Retro Baby Names: Dorothy, Gloria, Maxine and Estelle, the latest comeback kids

In perusing the baby name news of the week, Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain documents the latest developments in the trend for retro baby names.

We all know that names drift out of fashion and then slowly find their way back into style. But when is it time for a comeback – and how do you know?

This week’s big baby name noise has been about Jessica Simpson’s use of two family names for her new daughter, combined for the masculine Maxwell Drew. Parents of boys called Max everywhere accused the celeb mom of name-napping and general bad taste.

But maybe we’re all missing something. Rumor has it that Simpson plans to call her daughter Maxi – a sassy retro choice that fits right in with Sadie and Sophie. Could it be that Jessica’s faux pas is really an invitation to dive right into names from the 1910s?

And why stop there? This week also saw high profile birth announcements drawing on favorites from the 1920s to the 1980s.

Whatever the decade, this week’s nine newsiest baby names are all a blast from the past.

Maxine – If little Miss SimpsonJohnson will really answer to Maxi, is it time to reconsider Maxine? She was at her most popular in the 1910s and 20s. If the hundred-year rule applies, then maybe this is her moment. Musician Nick Hexum named his daughter Maxine Vita last year. There’s also Madame Olympe Maxime, as in the toweringly tall headmistress of Beaux Batons in the Harry Potter series – though technically, Maxime is masculine in French.

Gloria RayMaggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Saarsgard surprised us with their birth announcement for Ramona’s little sister. Gloria Ray is another choice that could be right on the edge of a reprise. She spent 1922 through 1963 in the US Top 100. Even if their eras are different, it is easy to imagine Gloria fitting right in with Olivia and Amelia on the playground.

JeanRemember Irish pop group The Corrs? They scored a smash hit with their 2000 single “Breathless.” Singer Andrea Corr welcomed a daughter named Jean after her late mother. Once again, the name’s heyday in the United States started in the 1920s, but she’s another classic along the lines of the very popular Claire, and feels as wearable as Jane. Then there’s the heroic Joan of Arc, known as Jeanne d’Arc in French. I’d like to hear more of her.

Ruby Jeanne – If not in the first spot, then maybe in the middle? Marley Shelton has welcomed her second. Big sister West’s name is very different in style from the retro Ruby Jeanne. Ruby was a Top 100 mainstay from the nineteenth century into the 1940s, and has hovered just outside the US Top 100 for a few years, so no surprises there. But will Jeanne catch on as a sister for Claire? Or maybe she’s just an alternate middle for June and Jane.

Lauryn Anabelle – Dancing with the Stars champ J.R. Martinez is a new dad. Like Jessica, he and girlfriend Diana used family names. Lauryn is the name of Diana’s late sister, and Anabelle honors J.R.’s sister Anabel, who died before he was born. It’s incredibly meaningful, and in fairness, Lauren remains a Top 100 choice for girls in the US. Still, Lauren feels tied to the 1980s, once again raising the question about how long a name has to be out of use until it sounds fresh again.

Estelle – Here’s one to watch, a cousin to the wildly stylish Stella, but with a French twist. Estella is a Dickens character, but Estelle might be a spare yet feminine option for parents to consider in 2012. She was most recently spotted in the Waltzing More than Matilda birth announcements as Estelle Barbara Lindsay. She still reads a little Golden Girls, but then, it wasn’t that long ago that the same was true for Stella.

LuciaMira Sorvino’s fourth child arrived last week, a sister for Mattea, Johnny, and Holden. The sharp-eyed Beth immediately noted that Mattea and Lucia were the feminine equivalent of popular celeb brother sibset Matteo and Luca.

Dorothy – I caught a promotion by Tyler Florence for his Sprout kid cuisine a few days ago, and was reminded of his kids’ names: sons Miles and Hayden and daughter Dorothy. A Top Ten pick from 1904 through 1939, Dorothy feels as current as Natalie and fresher than Mackenzie.

Clarabelle – My latest obsession is name-spotting on Project Nursery and pinning the best finds to Pinterest. If allowed, I’d forgo food and rest to keep digging into the incredibly creative names in use by terribly clever parents. My favorite find his week: twin sisters called Milly and Clarabelle.

Do you like retro girls’ names – and if so, which era is your favorite?

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23 Responses to “Retro Baby Names: Dorothy, Gloria, Maxine and Estelle, the latest comeback kids”

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bluebonnie Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 12:30 am

I love Maxine and Dorothy. I also love Ruby but it isn’t fresh anymore in Australia and New Zealand- it is currently in the top 10 here I think!

Poppy528 Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 1:35 am

“Dorothy feels as current as Natalie” … um no. People like names with lots of sing-songy vowels and L’s. Gloria, Estelle, and Marilyn will make it to playgrounds decades before “heavy” names like Dorothy, Sharon, and Barbara I think.

Melanei Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 2:17 am

Estelle is Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden’s baby daughter’s name.

