The Great-Grandparents Baby Name Rule

A new generational rule for old names

By Nancy Man

A baby name becomes trendy for one generation. For the next two generations, while those initial babies are parent-aged and grandparent-aged, you can expect the name to go out of style. But during the third generation, once the cohort reaches great-grandparent age, the name is free to come back into fashion.

Evelyn is a name with a usage pattern that fits this description well.

I’ve seen it described elsewhere as the 100-Year Rule, but I prefer to call it the Great-Grandparent Rule, as it makes more sense to me to frame it in terms of generations.

Essentially, the pattern has to do with a name’s main generational association shifting from “a name that belongs to real-life old people” to “a name that sounds pleasantly old-fashioned.”

I used to think the pattern was one we’d only recently discovered — something we needed the data to see — but it turns out that at least one observant person noticed this trend and wrote about it in The San Francisco Call more than 100 years ago (boldface mine):

“Time was — and that not very long ago — when old fashioned names, as old fashioned furniture, crockery and hand embroideries, were declared out of date. The progress of the ages that replaced the slower work of hand by the speed of machines cast a blight on everything that betokened age.

Spinning wheels were stowed away in attics, grandmothers’ gowns were tucked into cedar chests, old porcelain of plain design was replaced by more gaudy utensils and machine made and embroidered dresses and lingerie lined the closets where formerly only handwork was hung.

So with given names. Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, Sarah, Hannah and Anne, one and all, were declared old fashioned and were relegated to past ages to be succeeded by Gladys, Helen, Delphine, Gwendolyn, Geraldine and Lillian and a host of other more showy appellations.

Two generations of these, and woman exercised her time honored privilege and changed her mind.

She woke suddenly to the value of history, hustled from their hiding places the ancient robes and furnishings that were her insignia of culture, discarded the work of the modern machine for the finer output of her own fair hands, and, as a finishing touch, christened her children after their great-grandparents.

Old fashioned names revived with fervor and those once despised are now termed quaint and pretty and “quite the style, my dear.”

Pretty cool that this every-third-generation pattern was already an observable phenomenon three generations ago.

The article went on to list society babies with names like Barbara, Betsy, Bridget, Dorcas (“decidedly Puritan”), Dorothea, Frances, Henrietta, Jane, Josephine, Lucy, Margaret, Mary, Olivia, and Sarah (“much in vogue a century ago”).

Have you see the 100-Year Rule/Great-Grandparent Rule at play in your own family tree? If so, what was the name and what were the birth years?

Source: “Society” [Editorial]. San Francisco Call 17 Aug. 1913: 19.

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33 Responses to “The Great-Grandparents Baby Name Rule”

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Myn Says:

June 11th, 2017 at 11:30 pm

My great grandparents are Sophia Jane & Albert, Daisy & Reginald, Inda ‘Pearl’ & Thomas ‘Alton’, Janet & unknown man, her stepfather was William.

My grandparents born from 1927-1935 are Caroline & Edward and Marjorie & Ronald

Orchid_Lover Says:

June 11th, 2017 at 11:45 pm

I love the old articles that discuss it. I’m sure it’s been around for a very very long time because humans are social creatures. It’s actually kind of amusing to think about how we repeat this cyclical pattern of name trends thanks to our longing to fit in to our social group.

I love coming across baby Betty s and would love to see a baby Lorraine.

A few years ago I was observing how the letter F was at a seeming nadir in unpopularity…names like Florence, Francees, Flynn, a Finn just had to be on the verge of being the next cool trend.

Beau Jean Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 12:30 am

Otto & Edith 1900’s, Adolf & Ella 1890’s, George & Sylvia 1910, Robert & Ruth 1910’s

I would use any of my great-grandparents names except for maybe Adolf (I wonder if that name will ever recover from it’s past)

I can’t wait for Carol and Barbara to come back in style. Maybe when my children start having kids of their own.

CittyTK Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 2:25 am

My great-grandmother’s name is actually Evelyn! I told her if I ever had a baby girl I would name my daughter Evelyn after her.

SarahLouise1975 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 4:49 am

My great grandparents were
John (jack) and Mary (Minnie)
William and Sarah
Francis and Ellen
Another William and Alice
All names that would I could easily pick, maybe with the exception of Francis, who was probably a frank anyway…

brookesher17 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 5:31 am

my great grandparents were Marcelino & Carmen, Candido & Julia, Joseph & Mary, and Leo & Alice
Alice, Leo, and Carmen are all names I love!

paw Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 6:18 am

Our family seemed to miss this “rule” somehow.

My great grandparents were William and Martha, Joseph and Frances, Edward and Mary Jane, and John and Gertrude.

Martha had a granddaughter named Martha but no great grandchildren with that name. There has been no William in any of the succeeding generations.

Joseph had a son named after him, a grandson named after him, and his name has been used as a middle name for two great grandsons, There is a great granddaughter named Francesca but other no other Frances is the family.

Edward had a son named after him but there are no grandsons or great grandsons with that name. Mary Jane had a daughter named Mary and two granddaughters named Mary but there are no Mary’s in the 4th generation.

There are no further John’s or Gertrudes in the family.

