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Updating Popular 1950s Names

Updating Popular 1950s Names

Today the 1950 United States Census has finally been made public, giving us a peek into the post-war lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents. It’s a treasure trove for name lovers and family history enthusiasts alike!

You may want to name your child after a family member born in the 50s but you’re not quite ready for a baby Jeffrey or a little Beverly, regardless of how much Uncle Jeff and Nonna Bev meant to you.

If you’re looking for ways to update popular 1950s names for a modern baby, the good news is that there is plenty of scope for creativity! 

You might choose a fresher version of the name – a nickname or international variant, perhaps. You might look for alternative names that share key sounds or a common origin. Or, you might take inspiration from the meaning of the name for a subtle yet significant connection.

Read on for our guide to reinventing 20 of the most popular 1950s names for a 2022 baby.

Updating 1950s Girls Names

Deborah

Deborah and sister Debra were the darlings of the 50s – both ranked in the Top 5 for girls in the middle of the decade. The original Hebrew Devorah or variant Dvora could freshen up the name. The Albanian name Bora, meaning ‘snow,’ and other -ora names like Cora, Dora, Flora, and Norah, could also be a subtle honor.

Deborah’s meaning ‘bee’ also makes Bee an option – perhaps short for Beatrice or Beata – or other bee and honey-related names, like Miela, Jarah or Erlea for a girl, or Beckett for a boy.

Karen

Karen has gained quite a reputation for herself recently, but that doesn’t affect how much you want to name your daughter after Grandma Karen. 

Karen is a Scandinavian form of Katherine, so any Katherine variant could work as an honor name. Some of our favorite options include German Carina, Slavic Katia, Welsh Catrin, and retro nickname Kit. Another Scandinavian form of Katherine, Kaja, is starting to rise up the charts in all her many forms, and makes for an especially neat alternative. 

Karen also has a lot of international sound-alikes, including Kara or Cara, Caroun, Corinne, Carys, and Ciaran for a boy, as well as the Scandinavian sister name Maren

Brenda

Brenda is a feminization of the Irish name Brendan, which could be a good honor name for a grandson. The sleeker variant Brenna or soundalikes like Brynn, Bree, Bridget or Brianna would work well for a granddaughter, coming from a similar origin. Cute nature nickname Birdie could also be an option – its shares several prominent sounds with Brenda but feels much more baby-ready in 2022.

Brendan means ‘prince,’ which means you could honor Brenda with any of the various -la ending Irish princess names like Orla, Saorla, or Talulla – or even the classic Sarah or her ancestress, Sarai

Pamela

Pamela is a literary name with a romantic history, but she still has a while to wait before she gets a revival. Until then, parents wanting to honor the Pams in their lives could turn to Pamela's honey-sweet meaning for inspiration. Cutesy British darling Honey is a quirky option, as is alternative sweet treat – and near anagram – Maple. Some other 'sweet' meaning names include Sadhbh, Maire, and Esti

Sound-alike options abound, including Philomela, an unexpected nature name meaning ‘nightingale’, equally sweet Carmela, peaceful Paloma, or even unisex Palmer

Janet

As one of Jane’s many international variants, Janet comes with dozens of possible honor names. Stylish options include Italian Gianna or Giovanna, German and Scandinavian Johanna, Irish Siobhán or Sinéad, and Slavic Ivana, Yana or Zhanna.

Janet proved particularly popular in Scotland, where it was later replaced by more modern variants of the name, like Shona or Seona. For those who like a nickname, many Scottish Janets of the past went by Jennie and even Jessie or Nettie

You could also take inspiration from the chic -et ending, opening up options from popular Juliet or Violet to rare and romantic Amoret or Lunet.

Cynthia

Cynthia is a mid-century name with unexpected mythological origins – originally an epithet for Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt. The name derives from Kynthos, the mountain she was said to have been born on. This makes Artemis a possible honor option, as well as the names of other moon goddesses such as Diana, Luna, Selene, Phoebe, Tanith, or Arianrhod

The Greek name Thea or Theia, meaning 'goddess,' could also work as a subtle sound-alike, as could other options ending in the same sound, like Anthea, Alethea or even the extravagant Xanthia. Cecilia, Celia, Cassia, Sylvie or the more tailored Sinclair also share prominent sounds with Cynthia.

