1930s Names Making a Comeback
Your grandparents’ names are about to become cool again.
The prevailing theory surrounding vintage baby names is called the 100 Year Rule. Names cycle in and out of fashion, and on average, it takes a century for the cycle to complete. Those tied to your and your parents’ generations are too dated for consideration, and your grandparents’ names tend to sound like old lady and old man names. But names from your great-grandparents’ generations hold appeal. Once there aren’t many people with a specific name anymore, it starts to sound fresh and intriguing.
The most common names of the 1930s were stalwarts Mary and John — still in use today, with much lower frequency. Rather than limiting ourselves to the top names of the decade, we looked at names that peaked in the 1930s, which gives a broader picture of the trends of the day. Some of these names were chart-toppers, others were mere blips, but all uniquely belong to the 1930s.
Theoretically, we’re a decade out from these names reaching their full potential, but here is a sneak preview of the vintage names that are due to come back in style, listed along with the year they peaked.
Golden-hued Aurelio, though on the rise, has not been accepted by the mainstream as easily as its sister name, Aurelia. It’s Italian in origin — a variation of Aurelius — and a mainstay on the charts in European countries including Germany and Switzerland.
Parents today are more likely to go with the streamlined Elio, which more than doubled in popularity after it was featured in the 2017 film Call Me By Your Name.
Betty is starting to shake off her old-lady image, helped in part by celebrities such as Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, who chose it for their third daughter. Originally a nickname for Elizabeth, Betty has long been a standalone name. It was the second-most-common girl name in the US from 1928 to 1933 and ranked in the Top 10 from 1921 to 1944.
A myriad of historical and pop culture figures share the name, including First Lady Betty Ford, feminist writer Betty Friedan, and the fictional Bettys Crocker and Boop. More recently, it’s been associated with Mad Men’s Betty Draper.
Buddy is traditionally a nickname name — and some will argue it’s too diminutive to put on the birth certificate — but in the 1930s, it almost cracked the Top 200 as a given name. It’s currently heard more frequently in the UK, where it ranks in the Top 350.
Buddy has a familiar and friendly aura (what else would you expect from a buddy?) that’s often coveted in uncommon names. With names like Sonny and Honey on the rise, Buddy doesn’t feel like much of a stretch.
Nameberry favorite Delphine has not gained much traction in the wider world (despite our best efforts!). It’s the perfect candidate for revival with its romantic French sound, a la Josephine and Marceline, and ties to the natural world. Delphine is actually a double nature name through its meaning, “dolphin,” and connection with the delphinium flower.
Delphine has been featured in numerous literary works, including novels by Honoré de Balzac and Anne Louise Germaine de Staël.
Dolores’s image has shifted wildly over the ages. Once a religious name that called to mind the Virgin Mary, Dolores became vampy and vixen-like in the 1920s and ‘30s. That legacy is carried on by Lola and Lolita, two of its nicknames, while Dolores itself feels dusty and dated today.
However, the tides may be turning on Dolores. It’s trending upwards on the popularity charts and was recently used by celebrity couple Addison Timlin and Jeremy Allen White for their second daughter, who they call Dolly.
Farrell is familiar today primarily as a surname, as in actor Colin Farrell. That places it among the surname name options — and makes it an especially good choice if you have Farrells on your family tree — but it is also an Anglicization of the Irish given name Fergal.
Farrell was never a particularly common name in the US, and it faded out of the Top 1000 in the 1960s. It’s the perfect blend of recognizable and unique today — given to only seven baby boys at last count. Coupled with its desirable meaning, “courageous,” Farrell could be a winning choice for a son.
Garner had a very brief run on the Top 1000 — it ranked for five separate years, only two in succession — but could easily be a hit in the 21st century. It’s a surname name of two origins — a contracted form of Gardener and an occupational name denoting a granary worker.
It’s recognizable today via actress Jennifer Garner, who used it as a middle name for her son Samuel. Garner is also the middle of Jessica Alba’s daughter Haven, which she shares with her father. Garner would easily fit in with today’s rising surname names such as Adler, Miller, and Baker.
Clunky-cool Gene is slowly creeping its way back up the charts. It has more charm and swagger than its classic full form, Eugene, although the latter currently ranks higher on the US popularity list.
Vintage nicknames like Gus, Cal, and Ray have been on the rise in recent years, and Gene feels like a part of the crowd. It has a celebrity endorsement from comedian Amy Schumer, who used it for her son in 2019.
Joan may have technically peaked in the early ‘30s, but it maintained its grip on American parents well through the 1960s when it finally left the Top 100. Joan was among the top girl names for multiple generations, leading to oversaturation, and ever since her bubble burst, we rarely hear it on baby girls.
Joan has officially been out of the Top 1000 for as long as it was a Top 50 name, so it’s time to give Joan another look. It’s less expected than Jane, with the same simplicity and classicism. Nickname Joanie (or Joani or Joni) feels like a successor to Josie.
The US hasn’t caught on to the international fervor surrounding Lois. It’s a Top 50 choice in the Netherlands and parts of Spain, and on the rise in France (where it is a unisex name — and more popular for boys!). In the UK, Lois has already passed its peak of Number 109 in 2008 but remains in the Top 300.
A primary association is Lois Lane, Superman’s journalist girlfriend. The character debuted in 1938, when Lois a very realistic name for a young adult woman at the time. Lois is similar to vintage revivals Louise and Louisa, and sports Loie as a nickname option.
Unassuming and soft-spoken Lowell is a name to keep your eye on. A recent and significant trend among boy names is those with softer sounds — think Liam, Elias, and Miles. The current up-and-coming generation of vintage boy names contains gentle names including Lyle and Amias — Lowell is a part of the next set of names up for reconsideration.
Behind Lowell’s mild manner is a fierce meaning, “young wolf.”
Sally began life as a nickname for Sarah but has been used independently since the 19th century. Once a charming, everygirl name, Sally has since fallen out of favor, replaced by a different Sarah diminutive, Sadie.
The Sally renaissance has already begun in Sweden, where it’s been in the Top 100 since 2013. It currently sits 165 places outside the US Top 1000 and will likely break back in within the decade. Sally has numerous stand-out associations, including Sally Ride, the first woman in Space, and actresses Field and Struthers. Fictional Sallys are represented in When Harry Met Sally…, Mad Men, and Charles Schultz’s iconic comic strip Peanuts.
More Names That Peaked in the 1930s
But wait, there’s more! Our favorite names from the 1930s couldn’t be contained to the above 12. Listed here for your consideration are two dozen more stylish names that deserve a second look.
These include nickname names like Ruthie and Dotty, Freddie and Billy; vintage surnames such as Werner and Arlen; and romantic choices including Marcelina, Porfirio, and Winona.
1930s Names Already Back
These early birds came back into fashion ahead of schedule.
Names Stuck in Style Limbo
For all the wonderful 1930s names that belong back on parents’ lists, there are those that aren’t quite ready for a comeback. These names need at least a generation before they sound fresh and exciting again.
Some of these names are probably gone forever (Dick, most certainly), but this list is a great place to look for a shockingly vintage, ice-cold baby name.