Old-Fashioned Names Are New Again

Old-Fashioned Names Are New Again

Old-fashioned names, if they’re the right choices, are being dusted off and elevated to the height of fashion. Just a few years ago, you might have cringed if the family expected you to name the baby after Great-Aunt Martha or Grandpa Harold.  Today, those old-school names and the others on the list are among the fastest-rising on the Social Security list. These are the Olives and Oscars, the Sadies and Silases of tomorrow.

Old-Fashioned Names

A to F


Alfred is having a major resurgence in Scandinavia and England, and the US is hopping on that bandwagon as well, with Alfred leaping 95 places in the past five years on record. A royal name in the UK, Alfred has lots of other distinguished namesakes as well, and — big plus — four hip nicknames: Alf and Alfie and Fred and Freddie.


Clyde still has a cool-cat image for a name that peaked in the year 1900, bounding up 275 places over the past five years. Basketball great Walt Frazier’s nickname is Clyde and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler was known as Clyde the Glide. Catherine Keener and Dermot Mulroney were ahead of the curve when they used this old-fashioned boys’ name for their son in 1999.


Dorothy’s not just in Kansas anymore — she’s been growing in popularity across the country, rising over 200 places from 2013-2018. That wide-eyed Wizard of Oz image has managed to keep her somewhat youthful despite being the Number 2 name in 1920 and a Golden Girl in the 80s. Scarlett Johansson used Dorothy as daughter Rose’s middle name.


Faye reentered the Top 1000 in 2014 — after being MIA for 35 years! (And sister Fay has been off even longer). Faye may be slipstreaming along behind the new popularity of May/Mae, or might have received a bounce from being a Mad Men character or — here’s a thought — because everyone loves Tina Fey.


Sweet, gentle Frances is definitely on the upswing, gaining almost 250 places in the past five years. She’s become a celebrity fave, chosen by such stylish parents as the late designer Kate Spade, actress Amanda Peet — who opted for fresher, spunkier, nickname Frankie over the more dated Fran, and the Jimmy Fallons, who call their Frances Franny.

H to O


The popularity of nickname Harry has rubbed off on one of its more formal forms. Harold has many distinguished namesakes, including two British PMs and playwright Pinter; kids might relate to Harold the helicopter in Thomas the Tank Engine and the classic Harold and the Purple Crayon. Greta Gerwig recently named her son Harold, and it’s the middle name of Jenna Bush Hager’s son Henry (called Hal). Harold was up 96 places from 2013-2018.


The roster of attractive current high-profile Hughs — including Jackman, Grant, Laurie, and Dancy — has probably contributed to the resurgence of this sophisticated one-syllable name. Hugh moved up 30 places in 2018.


The first First Lady’s name has always had a rather prim image, but the new generation of parents are beginning to appreciate her traditional, can-do Martha Stewart virtues, while the Beatles made it endearing in the song ‘Martha, My Dear.” The name has hovered around the 800th spot since 2013.


Is Otto the new Oscar? It’s a palindrome name with trendy O’s at the start and finish and is climbing each year — it currently sits at Number 430, but it didn’t even break the Top 1000 a decade ago. Otto’s popularity is even greater on Nameberry —the Berries have it at Number 96. Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, chose it for his son.

R to V


After a decades-long downturn, Ralph is finally on the up-and-up. It was a Top 50 pick from the 1880s through the 1940s, but enough time has passed that Ralph is beginning to feel fresh and charming again. It is currently ranked at Number 951. The nickname Ralphie calls to mind the classic holiday movie A Christmas Story.


Ramona is back, and it’s about time — it peaked with the 1920s baby names, so according to the 100 Year Rule, this is the decade Ramona should reemerge. Right now Ramona is ranked at Number 835, but it’s rising quickly. It’s a popular starbaby name, having been chosen by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard for their daughter in 2006, and then in 2019 by Ryan Lewis, as well as Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey.


Rhea has experienced exponential growth since its return to the Top 1000 in 2015. It’s climbed almost 100 spots each year and sits at Number 761 in the official 2018 data. In Greek mythology, Rhea is the mother of all the gods — it also may remind you of Cheers actress Rhea Perlman. 


Rosalyn remained in the Top 1000 for the first 80 years of the 20th century, only to drop from sight….until 2014. A modernized version of the classic Rosalind, Rosalyn‘s reemergence owes something to the style for lyn-ending names, such as Brooklyn and Evelyn. In 2018, the last year on record, Rosalyn ranked at Number 868.


Vera firmly established herself as a Top 300 name in 2017, and it will likely break the Top 250 when the 2019 data comes out. It is even more popular in Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Designer Vera Wang and Ukrainian-born actress Vera Famiga are current bearers. And it’s the birth name of both Jayne Mansfield and Mindy Kaling.

W to Z


You may not have met any baby Wallaces yet, but trust us, you will. It rose 144 spots from 2017 to 2018, now ranking at Number 879. If it continues on that trajectory, there are going to be a lot more little boys named Wallace around. It’s connected to modernist poet Wallace Stevens, actor Wallace Shawn, and the claymation series Wallace & Gromit. Retro nickname Wally only adds to the appeal.


Presidential name Warren, which peaked in popularity in 1921, the year of Harding’s inauguration, is suddenly back in play, both here and, strangely enough, in France. There have been X-Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Warren characters. Iconoclastic financier Warren Buffet could be an inspiration. Warren was up 141 places in the past five years.


Watson was the fifth fastest-rising boy name of 2018, jumping over 300 places and back into the Top 1000 at Number 711. It has a distinguished, intellectual image thanks to associations with IBM’s Watson computer — named after IBM founder Thomas Watson — and Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s brainy partner. 


Zora fell out of the Top 1000 in 1940 but has staged a 21st-century comeback, making her reappearance in 2018 at Number 982. And it’s no surprise, given the recent success of similar names Nora and Cora. Zora is often tied to author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.