I was combing through the Top 1000 Names of 1880 the other day for another project (ah, the glamorous life of the baby name expert) and I was blown away by how many names on the list had been totally forgotten. I don’t mean just marginalized, like Ethel or Beulah, but no longer even in our naming lexicon.
We tend to think of strange, invented, unique names as being a recent phenomenon, as if in the past everybody was named John and Mary, and it’s only since 1968 that we’ve had names like Hallie and Freedom.
But in fact, naming innovations have always been a part of American culture, and examining the list for 1880 – the first year for which we have records – makes that crystal clear. The roster contains literally hundreds of names virtually unknown today.
Here, a two-part look at the lost names of 1880, starting with girls’ names.
The biggest name trend story of 1880 was nickname names – yes, dozens of the expected Minnie and Annies and Elsies (the name of the little girl in the Mary Cassatt painting that illustrates this post), but also dozen of names ending in –ie that have rarely been heard in the past hundred years. There was a notable collection of boyish nickname names such as Donnie and Vinnie and Gussie, but here are the most outrageous overall:
And then there were other short-form names not ending in the trendy –ie, but feeling like lopped-off pieces of longer names (though what exactly those longer names might be, it’s sometimes hard to guess). Here, the most obscure:
Place names that might seem like 21st century creations were also used in 1880:
And then there was a short list of word names:
Perhaps the most intriguing category of lost names are the classic choices that have fallen into disuse. Some of these are not exactly unknown – we’ve been promoting Araminta for years, for instance, and hipster mommy blogger Dooce’s daughter is named Leta – but most are quite obscure. Among the most intriguing:
ALPHA – First letter of the Greek alphabet.
ARAMINTA and ARMINTA – Old English name fallen into disuse but was used in surprising number of forms, including Arminta, Araminta, and Mintie, in 1880. Was also the birth name of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
ETNA – Classical Greek name for one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
FIDELIA – Feminine form of Latin name meaning faithful.
MAHALA – Old Testament name meaning “tender, affection.”
PARTHENIA – Ancient Greek name, related to the Parthenon, meaning chaste maiden.
And then there are the lost names that are just plain funny. R.I.P., your poor 1880 girls named: