Underused Classic Baby Names: Calvin, Martin and Miriam
Legions of expectant parents search for that “underused classic” name each year.
But what exactly is an “underused classic” name? Do underused classic names even exist? Are they some impossible standard like names that are universally appealing and forever-guaranteed-to-stay-unique?
“Classic” can be interpreted differently by different people. Instead of describing a name as “classic” I usually use “traditional” or “timeless” instead.
Semantics aside, a working definition of how I decide what makes a name “classic” might be useful. And in my world there is more than one type of classic name:
Authentic Classics – Evergreen names like Elizabeth and James. Ideally these names have never left the top 50 since 1880, the earliest year name rankings are available from the Social Security Administration.
Underused Classics – The focus. There are two types: Steady Underused Classics and Retired Authentic Classics.
Steady Underused Classics – Familiar names that have been consistently used but have never been extremely popular. These names have never reached the top 50, but have rarely left the top 500. (Ideally they have never left the top 400.)
Carmen (Can be a unisex name, but counts as an underused classic on girls) – Peaked at #141 in 1968; has been in the top 400 since 1900.
Cecilia – Peaked at #190 in 1904; has never ranked lower than #407 in 1968.
Miriam – Peaked at #134 in 1917; has never ranked lower than #376 in 1972.
Naomi – Peaked at #81 in 2012; has never ranked lower than #421 in 1969.
Nina – Peaked at #115 in 1887; has never ranked lower than #375 in 1978.
Veronica – Peaked at #68 in 1983; has never ranked lower than #465 in 1880.
Felix – Peaked at #137 in 1884; has never ranked lower than #394 in 2002.
Ivan – Peaked at #113 in 2012; has never ranked lower than #404 in 1881.
Jay – Peaked at #94 in 1969; has never ranked lower than #414 in 2010.
Julian – Peaked at #50 in 2011; has never ranked lower than #367 in 1962. In my opinion, since this name barely made the top 50 very recently, it is not established enough to be an authentic classic.
Lorenzo – Peaked at #267 in 1985; has never ranked lower than #360 in 1977.
Marcus – Peaked at #57 in 1984; has never ranked lower than #149 in 2012.
Wesley – Peaked at #66 in 1966; has never ranked lower than #195 in 2007. By the numbers it almost qualifies as a “retired authentic classic”.
Retired Authentic Classics – are experiencing their first real decline after decades (or possibly centuries) of high use. Many of these, especially Alice, are turning around and could morph into revival names, while others are at an all-time popularity low.
Alice – Peaked at #8 in 1880, 1882, and 1906; has never ranked lower than #444 in 2002.
Helen – Peaked at #2 from 1900-1919; has never ranked lower than #436 in 2010.
Jane – Peaked at #35 in 1946; has never ranked lower than #477 in 2006.
Laura – Peaked at #10 in 1969; has never ranked lower than #280 in 2012.
Margaret – Peaked at #3 in 1891, 1894, 1905-1911; has never ranked lower than #188 in 2009.
Mary – Peaked at #1 from 1880-1946, and 1953-1961; has never ranked lower than #123 in 2012.
Rose – Peaked at #14 in 1911 and 1913; has never ranked lower than #391 in 1997.
Ruth – Peaked at #3 in 1893; has never ranked lower than #365 in 2006
Calvin – Peaked at #44 in 1924; has never ranked lower than #231 in 2009.
George – Peaked at #4 for most years between 1880-1911; has never ranked lower than #166 in 2012.
Jesse (Can be a unisex name, but its use on boys makes it an underused classic) – Peaked at #26 in 1882 and 1887; has never ranked lower than #151 in 2012.
Lawrence – Peaked at #30 in 1942 and 1945; has never ranked lower than #459 in 2010.
Louis – Peaked at #18 in 1882; has never ranked lower than #353 in 2009.
Martin – Peaked at #45 in 1880; has never ranked lower than #265 in 2012.
Oscar – Peaked at #26 in 1886; has never ranked lower than #245 in 1962.
Patrick – Peaked at #30 in 1964, 1966-1967; has never ranked lower than #166 in 1919.
Paul – Peaked at #12 in 1916, 1930-1931; has never ranked lower than #193 in 2012.
Peter – Peaked at #31 in 1880; has never ranked lower than #205 in 2012.
Many people seek that “underused classic” name for their child with good reason. These names seem more surprising than authentic classics yet are less likely to feel dated in a few years like most modern names.
Not surprisingly for each underused classic that is at a historic low or trending downwards, there is one that is steadily climbing the Social Security list. Ivan and Naomi are both at an all-time popularity high.
