooper and his creation of Cora Munro, the spirited heroine of his 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. Today, Cora is most visibly tied to the American-born Right Hono(u)rable Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. And the sweet, old-fashioned Cora is now at Number 276, the highest it’s been since 1949, with the expanded Coralie getting some love as well.
It’s astonishing to think that Hattie – just Hattie, all by itself, not Harriet — was Number 27 in 1880, until you realize that many other short forms were among the top choices that year. Minnie was all the way up at Number 5, Annie was Number 11, Nellie, 18, and Bessie, 23. Other nicknames for girls in the Top 50 included Carrie, Jennie, Mattie, Jessie, and Fannie (and obviously, the ie ending was the popular one).
Old Man Names are the new Old Lady Names.
They’re the next frontier of vintage names, we mean. Old lady names — from Beatrice to Violet, Florence to Eleanor — have been mostly cool and rarely crusty for several years now. As with other fashionable categories — Old Testament names for boys, say, or Irish names — parents seem to push continuously into new and braver territory, stopping just this side of Bertha.
But old man names have been a different story. Sure, you’d get a girl cutely called Sydney, or a boy named Harold the III — but always called Tripp. And Harvey and Stanley are very trendy in England — though Americans find that totally baffling.
Now, though, we think it’s time to take a fresh look at old man names. For boys, of course, and yeah, even sometimes for girls.
The first tier of Old Man Names are the Grandpa Names, some of them Biblical, that have become popular and have paved the way for their crustier brothers. In this group we’d include: