Old Lady Names: Ready for the Next Wave?

Vintage Names

A sizeable number of people come to nameberry every day searching for Old Lady Names – and they’re not looking for a new moniker for Grandma.  Rather, they’re looking for Old Lady Names that sound new again for babies.

As a genre, Old Lady Names are approaching their third wave of stylishness.  The initial wave was identified in our first baby name book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, published in 1988, as the hot Grandma names and the edgier Baby Women names.

Hot Grandmas included such folksy choices as:

ANNA

ANNIE

EMMA

HANNAH

JESSIE

LILY

MOLLY

NELL

NORA

SADIE

SOPHIE

The more buttoned-up Baby Women names we called “the names of the rich great-aunts who, ten years ago, you might have prayed would not ask you to name your child after them.  These included such now-stylish (but then-outrageous) choices as:

BEATRICE

CLARA

CORA

ELEANOR

ELLA

EVE

FRANCES

HAZEL

JOSEPHINE

MADELEINE

MATILDA

NATALIE

OLIVE

By the third edition of the book, published in 1994, we’d added a section called Can You Really Name A Baby Edna?, in which we wrote, “Suddenly, these names that have moldered in the attic for so long seem stylish again.”  Among the Old Lady Names we deemed ready for revival are names we’ve indeed heard a lot more of in the ensuing 15 years, including:

ADA

ADELAIDE

ADELINE

AMELIA

ANASTASIA

ANTONIA

CORDELIA

ESME

EVA

EVANGELINE

EVELYN

FLORA

FLORENCE

IDA

IMOGEN

IVY

LEONORA

LOUISA

MAY

PEARL

VIOLET

We also predicted the rise of humbler old-fashioned names we dubbed Homestyle, such as:

ABBY

BELLE

DAISY

DORA

LULU

MABEL

MAISIE

MERCY

MILLIE

PATIENCE

RUBY

STELLA

Like Biblical Names for boys, parents have now moved through so many of the more obvious choices that they’re ready to embrace the wilder Old Lady Names.  Why this genre has proven so durable: The names are grownup yet quirky, traditional yet unusual, classy yet sassy.  Some of the examples we’ve been noting all along that may finally rise again with the third wave are:

AGATHA

AGNES

BERNADETTE

DORIS

DOROTHY

EDWINA

ELSA

ENID

ESTHER

EUDORA

FLORENCE

FREDERICA

GLORIA

HELEN

HILDA

MARIAN

MURIEL

MYRTLE

PAULINE

ROSALIND

ROSAMUND

ROWENA

THEODORA

URSULA

WINIFRED

Subscribe to our newsletter

* indicates required

comments

50 Responses to “Old Lady Names: Ready for the Next Wave?”

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

Elsa Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 5:38 am

Clearly this is my style for girl’s names, as I’m an Elisabeth (who goes by Elsa), and my daughters are Helena (known as Nell), Esther and Josephine. At least with Esther, it appears I’m ahead of the trend, as you say it may rise with the third wave!

Rose Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 5:43 am

My favorite old lady names (and two of my favorite names altogether) are actually Jean and Mary. I think that they’re both really pretty and would be relatively unique in that not many other little children would have them.

Of course, I am only 17, so I won’t be naming any children any time soon, but I think they work with the surge of names that are regaining popularity from when our grandparents were born. They were both really popular back then, but are now virtually unheard of.

I actually really love practically all of the names on this list. There may be a few that I’m not so keen on, but overall I adore them.

PS. My great-grandma’s name is Hilda, as is my grandmother, but she goes by Vicky.

Stacy Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 7:23 am

These are definitely my style of name, although my favorite, Vivian, is not on the list. Other names that have been on our list at one point or another are Eleanor, Beatrice/Beatrix, Amelia, Natalie/Natalia, Evelyn, Cordelia, Violet/Viola, Matilda, and Dorothy (or even better, Dorothea.)

I’ve always liked Enid and Rosalind, too, but my husband always gives me the ‘What are you smoking?’ look and vetoes them.

Kiki Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 8:06 am

I still don’t like the old lady names.
Actually I liked a lot on the list but most of them I must admit I’ve never heard anyone with and associate them with younger people (and feel I would have even as a small child) so I can’t class them as old lady names.

I’ve never encountered (even on TV) any older people called Cordelia, Matilda, Flora or Daisy for example.