Something to keep in mind with underused classics–since they are in demand they don’t stay underused for long. Here are some former underused classics that have graduated to the top 10: Elijah, Emma, Jacob, Noah, Olivia, and Sophia.
Angela created Upswing Baby Names to help parents find that different but not too different name. She muses about names on their way in and on their way out in her book, The Top 22 in 2022. She is also an avid runner, wannabe foodie, and devoted mom of two.
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on August 30th, 2013 at 12:49 am
I find it generally really hard to name baby boys, but Calvin, Oscar & Paul are all names I like.
I’m far less conservative with girls, and I don’t like many classics. I think Ann/e is a Retired Authentic Classic. I love it! Love how simple it is. Love the meaning grace – Grace is another favorite of mine, and I love exotic variations of both names.
Other than this, Naomi and Veronica, Alice and Jane catch my eye.
on August 30th, 2013 at 1:03 am
I LOVE Nina, Felix, Alice, and Jane (in my Top 5).
on August 30th, 2013 at 1:16 am
Nina is my absolute favorite lately and i also love Cecilia
on August 30th, 2013 at 1:45 am
I like a lot of these. I love Paul and Louis 🙂
on August 30th, 2013 at 3:38 am
on August 30th, 2013 at 8:24 am
Martin is my dad’s name. I think a baby named Marty is adorable.
on August 30th, 2013 at 8:30 am
Two of my three kids are on here: Rose & George. 🙂 And we planned on calling Rose “Oscar” had she been a boy. Alice was another one we liked. My husband likes Mary a lot, but it’s also his Mom’s name. And Jane is one of my ‘new’ favourites. 🙂
Friends just called their son Peter. 🙂
on August 30th, 2013 at 8:51 am
Lots of wonderfully usable gems on this list. My faves are:
Helen (I love Helena too!)
Margaret (I prefer Marguerite)
Lawrence (I prefer the original Laurence)
on August 30th, 2013 at 10:26 am
I agree with a pp. Where’s Edmund/Edwin!? 😛
There’s a lot of really nice names on here. My favorites are:
Louis — but as Lewis
on August 30th, 2013 at 11:03 am
Love this article!
on August 30th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
Both of my parents are here! Besides them, I like Miriam (which I always think sounds really Jewish), and Veronica.
From the boys I love Martin, Patrick, Peter and Calvin.
Carl, which is a family name I like, may belong on this list. Not sure.
on August 30th, 2013 at 5:15 pm
Carmen (she’s currently on my forever changing name list along with Angelica, Viola, and Rosalie)
Felix (becoming popular in the UK though he’s the hipster king, yummy mummy’s everywhere are using this)
Alice (again really popular in the UK)
Laura (my mother’s name and my sister is Helen but I dislike her name prefer Helena)
Calvin (growing on me a lot of recent love the nn Cal)
on August 30th, 2013 at 10:50 pm
Jesse unisex? No way. Jessie/Jessy yes, but not the spelling Jesse.
Paul is still ugly and dusty, as is George.
I like Felix, Lorenzo and Wesley the most for boys.
For girls I like all of these names, I’m much more conservative when it comes to girl names than boys. I like my boy names with spunk and freshness
on August 31st, 2013 at 12:13 am
I LOVE Margaret. It is probably my favorite girl’s classic. Such good names are listed.
on August 31st, 2013 at 10:52 am
I know several people (ages 11-20) with these names, I think they are great names.
@skizzo I know a female Jesse, and that’s her given name not a nn. To me it seems more feminine than masculine.
on September 9th, 2013 at 12:11 pm
Miriam is a new favorite for me. I’ve really been loving it lately
Nina has been a favorite for me for awhile, but I have other names I’d use before it
Julian is a nephew’s name
Wesley is a name I’ve heard on classmates before and, because of the nickname “Wes”, it’s becoming a favorite
Alice, Helen, Jane and Ruth are names I’m really starting to love just because of their simplicity
Margaret, another new favorite for me but really the only reason I’ve fallen for it is because of the ability to use Maisie as a nickname
Jesse, Louis, Martin, Oscar and Patrick, I love these names.
George, I can see this name getting very popular now that it’s been used on the little Prince but I really hope it isn’t. My mom’s name is Georgina and, if my first hypothetical child is a boy, that is the name I’m planning on using to honor her. Right now, the name is George Reyes, after my mother and grandfather but if it gets too popular, I’ll probably switch it to Reyes George.
on September 16th, 2013 at 10:18 pm
The terms “steady underused classic” and “retired authentic classic” describe my naming style/preference exactly and I love just about every name on these lists. Perfect – thank you for helping me find a succinct definition for my style! My only additional requirements are family and Judaism connection – not hard to use these filters on the lists above and still have plenty to choose from 🙂
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