The Lost Names of 1880
I was combing through the Top 1000 Names of 1880 the other day for another project (ah, the glamorous life of the baby name expert) and I was blown away by how many names on the list had been totally forgotten. I don’t mean just marginalized, like Ethel or Beulah, but no longer even in our naming lexicon.
We tend to think of strange, invented, unique names as being a recent phenomenon, as if in the past everybody was named John and Mary, and it’s only since 1968 that we’ve had names like Hallie and Freedom.
But in fact, naming innovations have always been a part of American culture, and examining the list for 1880 – the first year for which we have records – makes that crystal clear. The roster contains literally hundreds of names virtually unknown today.
Here, a two-part look at the lost names of 1880, starting with girls’ names.
The biggest name trend story of 1880 was nickname names – yes, dozens of the expected Minnie and Annies and Elsies (the name of the little girl in the Mary Cassatt painting that illustrates this post), but also dozen of names ending in –ie that have rarely been heard in the past hundred years. There was a notable collection of boyish nickname names such as Donnie and Vinnie and Gussie, but here are the most outrageous overall:
And then there were other short-form names not ending in the trendy –ie, but feeling like lopped-off pieces of longer names (though what exactly those longer names might be, it’s sometimes hard to guess). Here, the most obscure:
Place names that might seem like 21st century creations were also used in 1880:
And then there was a short list of word names:
Perhaps the most intriguing category of lost names are the classic choices that have fallen into disuse. Some of these are not exactly unknown – we’ve been promoting Araminta for years, for instance, and hipster mommy blogger Dooce’s daughter is named Leta – but most are quite obscure. Among the most intriguing:
ALPHA – First letter of the Greek alphabet.
ARAMINTA and ARMINTA – Old English name fallen into disuse but was used in surprising number of forms, including Arminta, Araminta, and Mintie, in 1880. Was also the birth name of abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
ETNA – Classical Greek name for one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
FIDELIA – Feminine form of Latin name meaning faithful.
MAHALA – Old Testament name meaning “tender, affection.”
PARTHENIA – Ancient Greek name, related to the Parthenon, meaning chaste maiden.
And then there are the lost names that are just plain funny. R.I.P., your poor 1880 girls named:
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on November 19th, 2009 at 1:37 am
Some of these names are hilarious! I love Mintie, Classie, Icy, Missouri and my god! Can you imagine being named Neppie?!
Still some of these names have appeal: I think Nolia is really pretty, energetic and distinctive, and Lulie is quite cute.
Also, some of the forgotten classics have a really cool steampunk vibe.
Great post, really interesting!
on November 19th, 2009 at 1:58 am
I’m quite surprised at the amount of names I like on this list. We actually almost named out daughter Netta, for my grandmother Anastasia who went by (for some unknown reason) Nettie.
I like Nella, it’s spunky, and I could never get my husband on board, but I really love Celestia and Sophronia is awesome as a replacement for the uber popular Sofia/Sophia trend
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on November 19th, 2009 at 2:09 am
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on November 19th, 2009 at 2:23 am
I wonder if some of the short-form names (-ie endings and others) maybe anglicized versions of foreign names: Alla is a full name in Russian-speaking countries. Lotta is a full name of German origin. Many of the short forms sound very similar to Scandinavian or Slavic names. My grandma was called “Lila” in the US although her given name was Levsha: the connection can be hard to discern when names were transliterated from other languages. So many people who came to the US did not know English when they arrived. In general I don’t find this list particularly charming or begging to be revived. Delphia, Celestia are the stand outs for me.
on November 19th, 2009 at 7:06 am
I wonder if some of these names are the result of the larger families in these pre-birth-control days. My great-grandmother had 15 children, and while the first half of them had lovely names, by about 10 or 12 she was getting quite desperate and even repetitive, which is how I have two great uncles named John.
on November 19th, 2009 at 8:15 am
My great aunt Anastasia also went by Nettie! I think I remember hearing as a child that it was a common nickname at the time? Good point about anglicized versions of foreign names–my family is Russian and some of the names do have a familiar sound. Luda is a common name, for example. Maybe Ludie is a nickname for that? I actually think Ludie is pretty cute. I also like Alcie a lot. Dovie sounds like a term of endearment that your grandmother might call you. Sweet, but not a name, in my opinion!
on November 19th, 2009 at 8:16 am
Most of these aren’t to my taste, I do admit. Acout halfway down the -ie list, my eyes started to deny it was even a valid name ending, in fact, because there were just so many of them!