AussieSteph Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 5:06 am

Reading your article just inspired me to find the perfect twin girl set – thanks!!! Now i just need to conceive and birth twin girls! : )

Bridie Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 5:12 am

My grandmother was Ruby Jean, and I loved the name so much I wanted to use it for my daughter! Unfortunately, Ruby was the Number 1 most popular girls name here (New Zealand) last year, so a little popular for my taste. Such a stunning name, though! Maybe we’re just trend-setters here 😉

kewitzler Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 5:31 am

I like Joan and Jeanne/Jean. 2012 is the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc- for those into history.

A completely different Joan was brought back into cultural currency via the film “The Runaways”, which also made Cherie suddenly sound like an option again.

Rachaol Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 6:55 am

I love Dorothy, mostly because it is my grandma’s name. I suppose that is why it brings to mind warmth and safety. My grandma and I share Jean as a mn. There have been a few points in my life when I considered giving up the trendy (for the 70’s) Heather, and simply use Jean. As a name it is not frilly or melodic. Jean sounds capable and smart, and who wouldn’t like to be those things?

chelseamae Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 7:37 am

Love retro names. Maxine and Dorothy are two of my favorites! Jean still seems a little dusty to me, but I think that Jeannie is a really cute alternative!

A little girl I babysit named one of her dolls Maxine, so I thought that helped reassure me that it would be a safe choice!

edenlyla13 Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 9:46 am

I love Estelle and Dorothy!

Jacquielle Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 9:58 am

I would LOVE to meet a little Dorothy Jean…nn Dotty Jean. I already know one Dorothy nn Dot or I would consider using it. Hopefully Beverly will come back too- one of my favorites.

littlebrownpony Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 10:30 am

I love Estelle/Estella and I don’t mind Maxine. Maxine makes me think of Nadine, which I also like and think fits this category. And my cousin has a daughter named Dorothea, after our great grandmother, and calls her Thea.

littlebrownpony Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 10:31 am

Oh, and an acquaintance of mind just had a little girl named Marilyn, whose big sister is Vivian. Both of those names fit this trend, too, IMO.

GoodHope Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 11:05 am

I love Estelle and Dorothy! I love retro-to-mid-century girl names in general. I could happily name my daughters off the most popular lists from 1910 to about 1955.

melissaintlouis Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 12:41 pm

This post makes me really happy. I’ve been perusing the 1940 census, and the names are so great: Florence, Opal, Sally, Mabel, Blanche, Irene, Eloise; as well as Maxine, Dorothy, and Gloria…swoon!

esrever88 Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I adore so many of these names! Estelle and Jean are on my shortlist, and I love Maxine too. Think they’re ready to come back.

ejs82 Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I love all these retro names, I’d much rather hear a little kid called Dorothy than Kayleigh! My style tends towards names that peaked around the 1940s, baby Betsy (full name Elizabeth) will hopefully be joining her sister Rosemary this week, and our next favorite girl’s names are Ruth and Kay.

thetxbelle Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Maxime is primarily used for boys in France but it’s actually a unisex name and has been used for girls since at least 1900. Its currently growing in popularity for both.

You can look at a cool chart and photos here:

Abby Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 5:59 pm

@thetxbelle – Thanks! Now I’d really like to meet a little girl called Maxime …

@esj82 – I adore Besty, too. What a wonderful set of names for sisters. Looking forward to seeing the BA!

@melissaintlouis – Your list makes me think that the next decade of retro really is here! Opal is great, and suddenly Sally and Blanche sound charming, too. I had a grandmother Irene. I might have honored her with Iris – my younger sister says she’d use Irene. We’ll see …

jame1881 Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Ruby is my favorite here. I always think of one of my favorite books, Way Down Deep, where the main character was Ruby.

ErinLW Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

There are two Maxines in my class alone! I had no idea it was a more popular name in the 1910s and ’20s than now- I always figured it was a modern name.

Sarah A Says:

May 7th, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I think names from the ’30s and ’40s are really hit or miss. I like Dorothy but not Sally; Ruby, not Jean; whereas I like probably 95% of the top names from the turn of the century.
I do think the most important thing is meaning. Elaine sounds dated to many people, but it’s my grandmother’s name and honoring her means more to me than trends. Now my MIL is Sharon, and, well, DH would have to lobby mighty hard for that one 😉

moxielove Says:

May 8th, 2012 at 1:55 am

Love Estelle – it’s my daughter’s mn. And I am constantly suggesting Gloria in the name forums! I think Ramona & Gloria is such a fanastic sibset.

Dorothy is still on the clunky side for me – more 1950’s than 1920’s and therefore still on the musty side (sort of like Barbara as opposed to Camille).

Maxine is very cute and fits in well with the french styled names like Mirabelle, Simone etc. but I personally wouldn’t use it. Definitely prefer it to Maxwell however!

WaltzingMoreThanMatilda Says:

July 14th, 2012 at 1:06 am

Estelle was a celebrity baby name here last year, and this year I’ve seen quite a few Estelles in the BAs.

I also saw a Dorothy Jean AND a Dolly Jean born the same week in the same city! I’m happy to see Dorothy in use again.

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