Helen, Ruth, Rose, and Esther: 1930s Names Ready for Revival

by appellationmountain on January 24, 2014

Clara Clara Clara \n Clara Clara ClaraDid you know?  If the name appears in blue, that’s a link to the Baby Name of the Day post about that name.

Spend much time on baby name sites, and you’ll hear about the 100-year rule.  It isn’t a rule at all, but a general guideline: a century is about as long as it takes for a name to sound fresh and new again.

It’s why we so often like our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ names, but find our parents’ names a little dated, and our own names rather dull.  Dads named Jason are welcoming daughters called Clara – a name that would have been appropriate for their 1930s born grandmas, too.

And yet …

  1. Not every name comes back – some do fade into oblivion.
  2. We’re still more than a decade away from 2030, the first year that we might expect to hear the 1930s names in full flourish.
  3. Not every name returns on schedule – some arrive earlier, others languish long past the time you’d expect them to be making it big.
  4. And, of course, rarely does a name chart only for a few years – most rise and fall over the course of several decades, meaning that a Top 100 choice in 1935 could be a Top Twenty choice in the 1960s – and thus, feel more like a mom name than an undiscovered gem.

So how to look at the 1930s names?  I’ll stick with the Top 100 from 1935 – smack in the middle of the decade.  It’s an interesting mix of names – some are definitely back, while a very few never went away.  The most interesting of the bunch are those that feel on the verge – names that might be the next Abigail or Lily.  There are also a handful that seem like they’re ages away from revival – though I’ll be curious to hear if you agree with my groupings!

1930s Names: Already Back

Alice – With all of the charm of Alice in Wonderland, and a boost from Tina Fey’s choice of the classic-meets-quirky Alice Zenobia for her firstborn, Alice has been on the move in recent years.  She ranked #127 in 2012, up from a distant #422 in 2000.

Evelyn – It’s not just Evelyn, actually.  All Ev- names have been having a good run, but at #27 in 2012, Evelyn is among the most popular on this list.

Ruby - She’s colorful, like Scarlett and Violetand at #106 in 2012, she’s hovering just outside of the Top 100.

Jane – At #339, Jane is less popular than many of the “Already Back” names.  And yet, she feels like a 2014 name, a mix of admiration for Jane Austen and an appreciation of short, sweet, complete names.

Eleanor – It is tempting to call her a classic, but Eleanor has risen and fallen over the years.  Today she’s definitely on the rise, up to #135 in 2012.

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, posed in costum...

Audrey – Boosted by the lovely Miss Hepburn, Audrey has had a good run in recent years – though borrowed-from-the-boys Aubrey is actually more common.

Charlotte – The good girl on Sex and the City and a regal name, too, Charlotte cracked the Top 20 in 2012.

Lillian – Strictly speaking, the botanical Lily is back – she ranked #16 in 2012.  But Lillian wasn’t far behind, at #25.

Josephine – She’s a romantic, français choice, rich with nickname potential.  Josephine has climbed to #160 in 2012, and feels unstoppable.

Clara – She’s a sweet and saintly name, the name of the little girl in The Nutcracker, and a name that is very much on the rise.  As of 2012, Clara stood at #136, and I expect she’ll continue to rise.  She’s quite stylish in much of Europe, too.  (That adorable series of photos at the top?  She’s also a Clara.)

Emma – Emma has been far more popular in recent years than she was in the 1930s.  She’s been in the US Top Ten since 2002, while in the 1930s, Emma was tumbling of favor.  After all, she’d been a big favorite in the nineteenth century, making her a mom name, headed for old lady name status, in the 1930s.

Grace - Lovely, lady-like Grace has a similar pattern to Emma.  Thanks to Grace Kelly and other periodic uses of the name, she feels quite timeless and elegant.  But Grace is back in a big way in 2014, and was fading in the 1930s.

Hazel – Hazel is yet another name that was plummeting in the 1930s, but had a great run in the nineteenth century.  She’s back in a big way in recent years, ranking #175 in 2012, thanks in part to Julia Roberts’ daughter.

