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Vanishing Names: So long, Susan; Bye bye, Barbara

December 13, 2011 Pamela Redmond

One of my favorite poems, for reasons that will soon be obvious, is called “Mourning the Dying American Female Names,” by Hunt Hawkins.  You can read the whole poem here, but I’ll give you a few choice lines:

Many names are almost gone: Gertrude, Myrtle,

Agnes, Bernice, Hortense, Edna, Doris, and Hilda,

They were wide women, cotton-clothed, early rising.

You had to move your mouth to say their names,

and they meant strength, speak, battle, and victory.

While many of the names Hawkins mourns do indeed seem to be dying, a few he goes on to mention  — Ada, Florence, and Edith— are stirring back to life.

But then there are the new names headed toward obscurity, my own among them.

In a Nameberry analysis of the names that have lost the most ground in usage over the past five years, we’ve identified several once-favorite choices, all female, that seem destined to bite the dust, or at least to take in a big enough mouthful of it that they fall into a long stupor.  We’re not interested in the names that are falling fast that enjoyed an equally precipitous rise — Britney, Precious, Heather — so much as those that seemed to be American classics for several decades but are now sliding toward obscurity.

Of course there are a handful of equivalent boys’ names falling fast too — Gerald, Wayne, Todd— but many more female ones.

Over the past decade, such names as Carol, Gail, Diane, Joanne, and Joan have vanished from the Top 1000.  Today, the once-common girls’ names falling fastest and furthest are (with the number of places dropped over the past five years in parentheses):

Pamela (-455)   ouch!

Marlene (-389)

Janet (-332)

Judith (-301)

Meredith (-292)

Carla (-255)

Christine (-233)

Wendy (-230)

Kathleen (-224)

Carolyn (-224)

Theresa (-219) and Teresa (-163)

Lisa (-219)

Patricia (-223)

Erica (-202)

Nancy (-196)

Brenda (-187)

Martha (-186)

Sharon (-185)

Susan (-184)

Ann (-184) and Anne (-151)

Linda (-169)

Sandra (-154)

Barbara (-154)

Donna (-148)

Paula (-146)

Cynthia (-140)

Ellen (-132)

Denise (-110)

Photograph by Philipp Klinger Photography via Flickr

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show of the same name.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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