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Midcentury Baby Names

Midcentury furniture may be in, but midcentury baby names, not so much. These are the names of the Baby Boomers, grandmas and grandpas of today, and their names feel old-fashioned to young parents. It doesn’t help that some of these names, such as Karen and Susan, have become meme-ified and turned into punchlines.

Many of these names no longer make the popularity rankings, but along with Karen, other midcentury baby names in the US Top 1000 include Bruce, Ellen, Gregory, Judith, Kevin, Linda, Richard, and Teresa. Among the names we expect to bounce back first are Bonnie, Russell, Gloria, and Billy.

Wait a generation or two, and given the hundred year rule, you might look for these midcentury names to make a comeback as baby names in the 2040s and 2050s. Well, maybe not Karen. Here, the top baby names in midcentury America.

Midcentury Baby Names
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KarenHeart

  • Origin:

    Danish variation of Katherine
  • Meaning:

    "pure"
  • Description:

    Karen is a Danish diminutive of Katherine, an English name derived from the Greek Aikaterine. The etymology of Aikaterine is contested, but generally considered to have arisen from the Greek root katharos, meaning “pure.” Kaja is a related name, as it is another Danish variation of Katherine.

KevinHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish
  • Meaning:

    "handsome"
  • Description:

    Kevin was derived from the name Caoimhín, which originated from the Irish elements coém, meaning “handsome,” and gein, “birth.” The feminine name Caiomhe, anglicized as Keeva, comes from the same origins. Kevin was first popularized by the seventh century Saint Kevin, who founded a scholastic monastery near Dublin and was rewarded by being made one of that city's patron saints.

CynthiaHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "moon goddess or, woman from Kynthos"
  • Description:

    Cynthia is an attractive name -- in classical mythology an epithet for Artemis or Diana -- that was so overexposed in the middle of the twentieth century, along with its nickname Cindy, that it fell into a period of benign neglect, but now is ripe for reconsideration in its full form.

BonnieHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "beautiful, cheerful"
  • Description:

    Bonnie is a word the Scots really do use for pretty, thus the root of this name, from the French bonne. Bonnie is teetering on the edge of a comeback right now, along with Betty and Bea one of the girls' names starting with Bthat are so far out they're heading back in, especially in the UK.

BruceHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish and English from French
  • Meaning:

    "from the brushwood thicket"
  • Description:

    Bruce is a Norman place name made famous by the Scottish king Robert the Bruce, who won Scotland's independence from England in the fourteenth century. It's perennially popular in Scotland, but has been rarely used here for a generation -- though the impact of Bruces Lee, Springsteen, Dern and Willis, as well as Batman's Bruce Wayne -- still lingers. At one time Bruce was so widespread in Australia, it became a nickname for any Ozzie man. An interesting alternative is Brix, the Normandy place name where the Bruce family originated.
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NancyHeart

  • Origin:

    English diminutive of Ann
  • Description:

    Nancy originated as a contraction of “mine Ancy,” with Ancy being a nickname for Annis, a Medieval English variation of Agnes. In the 18th century it began being used in its own right, as well as a nickname for Ann. Related names include Nan, Nance, Nanette, Nanny, and Nanou.

FrankHeart

  • Origin:

    Diminutive of Francis or Franklin
  • Meaning:

    "Frenchman or free man"
  • Description:

    A Top 10 name from the 1880s until the 1920s, Frank has fallen from favor but still has a certain warm, friendly real-guy grandpa flavor that could come back into style, like other such choices as Jake and Jack. Maybe thanks to Sinatra, it's become a new hipster favorite with such couples as Diana Krall and Elvis Costello.

EileenHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish variation of Helen
  • Meaning:

    "bright, shining one"
  • Description:

    Irish Aileen continues to be more popular than Scottish Eileen, though both names have seen an unexpected resurgence since 2012. Nicknames for Eileen include Isla, Lee and Lina. Eileen is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic Eibhlin or Aibhilin. It was quite popular in the early part of the twentieth century.