1930s Names: The Staples

Elizabeth - The regal, saintly Elizabeth is among the most enduring names for girls in recent centuries.  No surprise she was popular in the 1930s, and remains so today.

Anna – Even without Frozen’s princess, Anna would feel like a perfectly likable choice for a daughter born in 2014.  She’s the most popular of the Ann- names over the years, and currently features in smooshes and elaborations like Annabel and Anneliese.

Catherine – The K spelling is more popular today - Katherine ranked #64, versus Catherine’s #167.  Despite the change in dominant spelling, it would be hard to call her anything other than a classic.

Sarah – She ranked #43 in 2012, and was equally popular in 1935.  I know 40-something Sarahs, and Sarahs in elementary school, and Sarahs in their 70s.  Truly timeless.

1930s Names: Ready for Revival

Mary - The #1 name from 1935 – and many years before and after – continues to fall in the rankings, charting at a chilly #123 in 2012.  But I know two under five, one just a few months old.  Mary is the ultimate familiar-but-not-common name.  Yes, her kindergarten teacher or first boss might be named Mary.  But odds are that no one on her soccer team will share the name.  And while Mary’s long history of use is undeniable, she doesn’t sound fussy or old-fashioned, making Mary less of a risk than some names on this list.

Betty – Elizabeth is a staple, but her short forms come and go.  Today’s parents grew up on The Flinstones‘ Barney and Betty Rubble, and yet, Betty manages to feel like a kicky, retro possibility.  She’s got Hollywood glam thanks to Betty Grable, and Mad Men certainly boosted her profile.  Plus, Design Mom has a Betty.

Dorothy – She’s a three-syllable, ends-with-y name for a girl, a category that has always done well.  Plus, Dorothy takes us over the rainbow to Oz, and offers great short forms, from Dolly to Dot.  After spending 1904 through 1939 in the US Top Ten, she’s been rare in recent decades.  But Dorothy shows the earliest signs of a revival.  In 2012, she ranked #922, up slighting from the year before, and up slightly from the year before that, too.

Joan – Another Mad Men name, and another name worn by Hollywood legends.  (Though Joan Crawford is remembered more for Mommie Dearest than her Oscar-winning work.)  Joni is still stuck on Happy Days, but Joan feels more like the crusading French maiden nowadays.  If Josephine can hit it big, why not Joan?

Margaret – As classic as Katherine, as enduring as Eleanor, Margaret deserves her place in the pantheon of saintly, regal classics.  She’s risen to #178 in recent years, so while she’s not quite stylish once more, Margaret seems ready to return.  Short form Maggie is the current go-to, and is sometimes bestowed independently - Jon Stewart’s daughter is a Maggie.

Nancy – Dauntless girl detective Nancy Drew immediately comes to mind when this name comes up.  She’s originally derived from a medieval form of Agnes, and was later associated with Ann.  Today she stands on her own.  Nancy continues to fall, and fall hard.  She dropped over 100 places to #650 in 2012.  But if choices like Sadie and Maisie are fashion-forward, is Nancy so far behind?

Helen – Both Helen and the Latinate Helena are on the rise, and I was surprised to see that Helen is slightly more popular – #402 in 2012 versus #560 for Helena.  But why not Helen?  She’s the face that launched a thousand ships, a legendary and lovely name that manages to feel frills-free, classic, and strong at the same time.

Ruth - That oo sound has serious appeal right now, from Lucy to Ruby, Cooper to Jude.  No wonder that Ruth is starting to find favor.  She was up 17 places to #343 in 2012.  With her Biblical reputation for loyalty, Ruth likely appeals to families of faith.  But beyond her backstory, Ruth – and Ruthie - feel like part of the next wave of revivals.

Frances – The Italian Francesca has had a good run in recent years, but don’t count out lady-like Frances.  There’s the Pope Francis effect, which could boost all of the Fran-names.  Plus, if Alice is a chart-topper, doesn’t Frances sound like her sister?  She ranked just #764 – more than 250 spots behind Francesca – in 2012, but she did gain slightly from 2011.