Cheryl

Cheryl was a flash-in-the-pan success, appearing out of nowhere in the 40s and disappearing into obscurity in the 70s. An elaboration on the French word for darling, Cherie, Cheryl opens the door for other diminutive meanings such as Cariad, Cushla, Kaipo, Cosette or another French darling, Mignon.

Interesting soundalikes include Cherish and the biblical place name Cherith, or if you prefer the distinctive -l ending, Sybil, Sorrel, and Christobel all make compelling choices. 

Beverly

Beverly left the US charts in 1999 with no sign of a return in the new millennium, but the Irish Bébinn – anglicized to Bevan or Bevin – meaning ‘fair woman’ makes a neat honor name for Nonna Bev. 

You wouldn’t think there would be any names to match Beverly’s surprising meaning of ‘beaver stream’, but Castor – one of the twins of the Gemini along with Pollux – has the unexpected pleasure of meaning ‘beaver’ in Greek. Do with that what you will. 

There are also hundreds of -ly ending girl names to honor Bev with, from popular Everly to uncommon Waverly, Romilly or Aracely.

Gail

Sweet springy Gail calls to mind the classic Abigail with her more contemporary nicknames Abbie or Abby, or even the modern Hebrew form Avigail. If that isn’t for you, the nature name homonym Gale – which made its pop culture debut alongside Katniss in the Hunger Games series – is always an option.

Some other sound-alikes include the elegant Gala, divine Gaia, or the Hebrew nature names Galia or Yael. For a few more obscure choices, France offers Magali, a form of Magdalene, and the pretty Breton name Gaëlle (GA-EHL). 

Lynn

There seems to be an obvious way to honor a Nana Lynn: through names like romantic Gwendolyn, Old Hollywood Marilyn, or even Ukrainian nature name Kalyna – or, of course, through more popular -lyn options like Evelyn, Brooklyn, Raelynn and Madelyn

But looking at the meaning ‘lake’, a few more options appear. Lake itself would make an interesting middle or an adventurous first, while more tenuously Nimue and Vivien – who served as the Ladies of the Lake in Arthurian legend – would make for romantic-sounding choices. Linnet, a kind of small finch, is a refreshing nature name to consider.

Updating 1950s Boys Names

Steven

Steven or Stephen is still thought of as a classic name, but it has been consistently falling since the 1980s. And while a baby Steve might not be quite as odd as the often referenced baby Gary, you may still feel it’s in need of a refresh. 

The surname Stevenson could work in the middle name spot, while a more outside-the-box literary option could be Stiva, the name of the heroine’s brother in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Based on sound, there’s the calm Norse name Stellan, surname Sullivan, rugged Stetson, or lucky word name Seven. Or based on the second syllable, the cool classic Evan, cozy Haven or cosmic Evren

Steven itself means ‘crown’ or ‘wreath’ – linking it to names like Laurence or Laurel for a girl, or kingly names like Rory or Arthur. You could also give a daughter the up-and-coming musical name Stevie after Grandpa Steve.

Dennis

Dennis has come a surprisingly long way – deriving from a French form of the Greek god of wine, theater, and ritual madness Dionysus, or Bacchus to the Romans. 

To honor a Grandpa Dennis, you could use some of the other variants of this ancient name. Dion was used to reference the god in ancient Greece, as well as Dione for girls. Dennis also gave rise to surnames like the literary Tennyson

You could also use place name Denver and keep Grandpa Denny’s nickname. Or, keep the distinctive second syllable and choose the Greek Adonis or Irish Ennis, or even Davis or Idris for their similar sounds.