JeffreyHeart

  • Origin:

    Spelling variation of Geoffrey
  • Meaning:

    "pledge of peace"
  • Description:

    The mostly Americanized version of Geoffrey was a trendy mid-century hit, with nickname Jeff the epitome of cool. Jeffrey entered the pop list in 1934 and was a Top 20 name from the mid-fifties to 1978.

MichelleHeart

  • Origin:

    French variation of Michael
  • Meaning:

    "who is like God"
  • Description:

    Michelle is the feminine form of Michel, the French variation of Michael. Michael was derived from the Hebrew name Mihka’el, meaning “who is like God.” The alternate spelling Michele, with one “L,” was the original version of the name. Michelle appeared as a later Anglicization in the 20th century.
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ElaineHeart

  • Origin:

    French and Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "bright, shining light"
  • Description:

    This old Scottish form of Helen has had quite a history, going from appearing as one of the shining heroines of the Arthurian legends, the princess who fell in love with Sir Lancelot and became the mother of Sir Galahad, referred to as 'Elaine the fair' and 'Elaine the lovable', to being the name of the most famous of New York's celebrity restaurants, to being the archetypal New York neurotic on Seinfeld.

KennethHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish and Irish
  • Meaning:

    "born of fire, handsome"
  • Description:

    Kenneth may have lost much of its luster now, but Kenneth has had its moments of glory. The first king of Scotland was Kenneth, and Sir Kenneth, a Christian crusader, was the hero of the Sir Walter Scott novel The Talisman.

PaulHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "small"
  • Description:

    To the thousands of girls who screamed the name of their favorite Beatle in the 1960s, the boys' name Paul had a thrillingly unique image, but to the rest of the world, then and now, it's a name that's so simple and yet so widely diffuse that it could belong to almost anyone. Paul is an ancient name for boys -- popular in Roman and medieval times -- that's not very fashionable now, which can work in its favor, scarcity balancing simplicity.

RobinHeart

  • Origin:

    Bird name, or English, diminutive of Robert
  • Meaning:

    "bright fame"
  • Description:

    Sounded bright and chirpy in the fifties and ranked in the Top 100 until 1980, but by now Robin has lost much of its lilt. For a girl, consider a sprightlier-sounding bird name: Deryn, Lark, Wren. Robin is, however, having something of a style comeback for boys.

BrianHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish
  • Meaning:

    "strong, virtuous, and honorable"
  • Description:

    The origins of the name Brian are not entirely clear, but it is suspected that it evolved from an Old Celtic word related to nobility. In Ireland the name is associated with Brian Boru, the most famous of all Irish warrior-kings, credited with driving the Vikings out of Ireland. Bryan is a common alternative spelling.
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SusanHeart

  • Origin:

    English short form of Susannah, Hebrew,"lily"
  • Meaning:

    "lily"
  • Description:

    Although Susan had her heyday from the thirties to the sixties, and is now common among moms and new grandmas, and though most modern parents would prefer Susanna/Susannah, we have spotted some flickers of interest in a revival. It still retains a certain black-eyed-Susan freshness.

WandaHeart

  • Origin:

    Slavic or German
  • Meaning:

    "shepherdess; wanderer"
  • Description:

    Rarely heard, and when it is, usually attached to a witch. Historically, though, Wanda was a legendary eighth century queen of Poland, and in literature it is the central character of Ouida's eponymous novel Wanda. A musical namesake is the great Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.

MarthaHeart

  • Origin:

    Aramaic
  • Meaning:

    "lady"
  • Description:

    The name of our first First Lady still has something of a prim and proper image, academic and efficient. That quiet, traditional, and tasteful gestalt is exactly what makes Martha appealing to some parents today.

BobbyHeart

  • Origin:

    Diminutive of Robert
  • Meaning:

    "bright fame"
  • Description:

    Bobby is the quintessential mid-century nickname, the name of the son on Mad Men and overused to the point of cliche. Though Robert is still a highly popular choice, most Roberts today are called by their full name or Rob or Robbie rather than Bob or Bobby.

RichardHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "dominant ruler"
  • Description:

    A classic old Norman name popular for a thousand years and favored for kings (Richard Nixon was named for Richard the Lionhearted), as well as the hoi polloi (as in every Tom, Dick and Harry), Richard was the sixth most popular US boys’ name in 1925, and was still Number 8 in 1950, but is now much less popular.
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TimothyHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "honoring God"
  • Description:

    A second-tier classic, the New Testament Timothy moves in and out of fashion more than John and James. But though it peaked in the 1960s, many modern parents still appreciate its familiarity and lively rhythm. And the short form Tim feels eternally boyish.

KeithHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "wood"
  • Description:

    Strong but gentle, Keith is one of the Scottish surnames that, along with Douglas, Craig and Bruce, were considered the epitome of cool in the 1960s and early 1970s, when it was a Top 40 choice.

EllenHeart

  • Origin:

    English variation of Helen
  • Meaning:

    "bright, shining light"
  • Description:

    An Old English form of Helen, the sensitive but clear-eyed Ellen has swung in and out of style for centuries, often alternating with the parent name. Ellen was the more common in medieval England, until after the Renaissance, when Helen overtook her. In Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, set at the end of the nineteenth century, one character wonders why another has not changed her "ugly" given name to something prettier, like Elaine—a statement few would make today.

PatriciaHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "noble, patrician"
  • Description:

    Patricia still sounds patrician, though its scores of nicknames definitely don't. Wildly popular from the forties (alternately Number 3 and 4 throughout the decade) to the sixties, Patricia has been fading ever since. But a comeback in its full form is definitely conceivable—just look at Penelope.

RussellHeart

  • Origin:

    French
  • Meaning:

    "redhead, fox-colored"
  • Description:

    One of many R- boys’ names that started as a nickname for a redhead, Russell had a measure of popularity from the early twentieth century through the 1950s. But it's now lost much of its color -- except for a few dynamic bearers, actors Russell Crowe and Russell Brand and sports stars Russell Westbrook and Russell Wilson.
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LisaHeart

  • Origin:

    English variation of Liza, diminutive of Elizabeth
  • Meaning:

    "pledged to God"
  • Description:

    Elvis naming his daughter Lisa Marie and Nat King Cole's hit song "Mona Lisa" conspired to catapult one of Elizabeth's many offshoots to Number 4 in 1970. Its star barely twinkles now.

LeonardHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "brave lion"
  • Description:

    Leonard is the name of several saints, including one who is the patron saint of childhood, and another medieval saint who's the patron of prisoners--known for freeing prisoners he deemed worthy of God. Popular from 1900 to 1930, Leonard is perhaps more notable for those who dropped the name when they entered show biz than those who kept it: former Leonards include Roy Rogers and Tony Randall. Two musical Leonards did keep their names though--composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein and poet-singer Leonard Cohen. Leonard Woolf was the husband and publisher of great English novellist Virginia Woolf. These days, modern parents tend to prefer Leo or the romantic Italian Leonardo, especially since Leonard does not get pronounced with the trendy "Leo" sound.

MarilynHeart

  • Origin:

    English, combination of Mary and Lynn
  • Meaning:

    "drop of the sea, bitter, or beloved + lake"
  • Description:

    For a name that was in the Top 20 for a whole decade – the 1930's – Marilyn has attained the status of almost a one-person name. Just say the name Marilyn, and most people will know who you mean. Yet strangely enough, though Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jean and renamed in tribute to earlier star Marilyn Miller) was the sex symbol of her generation, very little stardust adhered to her name. In fact, when Mariah Carey wished to honor the star in her daughter's name, she chose to call her Monroe rather than Marilyn.

GregoryHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "vigilant, a watchman"
  • Description:

    The Greek name of sixteen popes and fifteen saints, the gregarious Gregory became big in the United States with the emergence of admirable actor Gregory Peck (born Eldred) in the late 1940s. From 1950 to 1973, it was in the Top 30, with nickname Greg becoming a Cool Dude name. So while Gregory may have morphed into an Upstanding Dad Name, it carries the winning combination of deep roots and a modern feel that still deserves consideration.

JudithHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "woman from Judea"
  • Description:

    The biblical Judith, the fourth most popular name in 1940, may be getting ready for a comeback in its full, elegant, if somewhat solemn form. Many of those earlier Judiths were called Judy—some after Judy (born Frances) Garland—preferring it over their more formal proper name. Today, Judith, like Deborah, may have shaken off just enough to appeal to parents looking for a traditional, yet under-the-radar biblical name. And Jude would be a likelier nickname these days than the Judge Judy connection.
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DennisHeart

  • Origin:

    French from Greek, vernacular form of Dionysius
  • Meaning:

    "god of Nysa"
  • Description:

    Although it has come to sound Irish, Dennis is one of the most widely-used French names (St. Denis is the patron saint of France) and harks back even further to Dionysius, the Greek god of wine and debauchery. It was introduced to England by the Normans.

BrendaHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "blade of a sword"
  • Description:

    First the heroine of Sir Walter Scott's 1822 novel The Pirate, then a glamorous 1940s debutante, then the troubled twin on Beverly Hills 90210, and now fading in favor of more modern Brenna, Briana, and Bryn. Much more likely to be worn by a mother or grandmother these days. The song "Brenda's Got a Baby" was late rap megastar Tupac's debut single.

TeresaHeart

  • Origin:

    Spanish
  • Meaning:

    "to harvest"
  • Description:

    Teresa, the simpler phonetic form of this name, was the most popular variation for its early life, when it was used exclusively in Spain and Portugal. Teresa and all its variations are far off their mid-20th-century peak now, though the name has many worthy namesakes including Saint Teresa and Mother Teresa. Short forms Tess and Tessa are now more fashionable. Other spellings to check out: Theresa, the usual English form, and the French Therese.

BillyHeart

  • Origin:

    English, diminutive of William
  • Meaning:

    "resolute protection"
  • Description:

    Cute kid with freckles, bouncing a Spalding ball. Cool couple Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton put the name Billy Burton on their son's birth certificate. While the classic William, name of the future king of England, may in fact be German, the nickname Billy along with such other classic short forms as Jim and Joe are authentically English names for boys.

AllenHeart

  • Origin:

    Celtic
  • Meaning:

    "handsome, cheerful"
  • Description:

    Allen is the spelling of this name -- other common spellings are Alan and Allan -- most associated with the surname; it might also be the most appropriate if you're trying to steer clear of Al as a nickname, as this can easily offer you Len or Lenny as options.
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JoanHeart

  • Origin:

    English variation of Johanna
  • Meaning:

    "God is gracious"
  • Description:

    Joan was the perfect name choice for one of the leading characters on Mad Men, being a quintessential girls' name of the period. A Top 10 name in the 30s, a Top 50 name from the 40s through the early 60s, it was the fifth most popular name in the country for three years running and ranks as one of the most common names for girls in the 20th century. But alas, Joan hasn't even appeared in the Top 1000 for a dozen years, and these days it's primarily associated with Joans of the generation of Joan Crawford, Joan Collins and Joan Rivers--just a few of the noted Joans whose ranks also include the singers Joan Sutherland, Joan Baez, Joan Armatrading and Joan Jett. But it's possible that modern parents who are reviving Jane might move on to Joan, inspired by Joan Hollaway Harris.

ScottHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "from Scotland"
  • Description:

    A cool, windswept, surfer babe-magnet in 1965, a nice dad -- or even granddad -- today.

