Classic Girls’ Names: How To Choose One That’s Truly Timeless

So you’re interested in classic girls’ names for your daughter, and at first what constitutes a classic seems pretty clear: Katherine qualifies, for instance, and so does Elizabeth.

But very quickly, as Linda and I discovered classifying names for our books, what’s classic and what’s not becomes really murky.  Anne, sure, but AnnaAnnie?  If Annie’s in, does that mean that Laurie also gets to accompany Laura?

Then recently, we hit upon a quantitative formula for choosing the classic girls’ names: We’d define that as every name that had been in the U.S. Top 1000 every single year since 1880.

We came up with 114 names, but many on the list will surprise you as much as they surprised us.  Elizabeth is there, for instance, but so are Elisabeth and EliseJenny makes the grade, but not trendier sister JenniferCaroline and even Carolyn, yes; Carol, no.

To make the roster of classic girls’ names easier to digest, we’ve divided it into groups.  If you think we misplaced anything, let us know.  You always do!

Core Classics

Variations

Nicknames and Short Forms

Biblical

More Classic Than We Gave Them Credit For

Outliers (aka Who’d ever guess these names had been on the Top 1000 for 130 years?)

Subscribe to our newsletter

* indicates required
Post Categories:

comments

52 Responses to “Classic Girls’ Names: How To Choose One That’s Truly Timeless”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Kayt Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 1:40 am

Ha! My sister and I are Amelia Margaret and Katherine Elizabeth. Nice, classic names. If we ever have a girl, we would either go for Daphne (not on the list), or Caroline. I’m shocked by Amy, Cynthia, and Priscilla!

Jenn Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 1:48 am

Frances? Really? Frances?

Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 8:20 am

Louise, please! 😀

If you’re looking for a true classic, I’d stick to the core list at the top with the additions of Sarah, Rebecca, and Cecilia. Interesting how even the classic can be subjective.

Tiana Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 9:19 am

Great list! Proof that classic doesn’t need to be boring. 🙂 My grandma’s name, Genevieve, is on the list. She’s never liked it (calls herself “Judy”), but my sister has dibs on it for a baby girl if she ever has one. 🙂

Just a thought…Johanna and Priscilla are also Bible names.

Vanessa Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Most of my favorite names are in the outliers group. I have done a lot of research on the SSA site because this has been my criteria for a girl name. Classic but not common. An antique name. I love them all compiled into one list, thanks nameberry!

Ruth Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 10:32 am

Thank you! What a great list! My name is Ruth Grace and my sister’s name is Sarah Elizabeth and my other sister’s name is Rachel(her middle name isn’t on the list though)! I love so many of these names!

Mollie Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 11:10 am

This was an excellent post – thank you!

Lisa Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 11:23 am

I saw this post and thought–“I wish this was around 5 months ago, before our daughter was born”…but then got to the outliers and saw her name. Maybe evidence that even the “outliers” have a classic feel to some of us 🙂

Brooke Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Beautiful names! Future girl’s middle name – Caroline & puppy’s name – Lucy are on the list!

I love Cecelia & Veronica too.

Julia Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

I wonder which names won’t be on here in 20 years – my guesses are Ann, Janet, Jessie, Priscilla, and Theresa.

pam Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

That’s a really good question, Julia. There are several names on here that have hung on for 130 years but, judging from the individual name graphs and overall trends, seemed destined to fall off the list in 20 years. I think you’re right about Ann, Janet, and Theresa and there are others above I’d pick too, Lorena for one.

And maybe the more important point is that there will be NO new entries to this list, so over time, there will only be deletions!

Bella Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Surprising not to see any Mary variants!

The last list is my favorite!

Julia Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Pam – I thought the same thing about Lorena (not the best namesake!) but figured that enough people in the Hispanic community will still use it.

I wouldn’t have guessed that Angelina, Regina, or Veronica (or Elsa, as mentioned) would be on this list.

KAshley Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I love love love the name Cecilia – it seems so classic and yet, no quite so common. My fear however, is that due to The Office it may spike in popularity. Does anyone have any inkling as to whether this name is becoming more popular across the country – or if the NameBerry crowd is just into it, as it seems to be praised frequently by many on this site?

pam Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

There was a technical issue and I had to take it down, but I’ll put it back up now. Thanks for reminding me!

Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Somehow I missed that this was quantitative, not qualitative. Oops!

Becca Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

My grandmas name is on the outliers list which happens to be my favorite list! lol! Her name is Lena and I really hope to use it soon!

