Classic Baby Names: New twists on old standards

With this week’s Nameberry 9, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel shows how it’s possible to add new spark to classic names.

I love an unexpected nickname, and it is a delight when parents choose classic baby names with spark.  This week’s name news was filled with great examples.

The Bush family is big on passing down heirlooms, from father to son, but also across generations.  Former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager wears her maternal grandmother’s name, and upheld that tradition with her new arrival. 

But Jenna went one step further: she figured out a clever way to use both grandmothers’ names while adding an on-trend nickname that gives the new baby an identity all her own.

Classic names are always open to reinvention.  Whether we’re claiming them from other languages and cultural traditions, discovering fresh nicknames, or just thinking about different ways to honor loved ones, the possibilities are limitless.

This was also the week when crooner Michael Buble complained that his gorgeous Argentine model wife Luisana Lopilato keeps suggesting names that just don’t work in English.  Something tells me that they’ll manage just fine, and Luisana, the Nameberry forums are a great place to test out cross-cultural possibilities.

This week’s name news was all about fresh takes on traditional choices:

YaelLet’s start out with a name nerd bonus.  Did you see the BushHager family snapshot shared on The Today Show?  If you look at the white board in the background, not only does it read Mila, but the name of the assigned nurse is there, too.  It’s Yael, an Old Testament rarity.  The Biblical Yael was a heroine who conspired to kill the head of an invading army.  It’s a fierce, seldom heard name and a surprise to see in 2013.

Margaret Laura – The newest member of the Bush dynasty is named after both grandmothers.  In our age of Eleanor and Beatrice, isn’t it surprising that a classic baby name like Margaret isn’t more popular?    

Mila – The actress born Margaret Julia Thomas became Marlo.  Theodosia Burr Goodman was best known as Theda Bara.  Contracting classic names and playing with their sounds can yield a world of possibilities.  Taking Margaret’s M and the la from Laura leads to Mila, the on-trend name of the moment.  She’s a successor to Mia, cousin to Lila and Lily, and boosted by actress Mila Kunis.  Even before the latest headline-worthy arrival, Mila was on the rise.

GretaThe only reason I’m not completely in love with Mila?  Margaret’s other potential nicknames are equally appealing.  There’s Daisy, Maggie, Margot, and this one, too.  I heard it on the roster at my kids’ school earlier this week, and on the Nameberry forums, and it really does wear nicely.

Elsa – Another spin on a classic, Elsa is a short form of Elizabeth.  She’s more sophisticated than Elsie and less expected than Eliza or Elise.  It could be the perfect way to honor an Elizabeth.  And unlike most of the options, she’s not even in the US Top 1000.  It’s a nice suggestion from Swistle to pair with big brother Oliver.

Gracie Willow – This one comes to us from an Australian birth announcement from National Rugby League player Sam Thaiday and wife Rachel.  The couple went with the casual form of Grace, a homespun spin on the elegant virtue name.  From the British Alfie to the American Cole, short forms of classic baby names are taking center stage.  As Waltzing More than Matilda mentioned, the couple initially threatened to name their baby girl Wednesday Thursday Thaiday.  Gracie Willow was definitely the better choice!

Anne In Name Only featured Anne, inspired by tweenage heartthrob Justin Bieber’s awkward tour of Anne Frank’s house.  The spare Anne is fading, even while other tailored choices like Grace and Jane are experiencing a revival.  Anne smooshes are stylish, too – think of Annabelle and Anneliese.  Can Anne still stand on her own in 2013?

Peterson – This idea at Swistle is another smart way to update a family name: use –son literally.  If dad is David, instead of David, Jr., why not consider Davidson?  It won’t work for every name, but a long list of possibilities emerge: Williamson, Michaelson, Dennison, Robertson, and yes, Peterson.

Sebastian – Now that he’s a Top 100 staple, it is hard to imagine that Sebastian was once unusual in the US.  But he’s a bona fide classic, a name with rich history that seems so obvious now.  It’s also the name that Malin Akerman and Robert Zincone gave to their new son.  Which reminds me – could Malin catch on for girls?  The Swedish-Canadian actress’ name is a contracted form of Magdalene, used in Scandinavia – making her an unexpected cousin to Madeline and a perfect fit for this list.

What are your favorite classic baby names?  Are there any twists that you especially like?

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22 Responses to “Classic Baby Names: New twists on old standards”

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sarahmezz Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 12:18 am

So many gorgeous names this week! I love all of them, especially Margaret and all her fabulous nicknames, especially Greta. My cousin actually named her young daughter Elsa Margaret, which I think is gorgeous. At the moment, I’m loving Margaret Beatrix.

roseymaam Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 12:26 am

I adore Yael. I’m glad to see it here. I also really love Greta.

WaltzingMoreThanMatilda Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 3:43 am

Such pretty names!

I am seeing more and more Margarets in the papers … it does seem like a name that would go nicely with Beatrice and Eleanor.

Elsa is lovely; there just doesn’t seem an end to the Elizabeth spin-offs.

