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The 80-Year-Rule: Which 1930s names will come back first?

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1930sad

by Angela Mastrodonato of Upswing Baby Names

There’s a theory that baby names come back in style about every 80-100 years. Names that come back in style after 80-100 years are often called vintage or revival names.

Based on that theory, baby names from the 1930s (about 80 years from time of writing) should be the next wave of vintage revival names, poised to appear on monogrammed nursery accessories within the next 10-30 years.

But here’s the thing: the biggest revival names aren’t usually the mega-hit top 10 names from 80-100 years ago. The biggest revival names are usually the names that were moderately popular the first time around.

A perfect example of the 80-100 year rule is 2012’s top girl name, Sophia. Sophia had been somewhat popular over a century ago and then gradually declined, only to turn around in the 1990s when it rapidly climbed the Social Security list. However, Sophia is a lot more popular now than it was during its first peak back in 1882 at #116.

Based on that knowledge I set out to find names from the 1930s that weren’t always super common top 10 names, but rather names that peaked during that time and seem to represent the style of the decade.

Summarizing the decade’s style is challenging because fashions were in a state of flux at the time. As the provocative dress of the 1920s flappers was replaced by more sensible depression era attire, homespun names of the early 20th century such Emily, Ruby, and Sophie were stepping aside for Betty and Sally.

Feminized versions of popular boy names were also coming into fashion. Think of Geraldine and Roberta.

1930s name can be described as a mix of elegant / refined names such as Franklin, Marilyn and Sylvia, boyish nicknames such as Billie, Patsy, and Robbie, and (by 21st century standards) geek-chic names, such as Doyle, Gilbert and Norman.

Some of the names on this list didn’t even make the top 500 in the 1930’s but these names all peaked around that time.

Boys
Boyce
Donald
Doyle
Franklin
Gene
Gerald
Gilbert
Huey
Kenneth
Marlin
Marvin
Norman
Sheldon

Girls
Arlene
Betty
Beverly
Delores
Geraldine
Greta
Joan
Joyce
Lois
Marilyn
Marlene
Norma
Peggy
Phyllis
Roberta
Ramona
Sally
Shirley
Sylvia

Unisex
Arden
Billie
Patsy
Robbie
Rudy
Tommie

These names were picked because they are very uncommon now, making them unexpected on modern babies and prime revival candidates. A few of these names, such as Betty and Joan, went from top 5 status to not even the top 1000 in the course of 80 years. The only name still in the top 200 is Kenneth.

Perhaps many modern parents have a hard time imagining what their great-grandparents saw in these names. However names that were once ridiculed become revered and vice-versa–often in the matter of a few short years.

One of the first names to come back on this list might be Marilyn. Marilyn was one of the biggest climbing names of 2012, rising 119 places from #545 to #426.

Besides Marilyn, which names on this list do you feel have the best comeback potential?

Will the 80-100 year rule still be in practice in 15-30 years?
Revised for Nameberry from UBN article Name Inspiration: The Funky, Eclectic, 1930’s.

Angela created Upswing Baby Names to help parents find that different but not too different name. She muses about names on their way in and on their way out in her book, The Top 22 in 2022.

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About the author

upswingbabynames

Angela Mastrodonato created Upswing Baby Names to celebrate names on the upswing. She is a big-time name watcher, and has a growing list of names she watches by tracking their popularity each year. Sign up here to get your copy of this Watch List.
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