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Top-Ten-Then Girls: Shirley, Bertha and Bessie

Top-Ten-Then Girls: Shirley, Bertha and Bessie

By Linda Rosenkrantz

When you hear the phrase ‘Top 10 girls’ name,’ you might tend to think of classics like Mary and Elizabeth, or later long-running favorites Jennifer and Jessica, or the current Sophia.  But it certainly wouldn’t be Bertha—which in fact was in that golden group for twelve years– or Mildred, up there for close to a quarter of a century.

I became curious about what became of these once mega-popular appellations, whose top positions lasted from 37 years to being one-time-wonders (bearing in mind that they well might have been top-ranked for years before the SSA started keeping figures in 1880), particularly those that were once in the Top 10 but now reside outside the Top 500, thus eliminating evergreens like, yes, Mary and Elizabeth that have retained their popularity. You might find a few surprises here–unless you’ve known a lot of Tammys and Tracys in your life.

The following are those former Top 10 girls’ names that are no longer even in the higher half of the Social Security list, arranged in descending order by the number of their Top 10 years and pinpointing exactly when they reached their highest positions.

In the Top 10 for:

37 years  Patricia  was as high as Number 3 for 13 years between 1937 and 1952; is now 680

35 years  DorothyNumber 2 for 8 years between 1920 and 1927; now 808

31 years Barbara Number 2 from 1937 to 1944; now 838

25 years  Linda The top girls’ name from 1947 to 1952; now 643

23 years  Mildred— Reached 6th place for 8 years between 1912 and 1929

Betty—       Number 2 for 7 years from 1928 to 1934; now 907

Susan Number 2 from 1957 to 1960; now 844

21 years   Nancy Highest ranking was Number 6 in 1950; now 689

20 years  FlorenceNumber 6 for 5 years between 1890 and 1899; now 955

Marie     The French version of Mary reached 8th place twice, in 1899 and 1902; is now Number 573

16 years   Ethel Peaked at Number 6 in 1896, now 889

Sandra Was Number 5 in 1947, now766

15 years   FrancesWas Number 8 in 1918, now 693

Heather Heather is one of the later entries to the Top 10, reaching Number 3 in 1975, now 837

Lisa The top name from 1962 to 1969, now has fallen to 773

14 years   Shirley Influenced by the popularity of little Shirley Temple, she was Number 2 in 1935 and 1936; now 907

Carol Number 4 in 1941, now 972

13 years    VirginiaNumber 6 in 1921, now551

DeborahNumber 2 in 1955, now 814

12 years    Minnie—   Number 5 for 5 years between 1880 and 1886, off the Top 1000 since 1971

Bertha —  Number 7 for 3 years in the 1880s; off the list since1985

11 years     Donna Number 5 in 1959 and 1960, fell off in 2010

10 years     Doris Number 6 in 1929, off since 1992

9 years     Joan Number 5 from 1931 to 1933, off since1993

8 years Ida          Number 7 for 5 years between 1880 and 1886, off since 1986

Judith   Number 4 in 1940, now 996

Debra—    Number 2 in 1956, off since 1998

7 years       Sharon Number 8 in 1943, now at 882

Tammy Number 8 for 5 years between 1966 and 1971, off since 1998

4 years      Kathleen Number 9 in 1949, now at 664

2 years        Bessie   Number 9 in 1889, off since 1975

1 year      CarolynNumber 10 in 1942, now at 791

Pamela Number 10 in 1953, off since 2011

Lori Number 8 in 1963, off since 2001

Tracy Number 10 in 1970, off since 2004

Of course there are a significant number of early Top 10ers that are alive and well, such as Emma (Number 3 in 1880 Number 2 in 2013), Clara, Alice, Helen, Ruth, Lillian, and Evelyn, as well as dozens of more recent ones, including Karen, Cynthia and Crystal that still rank in the Top 500.

Which, if any, of the former Top-10-Then girls do you think could ever scale those heights again? Would it be affected by the length or date of their earlier popularity?

About the Author

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.