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Buttoned-up Girls’ Names

November 10, 2014 Pamela Redmond
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:

AnneWe’re all for buttoned-up, but we still prefer the minimalist Anne to the nearly-nonexistent Ann; that second vowel adds symmetry and balance.  Anne means grace and is still holding on in the middle of the popularity list, an excellent place to be.  We think Anne feels fresher than Hannah and Anna, more grownup than Annabel and Annie.

CarolineCaroline reached its popularity peak not, as you might imagine, during the Kennedy administration, but ten years ago.  Sweet Caroline hasn’t slipped much, though, still at Number 80 yet feeling timeless.

EleanorEleanor is the unlikely fashion darling of the buttoned-up set, climbing 600 places since the late 1980s.  Set to break into the Top 100, Eleanor is made trendy via its popular nickname Ellie.

Esther – The Biblical Esther was wildly popular a century ago and in recent decades has held its own, becoming neither too out nor too in, though lately its started trending gently upward.  The name has a beautiful meaning – star – and Queen Esther was a heroic figure, so the name has much to recommend it.

FrancesBesides doing many wonderful things for Catholics, the new Pope Francis has done some wonderful things for his own name, burnishing its image and propelling it into wider use.  Can he do the same for the feminine version?  Frances has actually risen more than 100 points in the polls over the past five years and now stands at Number 693.  Frances was the baby name choice of rock couple Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.

HelenHelen was almost the Number 1 name from 1900 until 1920, when it apparently gave up trying to unseat Mary and started a very long and gradual slide.  But Helen still holds on at Number 409, and if the name feels a bit fusty, you might remember that it was borne by the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy.

JudithJudith is one of those names that was so hot until it was so not, falling from its midcentury height in the Top 5 to the very bottom of the Top 1000 now.   The problem may be nickname Judy, now everyone’s favorite aunt, and the solution may be reverting to the name’s full form.  The Biblical Judith was a renowned beauty and a heroine of her people.

LouiseLouise has been off the Top 1000 for nearly a quarter century – doesn’t that mean it’s time for a comeback?  Sister name Louisa may feel more fashionable with its final a and Louisa May Alcott antecedent, but Louise is arguably chicer.

MargaretMargaret is no longer the star name it was for so many decades, yet it remains in the Top 200 without feeling at all overused.  Maybe that’s because so many Margarets are called something else: Maggie or Meg or Peggy or (today) even Maisie or Daisy.

MarthaMartha is definitely a quietly fashionable name in England, where it’s in the Top 100, though it hasn’t quite caught on again here.  After decades in the Top 25, Martha is now at its lowest point ever, Number 803.  But it sounds good again to us.

MaryMary was the most popular name for so many decades, inspired by the Mother of Jesus, that it seemed she was unassailable – till Linda came along and started the trend toward trendier girls’ names.  But Mary still ranks a respectable 121 and has so many adorable and unusual nicknames – from Mamie to May, Minnie to Polly – that there’s a variation to suit just about every taste.

Ruth – The Biblical Ruth was amazingly a Top 10 name from the 1890s all the way till 1930.  Though it seems as if you hardly ever hear of a baby called Ruth, the name has actually been holding steady for two decades in the 300s, a nice place to be.  Ruth means “compassionate friend.”

Buttoned-up dress coat by Delia Creates.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show of the same name.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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