Marie – We’re wild for French names for girls, with choices like Elodie and Genevieve on many a shortlist.  But how about Marie?  She’s just as timeless as Mary, a middle name for a huge number of women – and yet, at #576 in 2012, still quite underused.

Gloria – There’s U2′s soaring single from the 1980s, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s second daughter, Gloria Ray, born in 2012.  Add in her -ia ending, shared with Amelia and Sophia, and no wonder she’s climbed to #521 in 2012.  She still feels a little bit clunky, but in a good way.

Rose – She’s the go-to middle name of the moment, but wouldn’t she be marvelous as a given name, too?  As spare as Claire, as botanical as Lily, but at #260, less common than either – for now.

Annie – At #377 in 2012, Annie keeps company with Sadie and her sisters – a nickname name that has a history of use as an independent name.

Louise – Both Louise and Louisa are outside the US Top 1000, despite their classic status.  And yet, with girls answering to Lucy and Luna, Louise feels like a lady-like classic, easy to wear.  It’s a great formal name for Lulu, too.

Elaine – With ties to Arthurian romance and the great nickname Laney, it is easy to imagine Elaine as a wearable alternative in 2014.  But unlike some names in this section, she’s yet to show signs of revival.  In 2012, she fell to #702.

Irene - For so many years, it was “Goodnight Irene,” as she fell from her peak in the early twentieth century to the chilly 400s.  She’s fallen even more since, to the 600s.  But at #655 in 2012, Irene has actually gained a few places in recent years.  Her peaceful meaning is another plus.

June – She’s the merry month, the lovely point between spring and summer.  At #435 in 2012, she’s on the upswing.  DesignMom’s youngest is Flora June, known by her middle.

Sylvia – Credit Sophia and Sophie for making Sylvia and Sylvie feel fresh once more.  Also to her advantage is Sylvia’s woodsy meaning - sylvan is the Latin for forest.

Bonnie – She’s Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter in Gone With the Wind, and a Scottish word meaning pretty.  Today she feels like a gently retro pick, less expected than Sadie but more substantial some nickname-names.

Florence – She’s big in the UK, but astonishingly obscure in the US.  The lead singer of Florence + the Machine makes this gentle antique seem quite edgy.

Lucille – If Lucy and Lillian are back, why not Lucille?

Edith – At first, she seems too fusty to consider.  But Edie seems quite current in 2014.  And Edith – well, with her literary ties and long history of use, chances are that she’s just a few years away from joining other comeback names, like Evelyn, closer to the top of the charts.  Edith was up slightly in 2012, to #761.

Marion – This was the spelling in vogue in the 1930s, though Marian, Mariam, Marianne and many a tailored Mar- name has seen use in the US.

Esther – Yes, Esther.  Once a fashionable favorite, she was actually slipping out of the Top 100 in the 1930s.  But she never fell all that far.  In 1944, Judy Garland played Esther in memorable musical Meet Me in St. Louis, set in 1904.  She’s fell in the 200s or 300s most years since the mid-1950s.  Today she stands at #242, something like Abigail in the 1970s.

Rosemary – My personal favorite of the Rose names, a three-syllable, ends-with-y choice like Dorothy, a spice name like Saffron.

1930s Names: Cautiously Consider

Barbara – She could be considered a timeless classic, a saint’s name with a long history of use and international appeal.  And yet, in the US, Barbara still strikes most of us as a little bit dated.  Blame it on the Barbie doll, or maybe former First Lady Barbara Bush, but either way, this would be an unexpected choice for a daughter in 2014.

PatriciaPatrick is starting to climb in use, but the feminine form of this saintly staple remains in style limbo.  All of the short forms - Patty, Trish, Tish - do feel like mom and grandma names.  And yet she’s such a well-loved name, it is easy to imagine Patricia making a comeback – eventually.

MarilynAdalyn, Madelyn - why not Marilyn?  She’s as Hollywood-certified as Audrey, and fellow 1930s name Evelyn has made a resurgence.  She made a big leap in 2012, but still stood at a chilly #425 – we’ll have to see how she fares when the new data is released.

