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A Celebration of Classic Baby Names

Classic doesn't need to be boring, with options from Amelie to Oliver to Christopher

By Abby Sandel

After writing about baby names for the last eight years, I sometimes think that nothing can surprise me. I’m always ready to explain why a baby called, say, Pomegranate, isn’t really so outlandish.

And yet, some weeks I do breathe a sigh of relief when the names feel classic, controlled, inspired by family. Even understated.

That’s not to say that they lack style. A classic name doesn’t have to be dull or stodgy. Call them the George and Charlotte names. They’re traditional, yes, but with a crisp, tailored appeal.

Not convinced? A bolder middle or a fun nickname can go a long way towards making a more conventional first name feel like a stand out.

Let’s take a look at nine of the buttoned-down best in baby name news this week:

Christopher Carlton – After weeks of waiting, we finally learned the name of the #cumberbaby – Sophie Hunter and Benedict Cumberbatch’s firstborn. Christopher is a name with history aplenty, but it’s been falling for years, in both the US and the UK. Carlton is a family name shared as a middle by dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa. Let’s hear it for a quiet classic, family heirlooms, and alliteration!

Mary CeciliaMamie– When the headline reads “I Love My Kid’s Unusual Name,” I brace for a really wild choice. Desiderata or Lucifer or Kale Smoothie. But no. The unusual name in Anna Lee Beyer’s piece for Cosmopolitan? Mary. Okay, make that Mary Cecilia, called Mamie, which is a little less expected. But, as Beyer notes, it takes guts to be among the first reviving an older name: “Response was not positive, and I got spooked.” Ultimately, she and her husband stuck with their first choice, and gave their daughter a great name rich with personal meaning.

Oliver – Lately I’ve been thinking about current classics – those names that are undeniably traditional. But they’re also very much on-trend, leaping up the US popularity charts year after year. Oliver – as in Cromwell and Twist – has been around for ages. But it’s also heard on more and more boys right now. Oliver led this year’s Apartment Therapy boy baby name round-up.

Lucy – If there’s a clear #1 name on the boys’ side, the Apartment Therapy list for girls is more varied. But Lucy strikes me as a yet another current classic, at home in 1815, 1915, or 2015. There were two Lucys in the site’s round-up. Other names that repeated included Eva, Audrey, Colette, Maya, Marlowe, and Harper.

Harriet – Speaking of repeats, British Baby Names spotted not one, but two girls named Harriet in recent birth announcements. Harriet is in the British Top 100, and with the –et ending, and a tailored, vintage sound, I’m always surprised Harriet doesn’t appeal equally to American parents. Crushed that Hazel is so popular? Consider Harriet instead.

Amelie Moon – Actor Kevin Durand is a new dad. He and wife Sandra Cho chose Amelie, the French form of Amelia, for their new daughter. Kevin is of French Canadian descent, so Amelie isn’t just a twist on a traditional favorite. It’s also a heritage choice. Moon is a bold middle, but with classic Amelia to anchor it, I think it works.

Thea Maelle Thea is a traditional name that’s back in the spotlight. This post at Swistle might be proof that the name is going places. It’s one of those first-middle combinations that feels very 2015, and yet could be timeless. So excited that the parents stuck with Thea!

Maggie Olivia – Let’s end close with two choices from namespotter extraordinaire, Names for Real. Maggie Olivia is from a Wisconsin birth announcement round-up. Moving the Top Ten name to the middle works beautifully, and I think Maggie is one of the many Margaret names that stands on its own. Other great classic combinations in the post? Florence Irene, Josephine Lucille, Lillian Hazel, May Annabelle, and Olive Frida!

Lionel George Thea Maelle and Maggie Olivia are gorgeous, but there are plenty of comeback classic names for boys, too. Here’s one from a Names for Real Vermont birth announcement round-up: Lionel George. Lionel is part-Leo, part-Gabriel. And George? I think it’s just about time to declare to George officially back in style.

What are your favorite traditional baby names?

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9 Responses to “A Celebration of Classic Baby Names”

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maggiemary Says:

September 7th, 2015 at 5:07 am

I love Christopher Carlton. If I ever had a Christopher, I’d use the nn Kit. I love that Benedict and Sophie used Carlton as the middle name, it’s a lovely family tradition to carry on.

Mary Cecilia is beautiful and the nn Mamie is fab.

Oliver has been popular over in the UK for years. One of my Brit family members teaches a class of 30 stuents (aged 6-7) and four of the 16 boys are named Oliver!

Lucy is my niece’s name, so I adore it.

I love Harriet, it’s in my top five, and has been name #1 on occasion. I would happily use it, with the nn Hattie.

Amelie Moon, Thea Maelle and Lionel George are all nice solid names. I prefer seeing names like Moon in the middle, I think that’s where they belong.

As a Margaret who is a Maggie, I want to like Maggie as a given name, but I just can’t. It sounds too informal.

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

September 7th, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I love the nickname Mamie. It’s adorable. But, out of curiosity, isn’t a mammy commonly thought of in a negative connotation, especially in the South? I ask this cause, if I’m right, I love that it’s being associated differently. It gives me hope that Jemima will rid it’s negative syrup association by the time I start having kids.

Bobcat108 Says:

September 7th, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Mamie is pronounced May-Me, while mammy is Maaaa-me (if that makes sense).

A Celebration of Classic Baby Names Part of Top Quality of Picture and Image Says:

September 7th, 2015 at 3:47 pm

[…] Nameberry – Baby Name Blog […]

Aurora Says:

September 7th, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I was also glad to see Benedict and Sophie choose a name with taste, style, and family connections. I was hoping maybe for something a little more striking, but Christopher is a lovely, true classic.

Lionel George! I’ve been wondering if Lionel will rise, since so many of the leonine names are fashionable right now.

LuMary Says:

September 9th, 2015 at 8:29 pm

I like a number of these. I’m glad to see Mary and May used in the first spot, and that Oliver is making headway. Mary has so many great vintage nicknames that it shares with Margaret: Mamie, Millie, Molly, May, Maisie, etc.

I agree that it’s time George is revived in the U.S.

I’d like to see Richard make a comeback. I still don’t like any of its usual nicknames, though.

It’s time Louis is revived, too.

Addie88 Says:

September 10th, 2015 at 1:00 pm

For boys I love Thomas, Peter, and John. For girls I like Elizabeth, Grace, Caroline, and Margaret. Although I think I would be more likely to choose Maggie straight up. I really like classic names a lot more than timely ones.

A Week of Wild Baby Names – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

September 13th, 2015 at 10:49 pm

[…] last week, we were enjoying a mini-revival in classic baby names. There was the nicely-named – and beautifully alliterative! – Christopher Carlton […]

The Way We Name Today: 9 Baby Name Trends – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

October 19th, 2015 at 12:31 am

[…] it comes to baby name trends, it’s tempting to declare that the classics are back, or that originality is the new rule. And some weeks, it does feel like everyone is sticking with […]

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