However, I do like Ara, Iola (which I have actually heard before), Linna, Cinda, Gracia, Albina and Drusilla. I can’t imagine every using any of them, but I like them!
on November 19th, 2009 at 9:10 am
The biggest name trend story of 1880 was nickname names…
Coincidentally, I was just watching The Color Purple again on YouTube last night, and I’m reminded now of the two sisters – Celie and Nettie – in the movie. (The events of the story begin in the year 1909, when Celie is 14 years old.)
Thanks for yet another interesting blog entry!
Pamela Redmond Satran Said
on November 19th, 2009 at 9:14 am
Kate, excellent point about steampunk — I didn’t make that connection but I think you’re absolutely right. (For the uninitiated, steampunk is a style movement that embraced the late 19th century aesthetic.) And Peach, I also think you’re absolutely right about many of the nickname or short form names being abbreviations of more difficult foreign names.
on November 19th, 2009 at 10:16 am
I went to high school with a girl called Lida and always envied her name.
A few weeks ago, I watched a Lifetime Original Movie (yes, yes, I did) called Sorority Wars. (Need to get out more.) Anyhow, Courtney Thorne-Smith played one of the moms, Lutie. I’ve never heard the name before – interesting to see that it has history.
on November 19th, 2009 at 10:16 am
Yeah, there are a few of those names on my family tree. Someone in my mom’s family spent a lot of time digging through old records and compiled a genealogy going back to the 1600s. One of the cousins on the family tree was named Agnes Fidelia. One of those 19th century farmers had a classical streak because other girls were named things like Lovina or Samantha. There were a lot of boys named Lafayette, which was a fairly popular patriotic name. A lot of these were probably nicknames for other classic names. Dicie/Dicey is probably from Theodicea, which I think is a Biblical place name, or Eurydice. Waitie was another name that was used for some time in my family. It’s apparently a nickname for Wait, the Puritan name of one of my ancestors. Most of the girls given the nickname Waitie in her honor probably weren’t particularly Puritan.
on November 19th, 2009 at 10:20 am
My grandmother’s family had some real doozies too that I don’t hear much anymore.
I had an Aunt Alexina and a Great Uncle Sergius. Her middle name was Everetta.
You can find a lot of names of that ilk if you look through old ship rolls or wagon train passenger lists from the 1860s or 1870s. The Donner party had a lot of interesting 19th century names like the above.
on November 19th, 2009 at 10:53 am
Pam, why am I not surprised that you’re familiar with steampunk? 🙂
Does this mean that we may soon see a blog entry on steampunk names? I envision them as consisting of the forgotten classics of the 1880s (as mentioned by Kate above), and including a revival of classical Greek and Roman names, as well.
Pair such forenames up with surnames swiped from British towns such as Ashbourne, Dunstable, and Twickenham, and — voila! Instant steampunk monikers.
Pamela Redmond Satran Said
on November 19th, 2009 at 11:00 am
I think a steampunk name post would be brilliant. But perhaps you’re the person to write it, not me?
Ash SP Said
on November 19th, 2009 at 11:15 am
This makes me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family names–her sisters all had GREAT names! Mary Amelia, Caroline Celestia, Grace Pearl. And I believe she was Laura Elizabeth.
on November 19th, 2009 at 12:11 pm
LOL – “Classie”. Not so classy, IMO.
I love Sula – I bet there are more Sulas out there than we might think due to the book.
on November 19th, 2009 at 1:32 pm
Very interesting blog, but I’m wondering where you found the data for it. I assumed it came from SSA baby names for the decade of the 1880s, but when I looked for a few of the unusual names there, I didn’t find them; nor were they in the top 1000 names for the year 1880. Could you share with us your source(s)?
I think this article would be of great interest to genealogists, especially the information that many names that may sound like a nn for a longer name were actually the given name.
on November 19th, 2009 at 1:33 pm
Oh a steampunk post sounds so fun! A few of my friends and I (we’re in college) have invented our own. Mine is Louisa Euphrosyne Featherstone. (Euphroysne is one of the Three Graces). One of my friends is Parthenia Aphra Langstaff. We think they’re pretty fun to come up with.
on November 19th, 2009 at 1:35 pm
“CELESTIA – Now rare feminine form of a late Roman name that means heavenly. So much better than Nevaeh!”
I’ll second that!
on November 19th, 2009 at 1:41 pm
Ah, I see that the names ARE in SSA’s 1880 top 1000 list — just discovered my “find’ function only works there if the first letter of a name is capitalized.
on November 19th, 2009 at 1:53 pm
Araminta is very fusty, prim, “posh” lady here in England and I think nickname Minty is just dreadful.
Celestia is gorgeous! So much better than Nevaeh.
