Name Sage: Seeking Timeless Names

Name Sage: Seeking Timeless Names

They’re not sure what to name their firstborn. But they’re certain the right name should be easy to spell and recognizable. Ideally, they’d love to choose timeless names, too. Sounds reasonable, but it’s more of a challenge than they expected!

Holly writes:

I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long time and am excited to be now writing in with my own plea for help.

Our baby is due in April and is the first baby in both of our families.

I’m not sure how to describe our style, but we do have certain criteria we’d like to meet.

The name we pick should be easy to spell, recognizable, and we’d prefer if it didn’t date the baby to a certain era. We’d like it if our baby wasn’t one of several in their class, although we have found we do tend towards more popular boys’ names!

Names we like so far include Rose, Robyn, Lois, Connie, Florence, and Penelope for girls, and Jack, Harry, Vincent, Jacob, and Sam for boys.

Family names we have considered for both middle and first names include Josephine, Eliza/Elizabeth, Helena, and Hope for a girl, and Frederick, Edmund, and Heath for a boy. I’m especially fond of Frederick as it is my dad’s name, but we think it might get confusing if we use it as a first name!

Our surname is two syllables, starting with an H and ending with an –l sound. We are based in England.

The Name Sage replies:

How exciting to be expecting your first!

Normally, I try to add lots of suggestions. Except you have some great options on your lists already.

Instead, let’s talk about one of your criteria that really jumps out: names that don’t date a child to a particular era.

This sounds like a worthy goal, right?

Turns out that it’s incredibly challenging.

There are two ways to give your child a name that doesn’t tie to a specific generation.

You might choose one that’s used in every decade – and therefore might feel a little too popular.

Alternatively, some possibilities are so distinctive that they can’t be easily dated – but those names can be a little out-there.  

All names trend.

After all, even the most classic names cycle in and out of favor.

Jack counts as a classic, but after so many years as a Top Ten name in England – many of them at Number 1 – it might (fairly) be perceived a name tied to your child’s generation. Harry, Sam, and Jacob could fall into the same category.

But there is one option on your list that stands out. It’s traditional, long-used and really tough to pin to any single point in time. Vincent hits the sweet spot.

It’s tough to think of any era when Vincent was The Name, but it also appears steadily across languages and countries, over a great many centuries. Vince is handsome; Vinnie is every bit as cozy as Alfie and Charlie. Elea of British Baby Names notes that Vincent has been in use in England since the 1200s.

It’s the very definition of a name everybody recognizes, but no one is using. Plus, Vincent Frederick is super distinguished.

Still, are you sure you don’t want to consider Frederick or Freddie for your son? It’s a happy coincidence that the most meaningful choice on your list is also such a favorite in the UK right now.

Girls’ names are even more subject to trends.

Only a handful of classic names, like Elizabeth, Katherine, and Margaret truly appear in every decade.

Florence and Penelope offer plenty of history, but they feel like names that are enjoying a burst of popularity now.

I’d call Connie more of a retro revival, a sister for Millie or Evie.

Robyn, on the other hand, leans a little modern – familiar to anyone naming children over the last century or so, but rare before the twentieth century. Plus, Robyn-with-a-y seems like the kind of (small) spelling challenge that you hoped to avoid.

Lois comes close, a New Testament name associated with figures from author Lois Lowry to Superman’s Lois Lane.

But it’s Rose that can be found in any age, while still feeling quite current now. British Baby Names points out that the name has been used since the thirteenth century. It’s been steadily popular across hundreds and hundreds of years.

Plus, there’s the subtle connection between Holly and Rose, two nature names that have long been bestowed as firsts. Rose Helena and Rose Josephine would be elegant, versatile, and timeless combinations.

Of course, Rosie outranks Rose in England by quite a bit – so perhaps all those Rosies and Roses together make this name feel a little too familiar?

An alternative might come from your family name list: Hope. Like Rose, it’s a positive word with a long history as a given name. Both choices are short, bright, and distinctive. But Hope is far less likely to repeat.

Are timeless names more important than other considerations?

Because the list of truly timeless names tends to be small, and grows smaller still when the most popular choices are crossed out, it’s worth pondering whether that’s the most important consideration.

If choosing Vincent or Rose feels like too much of a compromise, there’s nothing wrong with adjusting your criteria.

Readers, can you suggest more timeless names without necessarily picking the most popular classics, like Anna and James? UK berries, we could really use your help!