Great topic! Thanks!

trich323 Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I’m surprised that my name (Theresa) is there, though I see that it’s close to plummeting from the charts. I’m also surprised that my daughter’s name (Eliza) is not on the list. It doesn’t seem to have fallen from the chart, though it came very, very close. And, now it’s almost as popular as it was in the 1880s!

trich323 Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Ah, I went to the ssa website to verify, and Eliza did drop off the charts for several years. The graph that’s provided on nameberry drew straight lines across the years it was gone, making it appear it hadn’t dropped off.

pam Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

I am surprised Eliza isn’t here; it feels much more durable than Elise. But it was rarely heard 30 or 40 years ago. Yes, Elisabeth, this is a quantitative list — all these names were on the girls’ top 1000 every single year since 1880. Tomorrow, the boys’ list, which is nearly twice as long!

corsue Says:

November 18th, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Bella, aren’t Marie and Maria variants of Mary? They’re on the list. I’m surprised by a lot of these names. Nina, Rosa, Regina, Irene, Cora and Nora to name a few, but I counted at least 35 that surprised me. I guess you have to look at the actual number of babies given a name during any given year to really judge its popularity. Time consuming list for another day: How many babies have actually been given each of these names since 1880? Then ranked. Thanks, this is a great list!

ElsieK Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 1:13 am

I wonder how many names there are that almost made the cut. I noticed a few that were only off the charts for one or two years. This is a really interesting list. Lots of surprises and lots of names I love

Charlotte Vera Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 3:19 am

I’m not at all surprised to see my own name up there — my parents were going for classic when they picked my own name and my siblings’ names. My daughter’s name isn’t on the list (I knew it wouldn’t be), but a couple of her nicknames are. If baby #2 is a girl her name won’t be on the list, nor will any of its nicknames or variants. It almost makes me rather sad.

Stacy Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 8:48 am

Are you sure this is actually comprehensive? My daughter is Vivian and I was surprised it wasn’t on this list… a quick glance at the SSA data makes it look like it should be, as the lowest I see it listed is in the 500s. Maybe I’m missing where it fell off for a year?’

Most of the names we liked were on this list, although some were variations of the classic. It’s a really really lovely list.

Lola Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 8:52 am

This list is right up my alley! My Grandmother’s are there Cecilia & Lillian (although she spelled it Lilian). My Mother’s name is there: Frances (oh I adore her name!), my name: Laura & my daughter’s there: Josephine.
Yeah, this list is clearly the one I mainly use! 🙂

Emmy Jo Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 10:46 am

I love so many of these names, especially Catherine, Clara, Eleanor, Miriam, Celia, and Elsa. My favorites seem pretty well split among the lists.

Just curious — why are you so surprised to see Elsa? I get such varied reactions to that name. Is there something I’m not seeing?

CountryLizB Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Stacy’s right, Vivian should be on the list.

pam Says:

November 19th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Yes, I see that and I can’t account for the oversight. Our engineer downloaded all the figures from the SSA and ran this and the boys’ list for us based on that so it should be complete and accurate. I hope that Vivian is just a one-off oversight! Especially as it’s never even dipped that low…

Emmy Jo, to me Elsa seems like a fairly ethnic name that has been out of style for quite a long time. I’m surprised that it’s remained in the Top 1000 especially through the 60s and 70s when old-style names were so out of fashion.

Elle Says:

November 20th, 2010 at 11:08 am

Such a great list! My favorite girl name, Blythe, isn’t on this list. I know it isn’t in the top 1000 right now so I figured it wouldn’t be here. It feels very vintage and classic to me but am I wrong in thinking it was at one time used for boys?

Some great names from my family tree are on this list…
Catherine, Katherine, Charlotte, Emma, Margaret, Mary (doesn’t everyone have an Aunt Mary? Haha…), Nancy, Maggie and Genevieve.

Thanks again Pam!

Tyler Says:

November 23rd, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I was wondering why Alicia is not somewhere on the list? I was checking its charts, and it has been in the Top 1,000 since 1880. Where do you it ought to be placed in the categories?

pam Says:

November 23rd, 2010 at 3:43 pm

You’re right, Tyler. Not sure why it didn’t show up. I would put it under variations.

Miriam Says:

November 24th, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I’m absolutely floored that my name made it on the list! I guess we Miriams have always been around, somewhere…

Rachel Says:

November 25th, 2010 at 1:18 am

I love Alice, but an Australian TV show (I live in Australia) has ruined it for me. My daughter Ruby’s middle name was originally meant to be Alice, but we changed it just before she was born (not because of the TV show, that started after she was born). I also love Cynthia, Mary and Charlotte (my bridesmaid’s name, so I’d never use it).