The only names that seemed like old fashioned names to me (i.e ones I’ve heard older women with or associate with a long time ago) are on the last group of names and I just can’t imagine a little baby Agnes or a 4 year old Myrtle starting school or an Elsa graduating in 18 years, unless she was doing it with the aid of a walking frame.

http://legitbabenames.wordpress.com/ Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 9:13 am

I’ve never considered Anastasia to be an old lady name, more of a foreign import. As for the rest, I really like Old Lady Names like Violet, Matilda, Sophia etc, but can’t use them since they’ve gotten so popular.

JNE Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 9:39 am

Marian, Muriel, and Winifred are favorites of mine from the ‘third wave’ list… I love lots of names from the other lists, too (and one in particular, since it’s my daughter’s name).

Andrea Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 10:07 am

There was a sixth-grader named Elsa on an honor roll that I typed up yesterday for my newspaper. Most of the rest are still seen only in nursing homes or in obituaries, but I’ve always liked Dorothy.

Vera Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 10:20 am

this is my favourite list/blog ever!!!

pippa Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 10:51 am

I think to be really ahead of the curve you need to dip into the names of the boomer generation: Barbara, Linda, Nancy, et al. They sounds dated to our ears as they were our parents names, but will no doubt be fresh in a decade or so.

susan Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 10:53 am

These old lady names are some of my favorites. I love Anna, Nell, Ruby, Pauline, Maisie, Cordelia, Anastasia, Matilda, and Frances so much! These are all names that would be on my list if I had a baby. I love most of the other names, too, either for middle names for an imaginary daughter, or I would admire them on someone else’s daughter. Can’t wait to read the blog on old man names!
Are these old lady names – Eloise, Vera, and Vivian? I love them, too.

Diana Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 11:41 am

I also love the name Vivian and almost named my youngest daughter Vivan Jewel. I live in the midwest in a small town and when people would ask me what I was going to name the baby, and I would tell them, they would look at me with unabashed horror. It made me so uncomfortable that I became afraid to use the name. It’s one thing for people to look at me that way, but totally another thing for people to have a bad reaction to my daughter, which I was afraid they would.

I wonder if any of your other readers ‘chickened out’ on a name because of the conservative place that they live. Most people where I live use what I call ‘soap opera names’ especially with their boys.

Kat Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 11:47 am

Diana brings up a point I’ve been wondering about for a long time – does *where* you live have an impact on the legitimacy of the name? Nameberry and other name sites list lots of names as “hip” or “up-and-coming”, and for a lot of America – namely the East Coast and Midwest – they are. But in the South, those names tend to not be as quickly embraced. In East Texas where I am from, for example, people are still naming their babies things like Ashley, Brittney, and so on. Names that are coming back into use, such as most of the ones on this list, aren’t nearly as prevalent and even looked down on. Something to think about when considering what your child’s future will be in school with their name. Pay attention to *where* you think they will be living! It doesn’t mean you have to use a name you hate, but it might help your kid out in the 6th grade if their name isn’t too “out there” for the small town they might be living in.

Sarah K Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 11:58 am

I’m fascinated by the third wave list. I always wondered why some “old lady” names were used, but not other. What makes Anna and Emma sound young to our ears, but Dorothy and Helen sound old?

Kim Bee Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

It’s amazing how ahead of the curve Joss Whedon with his Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were! He had names like Cordelia, Winifred, Willow, Xander, Anya, Drusilla. This was in 1997. Pretty good naming prowess!

Sarah Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I love me some old lady names….so much so I even squealed when I saw today’s blog. 😛

My favorites are: Clara, Cora (so much spunk!), Frances, Hazel (family name), Josephine (Jo March, anyone?), Matilda (I actually have a guinea pig named this, lol), Olive, Adelaide, Antonia (this seems like more of an import than an old lady name, though), Flora, Imogen (I live in the South, so getting people to pronounce it correctly will be a problem. Bummer.), Louisa, Ruby (the spunky “Miss Ruby” comes to mind), Agnes (I actually really, really love this name), Dorothy, Edwina (see Antonia), Elsa, and Helen (loooooove Helena). *phew*

However….
Natalie still feels very 1980s to me. 🙁
Ida makes me think of ‘Aunt Ida’ from Full House. Ick.
And Ursula makes me think of a fat octopus.

Anna Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Um, I don’t mean to be the party pooper here, and I really liked the blog, but haven’t you guys already blogged about this topic quite a few times?

