Unpopular Names: Which ugly ducklings grow up to be swans?

by Pamela Redmond Satran

One of the biggest baby name stories this week is The Week’s look at the least popular baby names in the U.S. from 1880 through 1932.

While such monikers as Handy, Spurgeon, Icy, and Toy, culled from the bottom of the Top 1000, are indeed laugh-inducing, it may be even more remarkable to consider the baby names that were equally unpopular back then that went on to win widespread favor.

Names that were given to only five babies at the end of the 19th century, right down there with Spurgeon and Icy, include such future hotties as:

1880 Natalie
1881 Madeleine
1882 Iris
1883 Juliette
1884 Arabella
1885 Rosemary
1886 Susannah
1887 Maryann
1888 Karen
1889 Miley
1890 Willow
1891 Stephanie
1892 Beatrix
1893 Lake
1894 Erin
1895 Penelope
1896 Courtney
1897 Maisie
1898 Holly
1899 Ariel

All this while choices like Gladys and Bertha, Clarence and Earl pranced around at the head of the popularity lists.

But you don’t have to go so far back to find such baffling gaps in baby name taste. In 1972, tens of thousands of babies were named Heather and Tammy, Scott and Chad, instead of Adair and Coco, Sienna and Liv, Atticus and Finnian, which all languished at the bottom of the list given to only five babies each.

Of course, these names that sound cool 50 years later were joined down in the baby name dumps by such choices as Cachet, Candle, Classie, and Marijuana for girls; Friend, Kaiser, Lemon, Master, and Mister for boys.

And what about today? Names given to just five girls, the lowest number counted, in 2012 include the following 20 choices:



Names at the bottom of the boys’ list in 2012 include:



So which will be the Sebastians and which the Spurgeons of the future? That’s a decision our grandchildren will make.

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26 Responses to “Unpopular Names: Which ugly ducklings grow up to be swans?”

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Mcdonak1 Says:

October 24th, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I heard a mother calling to a Sabre in the park last weekend, so that may be one of them. 20% of Sabres born last year live in my neighborhood!

indiefendi Says:

October 24th, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Incredible! There were Arabellas, Willows, Jasons, Haydens, Erins, and even Mileys in the 1800s? Wow! Everything comes full circle with trends!

loislane1222 Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 12:14 am

That is quite the list! I am gunning for Arthur to make a comeback. I just had young-professional friends name their son Robert. I can’t recall ever meeting a BABY Robert. Arthur is possible! Richard, too. They’re both very kingly!

hixtwin4 Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 12:16 am

I’m sure Spurgeon was fueled by the Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon who died in 1892. On a side note, my nephew was named Haddon after him. He is 5yrs old. Definitely catchier than Spurgeon.

maggiemary Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 7:17 am

Oh would you look at that, there were actually girls being called Miley in the late 19th century, so perhaps now we can finally put the myth that the Cyrus family “created” this name?!

Of those 40 names you posted, I could see the following being swans one day…

Girls: Anthea, Atlanta, Lunette (possibly?), Nessiah, Petal and Rosary

Boys: Bart, Moss, Munro and Pacer

Titus245Mama Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 7:28 am

Don’t discount Spurgeon, yet. While it will probably never be wildly popular, his life and ministry are being rediscovered in pockets of American Christendom, and given the trend I’ve seen lately toward hero names in those circles, I think Spurgeon has a chance of resurfacing.

Although there’s not much on today’s unpopular lists that excites me (Disney? Lucifer? Really??), I do find Comfort and Sabbath to be interesting choices that I wouldn’t mind seeing on my grandchildren. 😉

alzora Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 7:46 am

I actually know a girl in her mid-20s named Cherith (pronounced CHAIR-ith). It is the name of a brook in the Bible, and is one of those names that is more likely to be used by devout Christians than anyone else. I would love to see Jerusalem used for either gender with its sweet nickname opportunities like Jem, Jerri, Jerra, Rue, Salem….

littlemissmariss Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 7:55 am

I can imagine these being swans: Anthea, Atlanta, Bette, Cherith, Frederica, Heartlynn, Lunette, Murray, Petal, Rosary, Rye; Elite, Fitzpatrick, Iggy, Jerusalem, Lotus, Messer, Moss, Munro, Osric, Pacer, and Sabbath 🙂

And the rest, I think will be the ugly ducklings… that stay ugly ducklings. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see though! 🙂

Though on Munro’s case, Monroe is really not horribly unpopular. Munro seems like just a variant spelling. I bet maybe Monroe / Munro will both start heading up the charts?

spotlightstarlit Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 8:52 am

Amazing post! This is why I love names, and NB, the science of omnastics is incredible.

Pam Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 9:34 am

It’s easy to pick out the ugly ducklings that sound as if they’re headed toward swandom to US: Petal, Fitzpatrick, Anthea, even Pacer. But I have to question our ability to call it….