Elizabeth Says:

November 29th, 2010 at 7:36 am

I must say I was hugely surprised not to see Alexandra make the list. A quick search reveals that prior to the 1940s it was not in the top 1000 (withthe exception of a brief appearance around 1915). Curious to know what NameBerry thinks of this.

paige Says:

December 1st, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Classic names have always been my favorite. Claire and Charlotte are both favorites, but for as long as I can remember Catherine Elizabeth has been the name picked out for my first daughter. Future Princess Kate Middleton happens to have the same name. I was devastated to learn this. The girl is great, really, but I cannot name a child after the UK’s biggest celebrity in my lifetime. Claire Elizabeth, Charlotte Elise, and Ilsa/Elsa Catherine are now on the short list.
Loved this blog!!

lo Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I thought it was interesting that my daughter’s name Katharine just fell out of the top 1000 in 2007.

Kathryn Says:

December 7th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Paige, there are tons of Catherine Elizabeths in the world (Elizabeth is one of the most popular middle names!). It’s a very common combination, and few will think of the future princess. If you love it, use it.

felicity Says:

March 9th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

i am felicity elizabeth my daughters are rachael hannah and francesca elizabeth i am dus in 10 wks and dont knw wot im having have got my boys name but not my girls name yet Robert stephen noel if it is a boy

Laura Says:

March 15th, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Hope missed by one year! And so odd that the year before and afterwards Hope is in the 500s and 600s–1888 was an abberation!

Tori Says:

May 17th, 2011 at 4:53 pm

That was a very intersting read!
From the core classics I loved:-
Alice
Caroline
Catherine/Katherine
Charlotte
Elizabeth
Grace
Jane
Margaret
Rose
Victoria (it’s my name)
From the variations I loved:-
Anna
Clara
From the nicknames and short forms I loved:-
Kate
From the biblical list I loved:-
Esther
Lydia
Martha
Naomi
Rachel
Ruth
From the ‘more classics than we gave them credit for I loved:-
Amelia
Angelina
Audrey
Evelyn
Isabel
Madeline
Sophia
Lastly from the outliers I loved:-
Bridget
Cecilia
Cora
Genevieve
Lillian
Such beautiful names!

Sadie Says:

July 14th, 2011 at 9:33 am

What about Sarah?

Sadie Says:

July 14th, 2011 at 9:36 am

oops missed it!

catmcroy Says:

September 22nd, 2011 at 2:55 am

Sapphira is also a Biblical name 😉 Paul mentions her somewhere in the New Testament. Damaris is another Biblical name I’ve always loved. And Eve!

For classics I’d include Maud, Mat(h)ilda (it was my great-grandmother Tillie’s full name), Philippa (Pippa – the Browning poem) and Beatrix/Beatrice.

Classic Girls’ Names: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

November 17th, 2011 at 1:18 am

[…] I recently watched one of the seemingly countless Masterpiece Theater/BBC/theatrical versions of Jane Eyre, and I couldn’t help noticing how many times this particularly dreamy Rochester (Toby Stephens) repeated the heroine’s name, imbuing it each time with various shades of sweetness, sadness, passion, and more–and it made me fall in love with not only him but the name Jane.  And to start wondering what’s become of baby-name Jane, one of the most classic girls’ names. […]

loraena Says:

April 5th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I’m shocked that Lorena is here – I consider that my name even through my parents gave me a unique spelling. I’ve only ever met two people with my name in my life (in my 30s now).

I know the categories do overlap a good bit, but Elizabeth is a Biblical name also.

esrever88 Says:

May 14th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

2011 list is out, and Lorena and Theresa are off the list – Ann’s #996, she just barely made the cut, and Janet’s not far behind at #951. Edith has gone up, though!

samjaymc Says:

June 11th, 2012 at 4:33 am

Also, Eliza has shot up! Yes!

grammie Says:

July 21st, 2012 at 8:12 am

FRANCES is a beautiful classic name. What kind of name is JENN?

NataleeMJohnson Says:

August 14th, 2012 at 8:55 pm

My (REAL) name (Lucia), my older sister’s name (Catherine), and my little sister’s name (Sophia) are all on here. Surprising!

HerMajesty Says:

December 9th, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Hehe, my names here!

SavvyG2 Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Veronica is biblical too. Also, I agree with Elizabeth that it’s surprising that Alexandra isn’t on the list.

Addie88 Says:

July 24th, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Wonderful list. All my girls’ choices in one place.

leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.