Virginia – Parents probably think of Virginia as gently old-fashioned, a little more lady-like than spunky Veronica, maybe more approachable than regal Victoria.  But then we remember being an awkward teenager, and we wonder if Virginia is any less rich with teasing potential than Pilgrim-perfect Chastity.  The Wizarding World’s Ginny Weasley could have rescued Virginia – except Miss Weasley is actually a Ginevra.  I have a hard time dismissing Virginia, though.

Janet – It’s the kind of name that always felt dated – until one day I wrote about the name, and thought about Hollywood legend Janet Gaynor.  And all of those -et girl names, like Violet and Charlotte that are so popular.  And I wondered – is Janet such a stretch?  Especially now that my childhood memories – the spunky brunette roommate on Three’s Company, Susan Sarandon’s character in cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show are less relevant to a younger generation of parents, maybe Janet is all lovely young Janet Leigh and utterly wearable.

Martha – We’re into Colonial names for boys, like Nathaniel and Ethan.  First Lady Abigail Adams hasn’t hurt her given name.  And yet the classic, Biblical Martha has plummeted in use.  A Top 100 favorite through 1965, she’s ranked #730 as of 2012.  As with all of these names, it can make a great opportunity for a familiar-but-seldom-heard name.

Carolyn – Caroline is in the Top 100, firmly established as a tasteful classic.  Meanwhile the -lyn version of the name languishes in the 700s and falling.  With Evelyn and so many other -lyn names in vogue, this is something of a surprise.

Ann, Anne – It is tough to slap a warning label on Ann.  She’s an evergreen classic, a name we all love to love, thanks to Green Gables, the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, and dozens of other notable bearers.  And yet it is Anna so firmly established in the US, and Annie that feels like an up-and-comer.  Smooshes like Annabelle are all the rage.  It makes Anne seem a little bit uninspired.

Peggy – While Margaret is back, the go-to short form is Maggie.  Peggy has potential, though – especially for parents willing to consider choices like Molly, but after something distinctively different.

Marjorie – Medieval English added a -y to everything, creating many names we still know and love.  Margaret became Margery, and the dominant spelling eventually shifted to the -jorie version, probably thanks to the herb marjoram – a symbol of happiness in ancient days.

Judith – She’s an Old Testament heroine, known for deceiving and beheading the enemy of her people.  Today we expect Judith to be an appellate court judge, or maybe a high-ranking hospital administrator – head of otolaryngology, maybe.  She’s not the little girl next door, and the numbers bear this out.  Judith ranked #893 in 2012, a far fall from her Top Ten status in the 1940s.  And yet, I have no doubt that Judy will be back.  Jude is already hot for boys, and with Judith’s strength and history of use, it is only a matter of time.

Sally – Like the fashionable Sadie, she’s a Sarah short form that now stands on her own.  But while Sadie is a mainstream retro darling, Sally is in limbo.  Mad Men makes her familiar, but that’s part of the problem – Sally remained a Top 100 name from the 1930s into the 1950s, meaning that she needs a few more years to feel fresh again.

Lorraine - A place name, a French name, a name that starts with L?  Lorraine should be as fashion-forward as they come.  Yes, there’s the quiche, but hey, Clementine and Olive are equally edible. Lorraine peaked in the 1930s, meaning that she might sound fresh again in about another ten years.

Loretta – Ever since Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick gave this name to a daughter in 2009, I’ve been curious to see if she would catch on.  The answer so far is no … for now.

Kathleen – How can it be that the delightfully Irish Kathleen is now the name of your middle-aged aunt?  Like Colleen, there’s something perpetually fresh and girlish about the name, even if the bearer is 50-something or 70-plus.  And yet, Kathleen peaked in the late 1940s and early 1950s and remained through the 1980s.

Jo – We’re all about mini-names in 2014.  Literary choices from The Little Women era are very much in vogue.  And yet, Jo – and her sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy, actually – had their moment.  We’ve moved earlier in the nineteenth century to embrace Jane Austen names instead.  Now Jo’s full name – Josephine – is another matter.