ClaireEliseWren Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 8:52 am

My great grandmother’s name was Ada, as was my grandmother’s. I passed this lovely little name on to my daughter as one of her middles. My grandmother would have, I’m sure, been both honoured and horrified…she always HATED her name!

gjkp2010 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 9:08 am

The only great-grandparents I know of were named Erna and Heinrich. Probably won’t be using those, although my mom’s second middle name is Ernestine after her grandmother. Unfortunately, my family tree doesn’t go back any further than my great-grandparents.

My daughter has the same first name as her great-grandmother.

dbear22 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 9:44 am

Our son is named after my husband’s grandfather so we are part of this. Our son is Albert. Most people we meet think this name is still “too old fashioned”. Yesterday I introduced him as Albie and someone said “is it short for Alban”? They were surprised when I told them his name.

Chloe14 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 10:36 am

My great-grandmother’s name was Moira. I think it’s such a beautiful name!

Taffermom12 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Certainly true for us…named our 8 month old daughter after my great grandmother, Olive!

Other great grandparent names in mine and Hubby’s families include:
Lelia Alfreta (with a T not a D) and Elsie (used as a mans name)
Verlin (used as a woman’s name) and Fred
Olive and Erastus (Rass)
Jesse and Hassie
Daisy and Simon
Henderson and Dessie

Hubby really likes Daisy. I am not sold on using Daisy yet! Lo!!

ceryle Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 1:15 pm

My first and middle names are from two of my great-grandmothers! And both are out of style again.

Bobcat108 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 2:11 pm

My great-grandparents (all born in the 1870–1890s):

Carl Joseph & Lillie Mae
Frank & Mary (Mae)
Andrew & Katherine
Anton (who became Anthony in the US) & Anna

Of those names, the only one that reappears in the family tree is Joseph, which has been used at least once in every generation since my great-grandfather. My second niece is Lilia, but she’s not named after Lillie.

JH Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 3:19 pm

We named our first son Leo after my grandpa, so his great-grandpa.

My great-grandparents are Francis, Elizabeth, Clara, Oscar, Joseph, Ellen, Thomas, and Margaret. All names that are pretty classic and are definitely in use. Oscar is probably the most unique and seems to be gaining steam now.

My other grandpa’s name is Roman, which is also becoming more popular now.

ARead Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 3:43 pm

My first and middle are both after my great-grandmothers and one of my daughters is Evelina after my great-great-aunt.

My great grandparents were:
Martin and Ruth (both repeated with their grandkids)
Betty and Tom (both repeated with their children and grandkids)
Werner and Anna (used with their son and great granddaughter, respectively)
Else and Heinrich (Else used with 2 of their daughters, once as a middle, once as first)

So, my family is super into honor names, but generational rules don’t really seems to apply!

TinyTurtle Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 3:46 pm

My great-grandparents’ names are Nels, Margaret, Christian, Marion, Robert, Lorraine, Henry, and Rose. None of these names have shown up in their great-grandchildren or even great-great-grandchildren, but all would fit nicely on a baby born this generation—maybe not Nels though.

LarissaP Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 4:56 pm

We named our second daughter after my husband’s Great Grandmother, Izola (pronounced EE-suh-luh) . I don’t think the name has ever been popular, but we definitely fit into the category!

aggie2010 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 5:53 pm

I was named after two great-grandparents, Katherine and Elizabeth, so I think that side checks out. I am conflicted on using my own or husband’s grandparents: some names aged well, and some did not. Walter: Sure! Wilbur: No!

es378 Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 6:50 pm

My mum was named after her grandmother (so my great-grandmother) and she has spent her entire life hating her name because it was so old-fashioned in her era. Her name is Elsie Agnes – a beautiful, wearable quaint name for a little girl today.

Nadie Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 7:46 pm

It’s true for us! We named our daughter Elsie (now 7 months) after my great grandmother. If we would’ve had a boy we would’ve considered Hugh for a middle name (also a great grandparent’s name) We researched both sides of the family tree for names.

jessiemay Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 9:35 pm

So true! I can’t tell you the amount of little girls I know named Olive (extremely popular in my hipster neighbourhood, also one of my sisters’ names), Hazel, Ruby (another one of my sisters!), Pearl, Elsie, Clementine, Florence, etc. Personally I loooove names from this era (including boys names like Arthur, Theodore, etc) but I really hope they don’t become too popular in the mainstream! It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next generation…somehow I can’t picture flocks of babies named Barbara, Janet, Patricia, Douglas, Kenneth, Roger- but who knows!

jessiemay Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 9:43 pm

My great-grandparents were Siegfred, Gudrun (both Norwegian), James Vinnie, Hazel Pearl (adore!- according to my grandmother she hated it though!), Maxwell, Isabel Freda (she went by Freda which I love), Margaret and Arthur (I think!). I love Hazel, Pearl, Freda and Arthur. My children’s great-grandparents, though, would be Herbert John, Caroline Perry, John William and Ellen Janet “Jennie”…and I don’t know the names on my partner’s side that far back! Not too excited about the ones on my side except for Wren as a nod to my grandmother Ellen whose nickname is Jennie Wren.