Kiki Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Kat, I totally agree that place matters.
I’m form the UK so many of these names don’t even sound old ladyish to me. They’re names that have been around a long time but have never been used commonly enough in England to be associated with a certain time period.

I also don’t think names like Emma or Anna can really be used because they’re such common, familiar names that they appear a few times each generation.

gallifreygal Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Well with 3 girls already named Annalise, Eleanor, and Adelaide and the soon-to-arrive fourth’s moniker vascillating between Josephine or Phillipa, I would say we’re rocking the old lady name vibe in our house! 🙂

Lucy Says:

November 10th, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I’m surprised Natalie is on there, I’ve always considered it quite modern. Back before I got into the whole baby name scene, I was bent on naming my daughters Natasha “Tasha” and Natalie “Talie”.

Jenmb Says:

November 11th, 2009 at 12:00 am

I totally agree with Susan — baby boomer names will be HOT in 10 years. People so frequently claim the grandma names as classics that will never go out of style — but they do go out of style — that’s why they’re known as grandma names.

susan Says:

November 11th, 2009 at 12:02 am

Let’s start a not-too-out-there East Texas baby name thread for Kat. I will put it on Talk About Names.

Jill Says:

November 11th, 2009 at 2:34 am

I love this list! Some of my favorites: Cora, Cordelia, Josephine, Ivy, Matilda, Dorothy, and Louisa.

Great blog! 🙂

Elizabeth Says:

November 11th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I know a little girl named COra. She is a redhead and is adorable.

mhopman Says:

November 12th, 2009 at 1:44 pm

My Grandmother’s name was Eldora. I always thought it was clunky and wierd. But looks like it would fit right in on these lists. It could even have some cute nicknames like Elle, Ella or Dora. Don’t think I am going to use it becasue I don’t like girl names that start with E, but I will recommend it to my sister if she ever gets pregnant.

peach Says:

November 13th, 2009 at 3:43 pm

This is definitely one of the most popular trends for girls: I can’t remember how many baby Josephine’s I know of in California! I also know recent babies named Molly, Imogen, Eva, Lucille & Lark (last two could be added to the “wilder” list). My future daughter will very likely be Elsa. I have soft spots for Hazel, Rosalind, Maisie and Louisa.

Lark Says:

November 13th, 2009 at 8:58 pm

This is definitely a strong trend, getting bigger. It’s going to keep tracking over more and more of the SSA charts.

Actually my main discomfort in the Nameberry community is the fact that I’m not much of a follower of this one. I like a few of the classic types in the first list but dislike most everything else. There are times and places where it feels like you’re not allowed to be on the forums (or at least not welcomed) here if you hate the names Beatrice, Clementine or Matilda. (all of which are a big part of this trend I believe)

Anna Says:

November 15th, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I kind of feel that too, Lark. For a while there the first names that EVERYONE would suggest were Beatrix and Margaret, and I thought, huh? I just really didn’t like those names, so I felt weird.

Pamela Redmond Satran Says:

November 15th, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Lark and Anna, I’m sorry you felt weird, and I’m glad you’re still here! Name snobbery? Probably. But the more opinions the better and I do hope you feel you can find a place in the nameberry community.

Diana Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 10:59 am

Susan, I would love to see an article on name snobbery. I detect that tone on the blog sometimes and have to admit that sometimes I am a name snob myself. I think any of us that do it should quit it.

Here in the midwest, I used to work in a children’s hospital. The most popular name I saw was Kay—names Kaylin, Caitlin and Kayla and Kali. I saw these names over and over and over and over……with all the various spellings. For boys it was definitely Jaden. I used to think secretly to myself…..Jeez, can’t people be any more original than that? I wonder why someone would want their kids name to be the same as everyone else. But truthfully, it isn’t really any of my business.

And a big factor is that when you live in a place where the babies names are so unimaginative it doesn’t take a real odd name to stand out and be original. And something too odd gets you raised eyebrows and disapproving stares and your child is ultimately the one who will bear the brunt of that. A Gertrude or an Esther or a Cornelius would probably be made fun of right to their faces and has the potential to make a childhood very miserable.

And so many of us decide that it is in our child’s best interest that their name isn’t too far out there and decide in favor of something less original. And even something less original can end up being something highly original in certain parts of the country.