Mark

Mark is another name that has come to us from the gods: from the Roman war god Mars, or Ares to the Greeks. Marcus is the original Latin derivative, but you could utilize variants from every culture that has picked Mars up since, from Italian Marco to Polish Marek to French Marcel or Marceau. Or, you could go back to Mark’s roots with fashionable favorite Roman

If the snappy one-syllable sound appeals, Max and Mack keep the initial, but ever-popular Jack and Luke could also work, as well as dapper Clark, country nickname Hank, or cool nature name Beck.

Bruce

Bruce comes from a Scottish surname, originally given to honor Scottish king Robert the Bruce. Robert or Robin could be used through this connection – especially if your Bruce is a fan of Bruce Wayne! You could even consider the quirky place name Scotland in the middle spot. 

Based on the sound of the name, Brooks or Bryce feel like natural updates, but you could also use the rare saint’s name Blaise or its edgier soundalike Blaze. The snappy ending sound offers even more options, including Ace, Briggs, Banks, Reece, Jace or even the underused nature name Spruce

Roger

Roger offers fewer options when it comes to variants. There are the patronymic surnames Dodge or Hodgson, but beyond that, there’s not much to go on. But based on the heavily rhotic nature of Roger, you could choose another r-heavy name like Rory, Roark, Rurik, River or Ryker. You could also echo the -ger ending with names like Bridger, Ridger or Ranger.

The name Roger comes from the two Germanic elements, hrod meaning ‘fame’ and ger meaning ‘spear’. Other spear names include Curran, Oscar, Edgar, and Gero

Douglas

Douglas may be charmingly tweed enough to make a comeback at some point, but at the moment, its obvious nickname is working against it. Dougal and Dougray are two unusual alternatives whose longer OO vowel sound should discourage shortening to Doug. Another unrelated option could be the cool sound-alike Dallas

The name Douglas comes from the two Gaelic elements dubh meaning 'black' and glais meaning 'river,' so you could get River or other dubh- starting names like Doyle, Dolan or Devin. Or, consider the many other names with dark meanings, such as Blake, Ciaran or Jett

Wayne

Many Waynes born in the 1950s were named after the famous Western actor John Wayne, and Wayne still retains its laid-back Western twang. Parents looking to honor an ancestral Wayne could turn to other capital-W Western names, like Waylon, Wyatt, Weston, Wade or Wilder

Or, take inspiration from the relaxed one-syllable sound with rhyming options like Cain, Lane, Dane and Thane, or the rugged literary classics Zane and Twain

Jeffrey

It seems like Jeffrey has a long time to wait until he gets his revival, especially after a spate of questionable namesakes, so parents wishing to honor a Grandad Jeff may want to look further afield. Related surnames Jepson and Jefferson are both interesting options, and through its second syllable Jeffrey is related to Fred names like royal Frederick and British rising stars Alfred and Wilfred

Beyond that, we move into sound-alikes such as the unisex Hebrew name Gefen ‘grapevine,’ as well as Jesse, Frey, Rafferty, or Jory – a Cornish form of George. 

Carl

Carl has one obvious modern honor name through its close relation to Charles – a little grandson Charlie would be a cute namesake for Grandpa Carl. Other Charles-based options are Charleston, Carling or Carlo, and sound-alikes include the Nordic Carsten or the English place name Carlisle.

If you’re looking for something that mirrors the sound of Carl, then cool guy Cal or the omni-cultural Kai would be contemporary options. For rarer choices, consider the Scottish nature name Cairn, the Scandinavian title Jarl, or the biblical Reuel

Glenn

Glenn or Glen could still work as an unexpected nature name with a retro flavor, but there is plenty of scope for modernization if you just can’t picture a baby Glenn.

Glenn comes from gleann, the Irish word for ‘valley,’ connecting it by meaning to names such as Emlyn, Ogden, Aramis, Percival, or even Vale itself. 

Sound-alikes include the handsome ancient name Galen, as well as rising stars like Gael and Gideon. You could also turn to other sunny -nn names like Flynn, Finn, Penn or Conn.

About the Author

Bridie Farrell

Bridie Farrell is a genealogist and writer, she’s originally from Maine but has been living with her husband in Dublin for three years. You can contact her personally on Fiverr or @GenevieveReine on the Nameberry forums