Thelma – Can Thelma ever make a comeback? I have a soft spot for ‘th’ names, whether the ‘th’ is at the beginning or at the end of the name.  She hasn’t ranked in the US Top 1000 since the early 1980s, and yet – doesn’t the sound of Thelma and Louise still thrill?  And couldn’t Thelma follow Olive, Opal, and other hipster baby names onto the Park Slope playgrounds?

Jacqueline – French names are huge, but Jacqueline reads a little 1960s Camelot, thanks to style icon Jackie O.  She ranked a relatively common #243, but is falling steadily.  And yet she could be the perfect pick for parents looking for that “familiar-but-not-common” name.

Ethel – Oh, Ethel.  There’s the legendary Ethel Barrymore.  And a character from Downton Abbey.  British pop singer Lily Allen named her daughter Ethel Mary.  I might have put her on the Gone For Good list, but Ethel has momentum.

Theresa – She’s as much a staple as Margaret, and yet Theresa is definitely out of favor.  Why? Short forms Tess and Tessa are actually crowd pleasers, but Terri - spell it as you like – feels quite dated, as does related name Tracy.  Still, there are plenty of saintly and regal bearers to argue that Theresa – or Teresa or Therese – should be considered a classic.  And if you’re looking for a formal name for Tess, look no further.

Ellen – Blame Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.  As soon as I met the novel’s accidental temptress, Countess Olenska, Ellen took on a romantic vibe.  Yes, most of us first think talk show host Degeneres, also know as Finding Nemo’s
and even elegant about Ellen.  At #745 in 2012, she’s at her least popular in ages.

1930s Names: Not Just Yet

ShirleyCharlotte Bronte gave the name to a girl in her 1849 novel.  Then came Anne of Green Gables, surnamed Shirley.  By the time Shirley Temple sang “Animal Crackers in my Soup,” the name was a sensation.  Shirley regularly ranked as high as #2 in the 1930s, and paved the way for future hits, like Ashley.  But despite our ongoing affection for ends-with-lee names, Shirley still feels a little too dated to consider for a daughter.

Carol, Carole - She’s still Mrs. Brady to many a modern parent.  Carol had a great run, but today we’re more likely to opt for Caroline, or even a nickname form like Carrie or Carly.

Joyce – We love meaningful names and happy names, and spare, frills-free names for girls are on the rise.  Joyce ranked #11 or #12 in the 1930s, but she remained in the Top 100 into 1966.  That means that while Joyce was at home with Ruby and Alice, she was still in vogue when Lisa and Tammy were all the rage.

Jean – What was Hollywood blonde bombshell Harlow’s first name?  Yup, Jean.  She’s another form of John, a Top 100 name from 1906 to 1964.  Like Joyce, that means that Jean still needs more time to seem interesting again.

Beverly – The big celebrity name of 2013 was Everly, but Bev is still stuck in limbo.

Lois – Her sounds are on trend, and there’s fearless girl reporter Lois Lane to boost her profile.  But still, Lois feels more like the mom on Family Guy than your new baby daughter – and probably needs a few more years before we can reconsider.

Donna – High fashion and West Wing gave us compelling reasons to consider Donatella.  But just Donna?  Maybe not just yet.

Norma – I love Lorna and other clunky throwbacks.  Nora is definitely back, in a big way.  But 1930s Norma still feels dated – the name shed by Marilyn Monroe, worn by Sally Fields for a Best Actress Oscar win.  Maybe that’s the hitch – while Norma’s heyday was the 1930s, the famous Norma Rae of 1979 ties the name to a later era.

Marlene, Arlene, Darlene – Femme fatale Marlene Dietrich’s name came from a contraction of Marie Magdalene.  Darlene and Arlene are inventions.  All of them are out of step today, when -lyn and -line names are the preferred forms.

Geraldine – None of the Geri/Jerry names are current, so no wonder Geraldine has headed towards obscurity.