Sometimes I get the feeling that some people don’t understand that. A name is the first gift you give to your child. You have to think of what it will be like for them to carry the name first before anything else. Some of us in certain pars of the country and in certain neighborhoods…..we know what we are doing. We know what our kids will go through with a name like Otto.

Dove14 Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Anna and Lark,
I’m right there with you. The reason I kind of stopped frequenting the forums was because all I ever got for suggestions was old lady names. They are beautiful names but definitely not my style at all. I just wasn’t getting any original suggestions.

So, anyway, I hope you stick around so I can have someone to talk with with some fresh ideas! 🙂

Madeline Says:

December 11th, 2009 at 1:40 am

I don’t feel Ruby is at all unusual, it’s very high on top name lists lately and I know many many people my age (I’m 17) called Rub.

My name is Madeline Margaret, I feel that sounds a bit old lady-ish, more the Margaret than the Madeline by itself. I adore the name Cordelia at the moment, not that I have anything to name but it’s lovely!

Rachel Says:

December 15th, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Can I get a shout out for the name “Versie”. That was my grandmother’s name and I’ve never met another person with that name. It always struck me as an odd name, even as a kid.

Dana Says:

January 3rd, 2010 at 11:30 pm

I definitely see this trend. My nephew is in 2nd grade and there are girls in his class named Evelyn, Vera, and Hazel.

Faye Says:

February 7th, 2010 at 5:03 am

I’m in London, England and had my daughter last November. My husband and I named her Dorothy. It is my grandmothers name she is 95 and a wonderfully kind. We get so many complements about her name, it seems to be an extremely nostalgic name and brings a smile for lots of people. And the great thing is we haven’t, so far met anyone under 70 with the same name.

Heather Says:

February 7th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

What about Virginia? This was my grandmother’s name and it is definitely an oldie, I feel ready for a comeback. I’m using it for my daughter, due in 4 weeks.

Ali Says:

February 28th, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Our youngest daughter is named Virginia. Our two other daughters are named Ruby and Leah, and we are expecting a fourth this month! We are thinking of either Daisy or Sylvia.

soma Says:

March 2nd, 2010 at 6:57 am

hi, spring is cooming! good post there, tnx for nameberry.com

Jayna Says:

March 23rd, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I love most of the old lady names. I can see it as being a trend, or more of a resistance against the annoying bubbly made-up names that are all too common (Nevaeh, McKenna, Harlow, etc) I have nothing against those names really, but they will seem dated in 15 years (Look at Natalie, Crystal, Nicole, Jennifer). Those are the names of the baby boomer kids and no one is using them now. It all goes in cycles. I think it’s GREAT that some are comin’ back around! I LOVE: Clementine, Adelaide, Matilda, Peneople (my daughter), Viola, Violet, Isadora, Eloise, Beatrice, Ivy, Faye, Louise, Greta, Tabitha and Gretchen. So much spunk and individuality – but not hard to say or pronounce and easy to spell. Keep it simple and keep it classic! LOVE IT!

ChristyHeather Says:

March 30th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I have a 5 month old Elsa Helen, and with all the little ones named Ella, Emma, Olivia, Sophia etc, I never worry that she will be teased about her name.

Besides, as a dual citizen of Australia and Canada I think it is important to have an internationally recognised name, as she will be travelling quite a bit I imagine.

Maddie Says:

April 25th, 2010 at 8:02 am

Wow…are they embracing some of the older names now?? I know a girl named Esther…

Ellabeth Says:

June 22nd, 2010 at 1:40 am

I love the revival of Esme! What a beautiful name. I adore Eleanor, Nora, Cora, Cordelia and Evangeline, as well as the flower names (Viola/Violet, Ivy, etc).

I still feel Florence, Frances, Ida, Mabel, Agatha, Enid, Muriel and Myrtle are too old-lady for my tastes.

Whit Says:

September 19th, 2010 at 2:17 am

Love Annie, Beatrice, Clara, Eleanor, Eve, Josephine, Matilda, Adelaide, Antonia (Probably how I would get to Annie if I was going to use Annie), Flora, Ida, Ivy, May, Daisy, Ruby, Dorothy

hazel’s mom Says:

May 1st, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I named my daughter Hazel Grace after her great grandmother. It fits her to a “T”. Other options we considered were Matilda and Lydia. ‘Granny Chic’ is in.

thesnowwhiterose Says:

May 2nd, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I can’ be the only one who adores Mildred, can I?

