No Expiration Date on Names

If you’re looking for some eye-opening  name moments, try browsing  through some vintage name books and you might be surprised to discover just how dramatically perceptions of some  names have changed over time.  In some cases what we think of as perfectly valid current choices have actually been written off as dead and gone.  Today’s popular Ava, for instance, was rarely thought worthy of inclusion  in most name books, even fairly recent ones.  But one generation’s dusty skeleton can be reborn as another’s darling baby boy or girl, so it’s a risky business to write off a name (at least post-Etheldred period),  as can be seen from the comments below about some names we love today:

 ABIGAIL – turned into a cant term for a lady’s maid, and thenceforth has been seldom heard even in a cottage  (1884)

DEBORAH – has acquired a certain amount of absurdity from various literary associations which prevent ‘Deb’ from being used except by the peasantry (1884)

CHLOE —  its main use has been by pastoral poets   (1945)

ESME – is now sometimes given to girls   (1945)

MATILDA —   among the most disliked names for girls   (1967)

SOPHIA – went out of fashion in the 19th century   (1945)

VICTORIA – is now almost obsolete  (1945)

COLIN — by the 16th century was regarded as a rustic nickname and it gradually died out altogether  (1945)

CONNOR —  now survives mainly as a surname  (1945)

ELIJAH—it died out in the general 19th century deline of biblical names, but not before it had established its shortening to be Lige (1979)

Masculine names like HARRY, JACK and SAMUEL are rarely used for babies today   (1950)

ISAAC, ABRAHAM — names from the Old Testament are disappearing  (1967)

JONAH – most everywhere regarded as sissy  (1967)

On the other hand, I must admit that even we have been occasionally guilty of writing off a name too soon (though our record over the years is pretty clean).  Way back when, we did warn against Conan, Desiree, Maximillian, Romeo, Salome and Venus as being too much for a baby to live up to, Orson and Tallulah as being strictly one-person names, and Vera, Wilhelmina, Zelda, Victor, Vincent and Warren designated ‘so far out they’ll probably always be out.’

But perhaps the most outlandish examples of changing perceptions can be found in a 1960 book called What Not to Name the Baby, written by two humorists, Roger Price and Leonard Stern, who characterized names from a Swinging Sixties but strangely  un-liberated, somewhat smarmy stereotypical point of view, containing as many cigarette-smoking references as there are on Mad Men.

Some examples of their witticisms:

CLAREs tend to wear tight clothes and insist that men light their cigarettes.

EMMA was captain of the field hockey team in school.  She charges through life like an army tank.

EVELYN wears brown and empties ashtrays.

FELIX is a bridal consultant.

GEORGIA is the one at the party who makes the other girls mad by kissing all the husbands and dancing the rhumba “the way they do in Cuba.”

GORDON has straight blond hair.  He reads a lot and joins a liberal political group in the hope of meeting an intelligent girl he can have a mature relationship with.

LILY has an ornate, overfeminine bedroom.

MADELINEs become executives in Women’s Clubs and organize charity drives.

SAM.  Everyone in the world is named Sam.  They just don’t know it.

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.