Care Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 10:25 pm

I agree with the hundred year rule, but this would be great, great grandparents, not great grandparents.
Assuming 25 years for a generation, an average woman is mom at 25, grandma at 50 and great grandma at 75. I know many people in the 75 year age group and their names are not being currently used on their great grandkids.
I do see the 100 year old names, from 1917, popping up left and right!
One notable fact in my family is that Alison and Alice have been passed down directly, alternating for 6 generations now. Way back “when”, Allison (with 2 Ls) was considered a boys name as was Shirley (before Shirley Temple).

Impwood Says:

June 12th, 2017 at 11:50 pm

The thing is, the great-grandparent rule refers to the great-grandparents of the person bestowing the name, which are indeed the great-great-grandparents of the child receiving it.

The rule is definitely a good insight into the cyclical nature of fashion, but I think we should try to break out of this stance of fashionable and not fashionable and consider the more solid and durable qualities of a name we choose for our children.

teacupsandtiaras Says:

June 13th, 2017 at 10:31 am

My great-grandparents were Antonio, Maria Concetta, Manuel, Lottie, Felipe, Lilia, Alfredo, and Josefina. Of these, I only ever met Manuel, Lottie, and Alfredo, and I have fond memories of all three.

Lottie (on its own and as a nickname for Charlotte) and Josephine have always been on my list for a little girl. The other names I’ve tried to Anglicize for pronunciation but a little Alfred or Emmanuel might be fun!

alicemarie1 Says:

June 13th, 2017 at 1:55 pm

My great-grandparents were Joseph & Rose, Peter & Clara, Christos & Anastasia, Dimitri & Mary. One of my cousins carries the name Clara. But, the others haven’t been used.

I do really love Aurora, which is my grandma’s middle name and plan on using it on a future daughter if it doesn’t get horribly popular.

paulapuddephatt Says:

June 13th, 2017 at 5:03 pm

It sometimes works when people break the “rules”. A “too dated to use” name can actually sound refreshing, and it’s a good way to make a child’s name stand out, without seeming weird. It should be done with caution. I did go to school with people called names like Joyce and Hazel, which were “grandparent” names, at the time.

KiratheViolist Says:

June 13th, 2017 at 5:29 pm

I myself am named for my great-grandmother, although I can’t say Lelah was trendy in 2001 nor in 1902!

My great-grandparents are:
Vern & Lelah
Lawrence & Laura
Stanley & Ruth
Anton & Esther

None of these have reached any great heights as of late, but to be fair my generation hasn’t quite reached the age of settling down and raising families. Still, some of my great-great-aunts and uncles and other relatives of that generation had names that have been trendy amongst the hipster/yupster crowd recently: Florence, Audrey, Clara, Lena, Hazel, Lucille, Lula, Beatrice, Henrietta, Celia, Arthur, Thaddeus.

Some of my favorite more eccentric family tree names are Aida, Zeanith, Lelia, Parthena, Odessa, Yosti, Lucindia, and, of course, Lelah.

ladyhope Says:

June 13th, 2017 at 11:10 pm

We just named our son Theodore “Theo,” after one of my maternal great-grandfathers. My mother’s mn is Theodosia, after him, so our son is after her as well. My mn is Vivian, after one of my maternal great-grandmothers (she was married to Theo). I hope to pass it to a daughter one day, either as a fn or mn. I just really love these names, so it is a great bonus that they are honoring 🙂

NaomiNY Says:

June 14th, 2017 at 8:55 pm

My great-grandparents were:
Joseph & Johannah (born in, I think, the late 1870’s & early 1880’s, respectively)
Michael & Patricia
Frank Sr. & Beatrice
Frank & Dorothy

My grandparents were/are:
Norbert & Dorothy (deceased)
Frank Jr. & Patricia (living)

thesilenceinbetween Says:

June 20th, 2017 at 1:52 pm

My great-grandparents’ names were:

Disney (b. 1908) and Nellie (b. 1913)
James (b. 1902) and Josephine (b. 1902)
Patrick (b. 1877) and Mathilda (b. 1889)
Giovanni/John (b. 1895) and Ada (b. 1897)

James, Patrick, and John were all indeed passed down to sons and grandsons and great-grandsons. As far as I can tell, none of the women’s names have been used since as a first name. I really love Josephine (nn Josie) and would consider using it for a future daughter. I also like Matilda (without the h) and Ada, but probably wouldn’t use the latter (I fear it would be misheard as Ava all the time). I’m not a fan of nicknames on birth certificates, so Nellie’s out. On the male side, I love James, and I like John with the nickname Jack. I’m not a huge fan of Patrick, and Disney was an awful person in addition to having an awful name, so that name can remain in the trash heap of history.

Claudex Says:

February 19th, 2018 at 10:55 am

My great-grandparents were/are;

Aage & Morita

John & Patricia

James & Edna

George & Magaret

Cathleen & an unknown guy

Richard & Spacey

John & Ida

I’ve already told my Great-Grandma Morita, that I’m going to name one of my children after. I asked her permission to do so, and she said it was fine, I love the names Morita, Spacey, and Edna for girls and Aage for a boy.

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