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

July 13th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

@thesnowwhiterose – I’m not crazy about Mildred, but because of Dead Like Me, it’s probably my favorite way to get to the nickname Millie. That show opened me up to some great names, Daisy, Georgia, Mason, and though I like Mildred’s nickname Millie, I’d be lying if I said Mildred was my favorite.

I do like pretty much all of these names, Anna, Hannah, Lily, Molly, Nell (Simple but adorable), Cora, Eve, Hazel (I think the nickname Hazey is so cute), Matilda, Olive, Ada, Adelaide, Amelia, Cordelia, Esme, Evangeline (Really starting to LOVE this name. It gives off a sweet sound, which is why I chose it for a story), Evelyn, Florence, Imogen, Ivy, Louisa (I prefer Louise), May (I prefer the spelling Mae), Violet, Daisy, Mabel (Weird how it’s becoming a useable name again when the Buchmann’s caught a lot of flack for it on Mad About You), Maisie (I am absolutely LOVING this name right now and is the only reason I’d ever consider using Margaret!), Mercy (Love the sound of this name. Could be why I used this in the same story with Evangeline, a story that also includes another rarely heard name, Verity), Millie, Ruby, Stella (A top favorite of mine right now), Agnes (Absolutely adore this name, though my cousin hates it… Says it sounds like angus.), Bernadette, Florence, Helen (I like the softness of this name)

chinacat Says:

July 17th, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Someone just wrote that other names will become outdated…but old lady names are outdated!! That’s why they’re called old lady names. Mildred? Agnes? Eleanor? I don’t find the appeal of most of them. They sound old, and some harsh. I can’t imagine thinking..I wish my mother named me Jean or Hazel or any names that fill the obituaries. I don’t have strong feelings about what other people choose for their own children, but I’m all set with suggestions of Helen or Beatrix. Old and boring. I do prefer normal spellings for names. There are classic names that don’t fall under the old lady category, if you are concerned a name is too trendy. I bet some names now considered classic or traditional were once trendy. Every name had to be new at one point.

Care Says:

March 22nd, 2016 at 11:55 pm

The problem with ‘old lady names’ is that they DO carry a lot of baggage! Maybe you are under 30 and think Agnes is cute, but your family members over the age of 40 or 50 probably have an image of Agnes complete with history and appearance. The more common the name, the more baggage it carries, Eleanor will conjure up Eleanor Roosevelt, heroic but not beautiful. Dorothy is the girl in the Wizard of Oz. There are old songs about Mary and Linda. If you want to use a name from history, check out what that history is because not everyone is under 30!

Now this is the true blessing of new or made up names….they DON’T have a history. They will come to represent whatever your child becomes. Of course, if you name your kid Jax after the airport code for Jacksonville, you can’t rule out that others may be similarly inspired! The list of international airport codes is quite creative and inspiring. Another list to check is most common names for dogs. To me Ezra sounds like a dogs name, but people do tend to choose popular names for their pets.

Listen to just the sound of the name instead of how cute it is. Agatha suggests agony or gaging. Lucy, as one berry said…sounds loose. Mildred… a dread of mill working, Gertrude…. I hear rude! Bertha is a big German tank. Hazel is and remains a maid. Felix is a cat, a cartoon cat. Casper is the friendly ghost. Maybe before using an old lady (or man) name, you could ask an old lady to describe a person named Maude or Phoebe or Dorothy. It could actually be a sweet memory, OR also could be cringe worthy. If the old lady starts singing Waltzing Matilda or Oh My Darling Clementine…pay attention to the lyrics because your child will have to hear them… like forever.

Creating Eleanor Winston – THE CELEBRATION OF LIFE Says:

April 7th, 2016 at 6:23 am

[…] – Baby Name Blog. (2009). Old Lady Names: Ready for the Next Wave?. [online] Available at: http://nameberry.com/blog/old-lady-names-ready-for-the-next-wave [Accessed 9 Mar. […]

GPU Says:

August 28th, 2016 at 11:56 pm

Ella, Olive, Eva, Louisa, Pearl, Winifred

Helen, Annie, Florence, Matilda and Daisy are all in my top 10, and Ella, Olive, Eva, Louisa, Pearl and Winifred are also amongst my faves.

merlynhawk Says:

September 29th, 2016 at 10:35 am

There’s one name that is missing from your list – Gertrude!

leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.