Pamela Redmond Satran Said
on November 19th, 2009 at 2:00 pm
Yes! The Top 1000 of 1880. Meant to include the link but obviously forgot. Here it is: http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/popularnames.cgi
Tomorrow I’ll have the boys’ rundown. While going to the SSA site will give you even more lost names, it’s tough going teasing them all out…
on November 19th, 2009 at 3:33 pm
I actually know a Celestia from growing up! She went by Tia.
on November 19th, 2009 at 5:55 pm
I’m looking at the SSA list right now. Pretty weird, I hope I see some tomorrow that I am hoping to see. Every once in a while, someone posts a list of very old birth records, and it’s fairly obvious invented spellings are nothing new (or that spelling in general is only recently “standardized,” which is why people tend to take liberties with names), and that nickname names, word names, male names for girls (I saw a David, Dean, Joe, and Earl on this list) and such have a longer history than we picture, like some trends seem to be unraveling the finished, polished history of names that is really a fantasy. We are still and always evolving. It was a fun look, thanks for picking out a few choice specimens.
on November 19th, 2009 at 6:03 pm
I know you couldn’t list them all, but names like Josiephine, Isabell, Emmer, and Mayme/Maymie may have been offered to illustrate alt-spellings are not a “current” fad. However, these names are hardly lost (in their “correct” spelling or “valid” variations), so I can understand their exclusion in this particular article.
Pamela Redmond Satran Said
on November 19th, 2009 at 6:12 pm
Exactly. I was trying to stick to names that were truly lost, and even excluded many of those. Though I did include some, as I said, that are used occasionally. You’re right that there were tons of spelling variations and those I sidestepped.
on November 19th, 2009 at 6:35 pm
Many of those are very cute, and I especially love Mintie. I think at one time it might have been used as a nn for Araminta. Also, I saw a Natalie on the bottom of the list, as well as several modern choices, so its interesting to see how far some names have climbed throughout the years.
on November 19th, 2009 at 10:38 pm
Great blog! I’d love to read more about steampunk! From this list, I really love Cordie as a nickname for Cordelia. 🙂
on November 19th, 2009 at 10:50 pm
I just took a look at my family tree and noticed quite a few of the above names in the 1880s era. Some “forgotten” names from my tree pre-1890 are:
on November 20th, 2009 at 1:57 am
Parmenia was another on my list.
Other unusual names, this from the ill-fated Mountain Meadows party:
on November 20th, 2009 at 2:03 am
And a number of Marys, Marthas, Nancys, Matildas.
Unusual names among the surviving girls:
on November 20th, 2009 at 2:05 am
Also Triphenia, Saphrona, Saladia Ann, Eloah Angeline, and Amilda.
on November 20th, 2009 at 8:51 am
You all have such interesting family trees! Almost every name on mine is some form of Marie, Anna, and John. I have tree envy… 🙂
on November 26th, 2009 at 12:43 am
My one year old grandaughter is Named Alla. I had never heard of the name, but my daughter in law is from Russia, thus the origin of the name. The name fits her perfect.
on November 26th, 2009 at 11:27 am
Someone else made the point that some of these short forms are simplifications or pet names for “foreign” names more common of the time, and it makes sense that Alla would be one of them.
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on December 29th, 2009 at 8:05 pm
[…] THE LOST NAMES OF 1880 – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry […]
on January 11th, 2010 at 9:57 pm
I really enjoyed this article. I have a Beecher and Hazel. Some family names from around the 1880’s are Othal, Wealthy, Hallie and Meta. Meta’s last name was Mess. Iola is my favorite town in Wisconsin for pie 🙂
on January 15th, 2010 at 8:19 pm
Some of these names are indredible! Some are aweful, though, like Icy, uhh!
I was surprised to see Orpha on there, because that is my grandmother’s name.
Her middle name is Genoa, and her sisters were Viola and Edna.
Shannon Kay Said
on April 23rd, 2010 at 7:20 pm
OMG. My husband’s granny’s name is Icy. At first, I thought it said Ivy when I saw it written out, then I realized it was Icy. I was like, is it short for something? No, just Icy. This is the first time I’ve heard it talked about as a name otherwise.
At a family reunion in 2005 we went and looked at a cemetery where some of our relatives were buried and one of the names was Etta. My sisters and I all liked it.
I looked at the 1880’s era lists for the first time somewhat recently and was also surprised to find that names that I thought were more new or trendy were actually old, like Jewel.