Joanne, Joann – What a difference an -a makes!  Just as Ann feels out of time in 2014, so do Joann and Joanne.  Add an -a, though, and Joanna or, better yet, Johanna and Johannah seem rather stylish.

Janice – Yet another feminine form of John that was in vogue in the 1930s.

Sandra – She’s a variation of Alexandra, but shedding the X robs her of much contemporary appeal.

Rita – Lovely Rita, Meter Maid … The Beatles recorded a love song to a parking attendant in 1967.  Before that, the loveliest of the Ritas was Rita Hayworth, born Margarita.  From 1914 through 1960, Rita was a Top 100 staple.  Today she’s almost unknown – and seems not quite ready for revival.

Edna – Isn’t there something interesting about Edna?  She has Old Testament roots, and separate ties to an Irish name.  She peaked at the end of the nineteenth century, and remained popular into the 1940s.  But Edna hasn’t been ranked in the US Top 1000 since the 1990s, and just 88 girls were given the name last year.  Edna St. Vincent Millay could give the name a literary sheen, but she’s still too clunky for most parents to consider.

RobertaRobert is classic, and that makes me think that Roberta will eventually resurface – just not quite yet.

Pauline – Like Roberta, she’s a feminine form of an enduring masculine name.  Paul is in style limbo right now, as are all of the Paul- feminine forms.  And yet, Paulina has seen some use in recent years, and Pauline’s French flair could help some parents see her as a possibility.

Sharon – She was rising fast in the 1930s, set to peak in the 1940s, and remained popular into the 1970s.  This means that there are still 30-something Sharons out there, and Sharon needs more time to rest.

Yvonne – Like Pauline, her French style makes her a maybe.

Margie – Another Margaret diminutive, but while Maggie is stylish, and Peggy is a maybe, Margie seems like a no – at least for now.

1930s Names: Gone for Good?

Doris – I want to rescue Doris from this list.  She’s mythological!  She’s got that great -or sound!  And ends-with-s names like Alice and Frances seem quite appealing now.  But now Doris is as dated as Doris Day.

Dolores, Delores – The lovely Lola was well-used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  She’s an anthem, from “Whatever Lola wants …” to “L-O-LA, Lola!”  But that’s spunky, spirited Lola.  The spiritual, sorrowful Dolores peaked in the 1930s, but still feels too heavy for a child to wear.

Phyllis – For all the buzz about Pippa Middleton, and the potential for Philippa as a girls’ name, Phyllis feels fusty.

Mildred – When’s the last time you met a Leofwin?  Spotted a birth announcement for a baby Oswin?  Very few Anglo-Saxon names have survived, and those that have are very much changed from their original forms. No matter how modern we find Millie, she probably can’t rescue the clunky Mildred.

Wanda – It would take some serious guts to name your daughter Wanda in 2014.  Opal, sure.  Hettie, why not?  But Wanda?  It feels witchy and wacky, the name of your dotty great aunt from Augusta, not your new baby girl.

Patsy – Patsy is to Patricia as Peggy and Margie are to Margaret.  The core name is enduring, but this diminutive feels off in 2014.  I can argue in favor of Betsy, but Patsy feels dated – she’s the

Wilma – Other Wil- names for girls, like Willa and Willow, are decidedly stylish.  But Wilma still feels locked in another time.  Will she make a comeback?  My initial thought was no, but after an exchange with a reader, I’m not sure I’m right on this one …

Juanita – Why not Juanita?  I’m mad about Djuna.  And Juana has a certain charm.  But Juanita strikes me as doomed by her diminutive -ita ending.  Other -itas, like Margarita and Anita, have also tended towards obscurity.

Gladys – 80 girls were named Gladys in 2012.  In the late nineteenth century, Gladys Vanderbilt was an American heiress who married a Hungarian count.  Grammy-winning Gladys Knight graduated from Motown to become the Empress of Soul.  Despite these appealing ties, Gladys seems unlikely to make a comeback.

Bernice – She’s Veronica’s frumpy cousin, the form of the name least likely for revival.