KathleenHeart

  • Origin:

    Anglicized form of Irish Caitlin
  • Meaning:

    "pure"
  • Description:

    Kathleen is the early Irish import version that came between Katherine and Kaitlin, and which hasn't been used in so long it's almost beginning to sound fresh again. It was a surprise pick by one of the hip Dixie Chicks, Martie Maguire. Kathleen was a Top 10 name from 1948 to 1951, and it is the subject of several old sentimental songs, such as "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen."

DouglasHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "black water"
  • Description:

    Douglas, and more particularly its nickname, Doug, had a real romantic swagger in the 1950s and 1960s dating back to swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, but today is more likely to conjure up your mom's prom date. Originally a Celtic river name, it became attached to a powerful Scottish clan, renowned for their strength and courage. In its earliest incarnation, Douglas was used equally for girls and boys.

JanetHeart

  • Origin:

    Diminutive of Jane
  • Meaning:

    "God's gracious gift"
  • Description:

    Janet started as a pet form of Jane but has long been used independently. Jane is a feminine form of John, which derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan. Janet can also be considered a variation of Jeannette, a derivative of Joan and another feminization of the name John.
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NeilHeart

  • Origin:

    Irish
  • Meaning:

    "cloud"
  • Description:

    Always the top spelling of the name; Neil peaked in the 1950s, but then enjoyed a second coming following the fame of such Neils as astronaut Armstrong and singers Sedaka, Diamond, and Young. Now semiretired.

CarlHeart

  • Origin:

    German variation of Charles
  • Meaning:

    "free man"
  • Description:

    This no-nonsense German variation of Charles is strong and still well used, but lacks much sensitivity or subtlety; the Latin forms have far more energy.

GloriaHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "glory"
  • Description:

    Gloria is beginning to move beyond its de-glamorized Grandma image, most recently thanks to glamorous young Hollywood parents Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, who chose it for their second daughter. Gyllenhaal was quoted as saying they had been inspired by Patti Smith's rendition of the Van Morrison song "Gloria" at a concert and thought " 'We'll name our daughter that one day'."

RogerHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "famous warrior"
  • Description:

    In the World War II era, Roger had nothing but the most positive associations, actually used by military personnel to mean 'Received and understood'--or A-OK, and though it is now on extended furlough, it does have a long and distinguished history. Introduced to England after the Norman Conquest of 1066, Roger soon became very popular there, with nicknames Hodge and Dodge, and had a long run later in the U.S, remaining in the Top 100 for 55 years.

BarbaraHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "foreign woman"
  • Description:

    If you can get the lively young Barbara Bush to replace her grandmother's white-haired image, you might discover a rhythmic classic with an interesting history. Barbara is undoubtedly among the most classic girl names starting with B.
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KentHeart

  • Origin:

    English surname and place-name
  • Meaning:

    "edge"
  • Description:

    Kent is a no-nonsense, brief, brisk one-syllable name, almost as curt as Kurt.

ToddHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "fox"
  • Description:

    A 1970s beach boy surfing buddy of Scott, Brad, and Chad, Todd is given to relatively few babies these days.

PamelaHeart

  • Origin:

    English
  • Meaning:

    "all honey"
  • Description:

    Pam was a somewhat pampered prom queen of the sixties who was never called by her full name, which is a pity because Pamela is so mellifluous and rich in literary history. A Top 25 name from the late 1940's through the late 60's, Pamela has just, sadly, dropped out of the Top 1000.

CraigHeart

  • Origin:

    Scottish
  • Meaning:

    "from the rocks"
  • Description:

    Craig is a single-syllable baby-boomer name, still common in its native Scotland, but most modern Americans would prefer something like Kyle.

DianeHeart

  • Origin:

    French variation of Diana
  • Meaning:

    "divine"
  • Description:

    Like Joanne and Christine, middle-aged Diane has been overshadowed by the a-ending version of her name. Diane has a definite mid-century feel; it was a Top 20 name from 1946 to 1959. Though it has several distinguished bearers, including Dianes Sawyer, Keaton, von Furstenberg, Lane, Arbus, Kruger and Farr, it is rarely used for babies today.
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