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 Dorothy—Number 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 Florence—Number 6 for 5 years between 1890 and 1899; now 955
16 years Ethel— Peaked at Number 6 in 1896, now 889
Sandra— Was Number 5 in 1947, now766
15 years Frances—Was Number 8 in 1918, now 693
Lisa— The top name from 1962 to 1969, now has fallen to 773
Carol— Number 4 in 1941, now 972
13 years Virginia—Number 6 in 1921, now551
Deborah—Number 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 Carolyn—Number 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?
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on February 26th, 2015 at 12:28 am
Joan, Ida, and Kathleen are my favorites.
on February 26th, 2015 at 1:04 am
Kathleen, Judith, Virginia, Marie all seem to fit with today’s comeback trends.
on February 26th, 2015 at 1:05 am
on February 26th, 2015 at 4:19 am
I see Marie or Minnie coming back more into use, and possibly Dororthy. I personally adore the name Marie as a first name, I have heard it frequently as a middle, but think it has great potential as a first name.
on February 26th, 2015 at 4:56 am
I like Bessie, but prefer Bess.
on February 26th, 2015 at 5:44 am
I love so many of these. I too prefer Bess to Bessie. Bess was the name of my mum’s old car. Her now one is named Bette.
on February 26th, 2015 at 8:34 am
I think Dorothy is making a very slow but steady comeback. I know an almost 2-year-old Dorothy who is as cute as a button. Her parents are well-educated, 30-somethings who fall under the categories of young professionals and hipsters. Dorothy has such a beautiful meaning, and it also has loads of vintage charm. I see it rising.
Personally, I love both Kathleen and Ida. Ida’s vowels make it line up with other resurrected names such as Ada, Ava, Ella, Ivy, Isla, etc.
on February 26th, 2015 at 8:47 am
My great grandmother was named Minnie and I have always loved her name! I don’t think I would use just Minnie as a full name but I would love to name my future daughter Margaret and call her Minnie while she is little. The connection to Minnie Mouse is a plus in my book!
on February 26th, 2015 at 9:15 am
I am so happy that nameberry is focusing on these great female names so much! 🙂
So many of today’s popular girls’ names seem to me like fluff, like there’s no there there and when that fad ends, the child will be left with an insipid name.
But Patricia with its patrician beauty…
Barbara with its syllables tumbling over one another…
Sandra to me is elegant, Shirley cute, Carol nicely down to earth and Decemberish, Virginia fresh and regal, Deborah a classic Biblical name…
Even Bertha, Donna, and Doris I am suddenly loving. And Joan and Ida and Bessie, which I have long loved.
I have no ideas which will actually penetrate the conformist American public and make it into the top 500, but I wish them all well.
on February 26th, 2015 at 9:20 am
I see these rventualky coming back to the top 500 at least if not the top 10: Minnie, Heather, Frances, Florence, Dorothy, Marie, Deborah, Kathleen. Some of the oldest names are already rising in popularity. Interesting post!
on February 26th, 2015 at 2:12 pm
such a surprising list to me…I wonder what names right now will be the next Berthas and Shirleys?
on February 26th, 2015 at 2:14 pm
I love: Heather, Donna, Judith, Tammy, Kathleen and Carol.
on February 26th, 2015 at 4:47 pm
So many of these are baby boomer names, so I think it will be awhile before we see more Nancys, Kathleens, Lindas and Lisas.
Frances was an earlier generation, and it’s on the comeback, along with other names from that era like Betty and Helen.
on February 26th, 2015 at 5:06 pm
I actually love Shirley. It reminds me of the forever cute Shirley Temple and Anne Shirley.
on February 26th, 2015 at 5:19 pm
I love Barbara and Frances and would love to see these names return. Ida, Mildred, Bess, Dorothy, and Judith are wonderful names — and I’ve known a child named Ida. My great-great-grandmother was Berte, which I think is a great name and doesn’t have the clunkiness of the English Bertha.
How about Beryl? A terrific name which should make a comeback.
on February 26th, 2015 at 6:24 pm
Yay for Kathleen! It’s my middle name. I’m happy to see it getting some love.
on February 26th, 2015 at 7:57 pm
I love Lisa, it’s so elegant! One of my favourite names.
on February 27th, 2015 at 9:14 am
Betty and Florence are not in the top 1000.
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