WillieWilliam is so popular for boys, and plenty of Wil- names for girls are on the rise.  And yet, Willie seems an unlikely name for a girl born in 2014.

Which are your favorite 1930s names?  Which ones do you think will be the next comeback names?  And do you agree with my gone-for-goods?  I’d love to hear someone make the case for Gladys …

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon August 26, 2014 at 11:15 AM

I know I am way late to this party, but I am pregnant with a little girl (older brother is Gabriel “Gabe”)… and I am considering Rose Esther to be her name – nicknamed Rosie. The more I read comments, the more it’s growing on me! Other names we are considering: Sadie, Abigail (Abby) and Isabel (Izzie). Thank you all for your insight! I loved this post and loved all the comments as well.

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appellationmountain August 26, 2014 at 2:04 PM

Oh, Sharon – I *love* the sound of Rose Esther, and Rosie is such a sweet name for a girl! Plus, it’s a classic that everyone recognizes – but a surprisingly small number of parents are actually choosing, which can be so nice in a name.

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Rivkah March 21, 2014 at 8:30 PM

I have a Rosemary Je@n, age 15, and an Adelaide Lorr@ine, age 11. I love many on this list, too! Beautiful options. I had to laugh, though, to see Doris at the top of the gone for good list – my son, at age 2, inexplicably picked that name for his stuffed monkey. :D

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TND February 1, 2014 at 9:23 PM

My almost 3 year old is named Esther. I am hoping it does not become too trendy. No one else in our family has a name that has ever been in the top 1000. Who knew old lady names would be a thing?

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 1:09 PM

What a lovely article! Two of my daughters are names on this list ;) Josephine and Emma

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Mrs.M in MI January 31, 2014 at 3:18 PM

I have to say I love almost all of the names on this list! And yes, that includes Wilma… but that’s the name of a late, beloved friend and the shortened form of a Dutch (my heritage) classic, Wilhelmina.

That’s probably a big part of why I love these names – they remind me of grandmothers, great aunts, and church ladies whom I love (and some of whom are no longer with us). My grandmothers were born in the 1910′s and the 1920′s, but I see both Ann (baptized Anna) and Betty (baptized Elizabeth) were still popular in the 1930′s.

I’m really interested to see everyone’s comments on Martha. There is a family tradition that if I choose to follow it would mean naming my first daughter Martha or a variant of it. I’m having a hard time liking it, I must admit. And my husband is really not sold on it.

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Averella January 28, 2014 at 9:17 PM

I know a teenage Marjorie and a teenage Joyce, which surprised me at first but not so much now. I feel like both could make a comeback with in the next 5 years or so.

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Laura January 27, 2014 at 11:44 AM

Loved this post! Interesting to look at these names on the UK charts and compare them with where they’re listed here – Martha was placed at 77 in 2012, and Rose is just behind her at 78 and they’ve both risen dramatically over the last three years, and I think they’ve still got a long way to go. Nancy is at 124, Lois at 128. Ellen is a lot lower down at 247 but I have been meeting a LOT of little Ellens born in the last few months so it’s absolutely one to watch

Also, I’m starting to really love Dolores! I’ve never met a Dolores of any age, and the long “or” sound is very current – Nora, Eleanor, Cora… along with that, Lola is at 23 in the UK, so Dolores might just have a shot at coming back.

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Sarah January 26, 2014 at 6:09 PM

There’s an interesting name story from the book “The Color of Water.” The main character is a Jewish girl named Rachel who grows up in the U.S. South. I think she was born in the 20s.

After she leaves her family in the late 30s or early 40s, she decides that the name Rachel is too ethnic. She decides to change her name to a more mainstream one – Ruth.

Isn’t that interesting? I would never think of Rachel as a “Jewish” name today. Ruth sounds more Jewish or Biblical to me.

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appellationmountain January 26, 2014 at 9:36 PM

Sarah, that’s fascinating! Funny how perceptions change.