NerdyNamer Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 10:04 am

My great great grandfather was Benjamin Hayden (he was one of many Benjamins in a long line ending with my father. I loved Hayden and thought to use it before it got so popular with the Aidan craze. Then I thought it would be nice as a middle name choice but my sister used it for her newest cat :/

Ginafrances Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 11:52 am

For the ladies…
Bette, Frederica, Petal, & my wild card is Rosary (even though it is quite ‘odd’ I think it has great potential to be more popular in the future)

For the gentleman…
Fitzpatrick, Pacer, Poe, & the wildcard for this group would be Moss.

charmingwitch Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 12:32 pm

@ indiefendi Arabella is actually a medieval name so it’s older even than that! According to some things I read it was first used in Scotland during the Middle Ages :).

RainbowBright908 Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Consider the following:
A) Nevaeh ranks #39, and Messiah ranks #387.
B) Delilah ranks #154.

Going with A, names like Rosary and Jerusalem could stand to inch up the list into the top 500.

Going with B, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of more kids named Lucifer. Honestly, I’m waiting for Jezebel or Gomorrah to make the list in the future, considering the popularity of Delilah. Delilah is such a lovely *sounding* name, but I feel many devout Christians would not believe it to be a fitting name for a daughter, given its Biblical roots.

jmsouthern Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Ummmm, it hasn’t been 50 years since 1972. I was born in December 1972; I am 40.

Pemdas Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I love Moss!!!!! If it became widely accepted I would seriously consider using it.

brindle Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I could get on board with Perpetua or Moss. Moss in particular gets my vote for Most Likely to Succeed (at climbing to the top of the charts). I’ve always been surprised that Bridget Jones’s Diary didn’t do anything for Perpetua in the U.S.

KateMP91 Says:

October 25th, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I can see Atlanta, Bette, Garland, Lunette, Petal, and Rye becoming popular for girls in the next couple decades.

For boys, Iggy, Pacer, Munro, Moss, and Poe might get more popular.

I’m surprised Atlanta, Petal, and Pacer aren’t already closer to the top 100.

JessicaT11 Says:

October 26th, 2013 at 1:55 am

This is interesting but I agree that our grandchildren will grow up in a culture so vastly different than our own that there is no way to predict what they will name their children. Any of these could seem clever, unexpected, or fresh to them that I won’t be surprised to see Disney or Elite in the top 100 one day. Actually Disney has a real chance. That franchise knows how to capture a new generation and I am expecting something big for the centennial of Disneyworld come the 2060’s.

tomaura226 Says:

October 26th, 2013 at 5:31 am

Man, I love the name Icy/Icie! It’s one of those simple, old-fashioned Appalachian-esque names like Omie or Versa or Nell…one of those gems you find about 5 generations back on your tree!

Cheele Says:

October 26th, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Oh the horror of naming a little girl Disney.

And I could get on board with Moss.

Also, my greatx4 grandmother was nn’d Icy. Short for Isephina. Which is a name I adoreeee.

ELO Says:

October 27th, 2013 at 2:34 am

I can see Frederica, Murray and Petal catching on for girls. Jersei? No, just no.

For the boys I see Iggy, Messer, Munro and Newt becoming popular. Lucifer? That’s really disturbing.

I predict Jerusalem will catch on but as a girls name.

Mavi, Capri, and Rockwell: Novel Names in the News – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

October 27th, 2013 at 10:28 pm

[…] Inventing new names isn’t all spaceships and moon boots.  If language is alive, then it is equally possible to reach into the past – to find a forgotten gem that wears well in the twenty-first century.  After all, as Pam and Linda pointed out last week, many of 1890’s rarities became 2013’s favorite names. […]

Lo Says:

October 28th, 2013 at 7:10 am

I was stunned by Gregory. My grandmother born in 1904 had a younger brother named Gregory so I always assumed that it was a name consistently in widespread use.

helennapp Says:

October 30th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Swans I’d pick are for girls: Anthea, Bette, Frederica, Garland, Lunette, Petal and Rosary
and for boys: Bart, Egbert, Iggy, Moss, Munro, and Osric

I particularly love Bette (I’d consider it as a nn for intended daughter Elizabeth) and Lunette (love the tie in with the moon in meaning but not too close to Luna for them to be teased as ‘Loony Lovegood’ thanks to Harry Potter – also it actually stems from Eluned which in itself is a beautiful welsh name)
Osric is the only boys name I feel any real love for there, I tried to convince my partner of the merits of Oswald and Edric while naming our son (he wasn’t convinced with either) and Osric’s a fantastic mix of the two and a classic name in itself.

I can’t believe there are 5 little girls named Money – wonder if the parents would think Dollar is a good name for a boy? Perhaps they thought the name Bill was fiscal and not short for William so thought precedent was set for their use of Money o.O

Ccsdg Says:

November 16th, 2013 at 9:46 am

Lunette is the name of a menstrual cup brand… I doubt it’ll take off, as romantic as it must sound to moon gazers.

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