Memorial Day Baby Names: World War I inspiration

Memorial Day Baby Names: World War I inspiration

By Nancy Man, Nancy’s Baby Names

During the First World War (1914-1918) — one of the largest and deadliest wars in history — the Allies fought the Central Powers for more than four grueling years.  While the war raged on, babies worldwide were given patriotic, war-inspired baby names such as Foch, Gallipoli, Heligoland, Lusitania, and Passchendaele. Not all WWI-inspired baby names were as conspicuous as those, though. Below are a dozen WWI-inspired baby names that could work quite well on modern-day babies.


Tennessee-born Sgt. Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964) was one of the most decorated U.S. Army soldiers of WWI, thanks to the impressive attack he led on a German machine gun nest in late 1918. His name can be traced back to various Old English names with meanings like “elf + friend,” “noble + friend” and “old + friend.”  Alvin was a top-100 baby name during the early decades of the 20th century. It was particularly popular in the 1920s, landing well inside the top 80 throughout the decade.


British nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was executed by a German firing squad in Brussels after being found guilty of helping hundreds of Allied soldiers escape German-occupied Belgium.  Her name derives from an Old English name meaning “wealth + war.”  Edith was a Top 100 baby name during the early decades of the 20th century. During the late 1910s it reached the Top 30 several times.


This name has a triple-connection to the war. First, there’s Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914), whose assassination in mid-1914 was the spark that ignited the war. Second, there’s German general Ferdinand Zeppelin (1838-1917), whose bomb-carrying Zeppelin airships terrorized Britain throughout the war. And third, there’s French Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), who served as Supreme Commander of all Allied forces during the final year of the war. (He’s the one who famously said of the Treaty of Versailles: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.”)

The name Ferdinand derives from a Germanic name meaning either “journey + daring” or “peace + daring.”  Ferdinand saw moderate usage during the first few decades of the 20th century, but dropped out of the Top 1000 in the early 1970s.


The name Freedom debuted (as a girl name) on the SSA’s baby name list in 1918. So far it’s been too rare to land in the Top 1000.


The Greek goddess Eirene was the personification of peace. Her name literally means “peace” in Ancient Greek.  It’s no coincidence that the modern form of her name, Irene, was at peak usage during and just after the years of WWI. Irene, which was a Top 1100 baby name throughout the first half of the 20th century, stayed in the Top 20 from the mid-1910s to the mid-1920s.


The U.S. raised billions of dollars for the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds. The government offered citizens a series of four Liberty Loans – two in 1917, two in 1918.  The name Liberty reached the Top 1000 for the first time in 1918.  (The next time it reached the Top 1000? In 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial.)


Not only was there a Battle of Lorraine in 1914, but a large section of Lorraine that had been annexed by Germany in 1871 (after the Franco-Prussian War) was officially returned to France after the war was over in 1919.  The name of the region is based on the kingdom name Lotharingia, which in turn is based on the personal name Lothair, which is ultimately derived from a Germanic name meaning “famous + army.”

Lorraine was a Top 100 baby name for three decades, from 1918 until 1948. It was most popular during the late 1920s and early 1930s, when it was within the top 50.


The Great War included two battles near the river Marne in France: the First Battle of the Marne (1914) – an Allied victory that kicked off the trench warfare that WWI became known for — and the Second Battle of the Marne (1918). The name of the river Marne derives from the name of a Celtic goddess called Dea Matrona, meaning “divine mother goddess.” The name Marne debuted (for both genders) on the SSA’s baby name list in 1918, but so far it’s been too rare to reach the Top 1000.


The name Peace debuted (as a girl name) on the SSA’s baby name list in 1918, the year the Allies and Germany signed the armistice that ended all fighting on the Western Front.(Curiously it was not on the list again in 1919, the year the war was formally concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.)


The Battle of Verdun, which lasted for most of 1916, was the longest and one of the bloodiest of the entire war.  The name of the city of Verdun derives from the earlier Latin name Verodunum, meaning “strong fort.”  The baby name Verdun was on the SSA’s baby name list in the late 1910s and early 1920s, with usage peaking in 1918, but it was never common enough to be included in the Top 1000.


The name Victory reached the Top 1000 for the first and only time in 1918.  (The names Victoria and Victor saw spikes in usage that year as well.)


Idealistic American president Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), who was in office from 1913 to 1921, kept the United States neutral during most of World War I and later established the League of Nations, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.  His name derives from an Old English place name meaning “row of houses in or by a wood.”  Woodrow was a Top 100 name from 1912 to 1919, but usage went into decline after that. It’s been outside the top 1,000 since the early 1980s.  (Incidentally, Woodrow Wilson’s name wasn’t actually Woodrow – it was Thomas. Woodrow was his middle name.)

What other baby names with ties to WWI can you think of?


Nancy Man is a freelance writer who blogs about baby names at Nancy’s Baby Names.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.