I quite like Cinda from this list.
on August 19th, 2010 at 2:49 pm
I actually know a Dessie.
on August 25th, 2010 at 12:21 am
I came upon this article (web site), completely by chance, of course. Interestingly, the heroine of the book I’m currently reading is Celestia. Also, I went to school with a girl named Araminta. Back then (being less well-read and generally unsophisticated), I thought it was such a weird name; in fact, I didn’t realize it was a “real” name. I thought her parents must have just plucked it out of their imaginations. Another unusual name — at least, one that’s rare to me — is Ida, pronounced “ee-duh”, not “eye-duh”. It was my maternal great- great-grandmother’s name, who immigrated from Germany. Maybe there are a great deal of German women who bear this name…I don’t know! 🙂
on August 25th, 2010 at 12:25 am
Also, I’ve seen Alcie as a pet form of Alcyone — which is also a nice antiquated name, in my opinion.
on August 25th, 2010 at 12:47 am
Oh, it just occurred to me that my great-grandmother on my father’s side also had a less common name — Byrdie. Byrdie Savannah Georgia, to be exact. 😉 And she named her only daughter Hazel.
on October 17th, 2010 at 11:04 pm
I’m seeking the origin of my grandmother’s name – Eola. Is there any other information other than being on the list of names from the 1800s?
Anthony W Williams Said
on October 19th, 2010 at 11:14 am
Hi. I have found while doing my family history a gt. gt.aunt with the christian name Towina, she was born in Wales in 1881. I have tried all ways to find something about it but without luck. If you can help I would be grateful.
on December 27th, 2010 at 4:17 am
I don’t understand how Lotta can be “lost” since there was a Harvey Comic character named Lotta.
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on January 20th, 2011 at 7:21 am
[…] might have stumbled across Nolia on Namberry’s Lost Names of 1880 list. Along with Letta and Rella and a long list of others, Nameberry describes them as “lopped-off […]
on February 13th, 2011 at 7:31 pm
Is there a book or printable list of historic baby names available? We are starting a farm with heritage breed chickens, ducks, geese and sheep, and I’d like an alphabetical list of historical names to reference for each new arrival.
on March 7th, 2011 at 7:36 pm
I have a great-great aunt (who passed away many years ago) named Parthenia Icephene. She went by Icy. Yikes.
on March 27th, 2011 at 10:18 am
Icy makes me think of the novel Icy Sparks. It’s a great book, if any of you have time. 🙂
on June 9th, 2011 at 4:58 pm
I’m shocked that Vinnie used to be a popular nickname for girls. I named my daughter Levinia and have been calling her Vinnie forever. Almost every time I meet a new parent they say “Vinnie…hmm is that short for something?” I’m happy to know that at one point it wasn’t so unheard of 🙂
on July 9th, 2011 at 12:03 am
Lots of great names here! Some of these are even in my family tree…
Oma…this was her nickname her real name was Opa
I went to college with a girl named Drusilla…she is probably 30 now.
on July 9th, 2011 at 1:11 pm
A friend of mine just named her baby Ola after the child’s paternal grandmother! I think there are some real gems on this list! It is making me re-think wearable nicknames 🙂 Thanks for re-posting.
anna ~ random handprints Said
on August 1st, 2011 at 9:52 pm
beautiful names, though i’m not sure i would name a daughter any of them.
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on March 11th, 2012 at 5:14 pm
[…] obscure ones at that. It’s worth noting that Avie makes it onto Nameberry’s list of Lost Names From the 1880s, alongside Hettie, Delphia and […]
on January 8th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
Woohoo! My name is on there 🙂 Mahala x
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on September 24th, 2013 at 5:31 am
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on September 29th, 2013 at 8:37 pm
Tempie & Saphronia
Saphronia is my husband’s mother’s name & our daughter’s name. Saphronia, the old one, had a sister named Tempie, who is still here.
on January 14th, 2014 at 4:59 am
Tempie is short for Temperance
Hettie is short form for Henrietta – You can see it in use for the aunt character in “Road to Avonlea.”
Eda is short form for Edda, Edith and Edwina, french varient Ede – means well mannered
I love Drusilla, and hope to see it rise in the future. 🙂
on January 14th, 2014 at 5:22 am
Many of these names I grew up hearing in my community or know through my family tree.
on July 21st, 2014 at 1:21 pm
Love Nevada! My great great grandmother’s name was Nevada, but the middle A was pronounced long. I think it’s a gorgeous name and would definitely use it, but think it would be an uphill battle to get people to pronounce it that way.
on August 21st, 2014 at 12:51 pm
I was doing genealogy on my dad’s side of the family and I ran into a great great great aunt called Mahala. I also found a Mehetabel further back. So cool!
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