Anne is my mother’s name, so to me it is perfect. I would love to see some little Annes running around.

Aurra Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 6:01 am

Love Elsa, and Ann (without the ‘e’) is growing on me. Simple, classic but stylish- it could be anyone- just like Jane.
I am surprised at how low Margaret is. With endless nicknames (from Maggie to Meg, Maisie to Greta), it’s an amazing classic like Elizabeth.

Kateri Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 7:45 am

Margaret isn’t popular? I’d never have guessed that with the huge number of Maggies around here!

littlebrownpony Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 8:31 am

I adore Margaret and all of her nicknames and incarnations (my daughter’s middle name is Mairead, the Irish form.)

Sebastian has never done it for me. I don’t know why.

Ynnig Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 9:25 am

Margaret is definitely on the up, peggy comes from Margaret too I believe?

I also love Leni as an unusual twist for Eleanor.

Olives Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 9:50 am

I have a 4 year old Greta, so glad to see the name love!

Ysaline Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 10:18 am

I love Elsa, Mila, Greta and Anne. Yael has become popular in France , perhaps riding on the coattails of the very popular Maelle, which itself is a successor to Gaelle. It’s a little too biblical for my taste, but a perfectly nice name and one I’d be happy to see more of.

mommyesquire Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 10:20 am

My second daughter is Margaret Jane (after her grandmothers) but we call her Maisie; which, although popular in certain parts of the world, is not popular here in the U.S.

Abby Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 10:21 am

Exciting to see all the love for Margaret (and Maggie and company)! I know a little Margaret, and it wears really well.

@littlebrownpony – Mairead is gorgeous, too!

@rosymaam – I have an unfortunate association with Yael, so I’ve always been dismissive of it. But when I saw it on the whiteboard, I found myself thinking that she really deserves more love. A courageous heroine and an intriguing sound, too …

MeleriHaf Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 1:10 pm

@littlebrownpony – I’m not a huge fan of Sebastian, either. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one!

But Wednesday Thursday Thaiday made me laugh out loud. What an awesome sense of humor! (Unless they had actually used it. Then it would have been cruel.)

sweets12 Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I liked Elsa then it started getting popular on here so I’m scared it’s going to become popular in real life.

JH Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Mila, Greta, and Elsa are all super cute.

maggiemary Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I love Yael, Elsa and Sebastian. Great to see the love for Margaret. ♥

bernadette Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Elsa is pretty–I think it’s a nice nickname for Elisabeth/Elizabeth. And Anne is so classic and timeless, though I do like Anneliese!

Abby Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 7:21 pm

@MeleriHaf – Well said!

HerMajesty Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 8:03 pm

I decided when I was younger to honour my Grandma, Aunt, and Grandpa in some way.
For my Aunt Mary-Sue, I picked Susannah/Shoshannah. I love this name, and its longer and prettier than Sue. I also have Miri, a pretty pink flower name, and a nn of Miriam, which relates almost unnoticably to Mary.
For my Gandma I picked Elsabeth, surprising because her name was Helen Marie. But her mother almost named her Helen Elizabeth, so it honours her, if only subtily.
My Grandpa was harder, because his name was Fagan, but I am not to terribly fond of it. But, I figured Kenna kr MacKenzie would work, since they have similar meanings.

tori101 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 7:41 am

Ah another great post! Impressed nameberry!

I love Yael which is really strong and poetic, I also love Elsa, Mila, Greta, Gracie Willow (adorable combination), and Anne.

Never really been a fan of Margaret which too me feels starchy and unattractive. As for Sebastian that has never hit the spot either.

GrecianErn Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 11:33 am

Sebastian has long been at the top of my list. I’m a little sad to see it rising up the list.

Another love for me is Oliver and it’s also heading up the list. Even in Iowa.

I’m not a Margaret fan, but I loved the way the Hagers came to Mila – it’s perfect. But, how is Daisy a nn for Margaret? Can someone explain?
I love Maggie – I’d use Magdalena first.

I really like Anne and Anna – I come from a long list of Ann-variations, as well as Elizabeth. And if my husband didn’t have an Anne in this generation, I’d be all over Anna.

And every time I see “Waltzing More than Matilda” it just reminds me how much I love Matilda.

coolteamblt Says:

April 24th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

My daughter is Fiona Margaret. My sister is Amelia Margaret, my mother Margo Lee, my grandmother Margaret Isobella. We did think briefly about using Margaret in the first name slot, but decided that with grandmothers named Margo and Mary, it would make too many Mar- names. Plus, my husband and I couldn’t even remotely come close to agreeing on a nickname we both liked, and hated the nickname the other one liked best.

elizam9983 Says:

April 25th, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I love the name Margaret. I plan on naming my second daughter(when it comes to that) and call her Mazey.So many nn from Margaret I also plan on Josephine as another child’s name. See my name is Elizabeth and there are so so many nn, I love it! I know how important it is to give a child a name that’s professional & classic and can make any fun cute nn out of it. At least my opinion.

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