By Abby Sandel
When it comes to classic baby names, there are two stories we like to tell. Sometimes it’s that classics have been abandoned. Time to name your baby Chicago, Koala, or True, because nobody would dare call a kid Elizabeth or James in the year 2018.
Neither of these extremes is true.
Instead, classic baby names rise and fall, just like every other kind of name. Even though we’d never call them trendy, it’s easy to see that they do trend, just as surely as Justin and Brittany, Maverick and Everly.
The new most popular baby names list reveals some of the hottest of the classics. In many ways, stylish, traditional baby names are the perfect compromise. They feel fresh and current, but they’d be equally at home in nearly any decade.
RISING CLASSIC GIRL NAMES
Eleanor – One-part legendary queen, one-part inspiring First Lady, Eleanor sounds romantic and serious, daring and capable. Eleanor rose six places to Number 35 last year. This name also proves that it often takes a century for names to cycle in and out of fashion. Way back in 1918, Eleanor ranked Number 26.
Eliza – Boosted by Hamilton’s Schuyler sister, Eliza soared 34 spots to Number 140. Originally a form of Elizabeth, today Eliza stands on its own. If you’re worried that your Elizabeth might become Ellie or Betty, naming her just Eliza sidesteps that issue, and gives your daughter a name that feels modern and traditional at once.
Frances – As gentle as Alice, as enduring as Mary, Frances rose to Number 438 this year. A decade ago, Frances ranked Number 828. It’s gained nearly 400 places over the last ten years! Like Eleanor, Frances was an early twentieth century favorite. A handful of celebrity children and a popular Pope have boosted the name, too.
Judith – Beautiful and fearless, the Biblical Judith has inspired countless parents over the centuries. Judy became a mid-century favorite, as in Garland and Jetson and Blume. But shorten Judith to Jude instead and it feels surprisingly fresh. Another reason this name climbed 45 places to Number 846? It’s the baby on The Walking Dead.
Louisa and Louise – Even before the newest prince was named, Lou– names were rising. They logically follow Lucy, Luna, and Eloise up the charts. Plus, nicknames like Lulu surely appeal to some families. Louisa jumped 75 places to Number 752; Louise gained 88 spots to reach Number 805. Back in the 1910s, Louise ranked in the Top 20, so both names could have farther to go.
Marianna – Mary Ann is still on Gilligan’s Island, a sweet name from the middle of the twentieth century. But Marianna feels richly elaborate, jumping 91 spots to Number 749. Meanwhile, Marilyn, Marie, and Mariam all fell slightly. So did Mariana – with a single ‘n’ – even though it remains more popular than Marianna – for now.
Rose, Rosalie, Roselyn, and Rosalyn – Rose has occupied the middle name spot in big numbers for years, but lately it’s getting more love as a given name. It’s up a dozen spots to Number 141. If that’s not impressive, consider that ten years ago, Rose languished in the mid-300s. Rosalie, Rosalyn, and Roselyn were all up, too – the last gaining an impressive 164 places.
Ruth – The Old Testament Ruth was known for her loyalty. The name became a Top Ten favorite at the turn of the twentieth century thanks to the birth of “Baby Ruth,” President Cleveland’s daughter. Now the name is back again, up 33 spots to Number 265. As for nicknames? Ruthie belongs on the same playground as cozy, casual favorites like Millie, Winnie, and Jack.
RISING CLASSIC BOY NAMES
Arthur – Back around 2010, Courteney Cox’s Cougar Town character mentioned this as a favorite boy’s name. A year later, Selma Blair named her son Arthur Saint. It’s climbed the popularity charts ever since, with another 28-spot jump taking this regal name to Number 244.
Francis – The real name of legendary singer Frank Sinatra, and the name of the current Pope, this former Top 100 mainstay had fallen out of the Top 500 just ten years ago. Today it’s reversed course, reaching Number 461, a gain of 20 places (and over 150 in the last decade). Based on the name’s history, it’s easy to imagine it continuing to rise.
Frederick – With longer boys’ names like Alexander and Sebastian so in favor, why not Frederick? British parents love Freddie, and there’s a heroic Harry Potter character by the name. Frederick currently stands at Number 494, a far cry from its former Top 100 status. But that’s a gain of 19 spots.
Hugh and Hugo – A Germanic name with a great meaning – heart – Hugh and the Latin form, Hugo, have been worn by saints and kings over the centuries. Straightforward Hugh has rebounded to Number 836, up sixteen places. Meanwhile, energetic Hugo reached Number 418, up a dozen spots. With Leo and other –o ending boy names so popular, Hugo almost certainly has farther to go.
Louis – Even before Will and Kate delighted the world with their new prince’s name, Louis was going places. This traditional choice rose by twelve this year; it’s gained over the last decade. Sandra Bullock welcomed son Louis Bardo in 2010; a year later, Louis Tomlinson took the world by storm as part of pop sensation One Direction. The royal baby’s arrival could push this traditional pick even higher.
Philip and Phillip – Speaking of royals, there was much speculation that a new prince might be named Philip, for his great-grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh. It didn’t come to pass, but Philip has been attracting attention ever since Pam and Angela argued over the name on The Office back in season eight. The single-L spelling rose ten places to Number 425; meanwhile, Phillip also gained ten spots, to land right behind at Number 426.
Theo and Theodore – Theo is to Theodore as Jack is to John. One is casual and modern; the other, more traditional and buttoned-down. But both the short and long forms are very much in favor today. Bright, o-ending Theo rocketed 65 spots to land at Number 289; meanwhile Theodore continued to ascend, coming in at Number 62, a twenty-spot gain.
Walter – Like Arthur, Walter comes by its –r ending naturally, a first name that fits with surname favorites like Hunter and Carter. It’s less common than William, but nearly as familiar. Now it stands at Number 265, up 37 spots. Plenty of distinguished men have answered to the name, from journalist Cronkite to poet Whitman to Walt Disney himself. Time for a new generation to join them!
Did any of your favorite classic baby names make this list?
BONUS: And here we have the nuggets Katinka unearthed from the forums last week:
• Lots of new 2017 name data nerdery! Kudos to @mccharlie for compiling this awesome preliminary list of the Top 100 combined spellings for boys 2017, and to @enthusiast for this neat list of all the new entries to the Top 1000 this year.
• It’s striking how many of the fastest-rising names for boys and girls on the latest list are either invented names or creative adaptations: think Arlowe and Westlyn, Oseias and Rhyatt. How much do you think a name’s “legitimacy” matters?
• Lots of intriguing new inspiration to be found in this longlist of i-ending names from all over the world!