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Josie January 26, 2014 at 10:10 PM

My paternal grandmother, born in the ’30s, was a Rachel (Ruchel) for a religious name and Ruth for her English name – she needed something “more American.” Rachel was still very ethnic. Other Ruchels in the family in that time period or a bit earlier became Roses – but the descendants named for them in the 1980s-90s were Rachels again.

Rachel is the most quintessential “generic Jewish girl” name I can think of, though – or some R stand-in that varies by decade.

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Josie January 27, 2014 at 6:30 AM

I don’t know if I made sense before. Not that any given Rachel nowadays has to be Jewish but that about the least surprising of given names for Jewish girls is Rachel?

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Sarah January 26, 2014 at 6:04 PM

This is such a fun list. I always wonder why Abigail and Hannah are such popular Biblical names for girls and not Ruth and Esther. I hope Ruth and Esther make a comeback!

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Stefanie January 26, 2014 at 3:38 PM

I just can’t stop commenting on this post, ha! Sorry Abby. It struck me that several of these names show up in the (mostly Latin@) migrant workers’ elementary school I’ve volunteered with here locally, and we’ve heard the names at library story time and stuff, too. Bernice, Wilma, Juana, Phyllis and Gladys, as well as boys like Harold, Gerald, and Willy (Wilmer). I wonder what that’s about.

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appellationmountain January 26, 2014 at 9:38 PM

That’s a good point, Stefanie – I know one Gladys who is 80-something, and another who is 20-something and Latina. I need to think about how to start digging on this one …

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Vanessa January 26, 2014 at 12:29 AM

I agree with your pairings for the most part. I adore so many of these names… Alice, Clara, Hazel, Mary, Betty, Frances, Annie, June, Lucille, Bonnie, and Rosemary are all so lovely. I think that Virginia, Sally, Lorraine, Kathleen, Ellen, and Rita might be a bit more ready for revival though – I would definitely consider them!

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Jonquil January 25, 2014 at 7:15 PM

I think Irene would stand a better chance of mass revival if the traditional three-syllable British pronunciation was revived. Apparently that pronunciation was killed off in Britain when the American song “Goodnight Irene” became big over there. Irene is so bland, and similar to Eileen. I know a 90-something British-born Irene in Australia who still has the 3-syllable pronunciation, and it’s very pretty and rather stylish – think Penelope.
I wonder whether Brenda will ever catch on again – I suppose it’s more ’40s than ’30s, but seeing Wanda on your list put me in mind of it. Wanda also reminds me of another Slavic/Polish-type name, the rather obscure Bronya. I went through a phase of loving Bronya, which I arrived at owing to my love of Bronwen. (I’m well over it now!)
Helen is absolutely beautiful: I can’t understand why anyone would prefer dowdy Ellen to dignified Helen.
I tried to interest a friend looking for a G name in Gloria but she went for Giselle instead.

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Andy not Andie January 25, 2014 at 7:06 PM

Nice extensive list. I’m not sure I agree with Betty being ready for revival but you may be onto something (Mad Men is awesome after all :) . I definitely would add Betsy to the “gone for good” list though. My 20 year old cousin announced recently that he was dating a girl named betsy and the room EXPLODED with laughter…even from my elderly great aunts

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Stefanie January 26, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Weird. I know three Betsys — one is an Elizabeth (age 10), one is a Bettina (age 40ish) and one is just Betsy (age 4) — and none meets uproarious laughter upon introduction.

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Sarah January 29, 2014 at 9:43 PM

I know two Betsys in their 30s.

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carrie January 25, 2014 at 2:22 PM

Wanda takes guts in 2014? more so than Mildred, Thelma, or Peggy?

Wanda is for a certain quirky girl (a step father than Wendy) but definitely prefer it over too olden lady names.

i think of the cooky neighbor from Wishbone but also the odd yet redeemed traveler in The Host

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Amy3 January 25, 2014 at 12:47 PM

This is clearly my decade – I love lots of these! Stand-out faves include Mary, Betty, Joan, Edith, Janet, Marjorie, and Sally.

My mother was Judith and while I wanted to use that as a middle, my husband doesn’t like the /u/ sound (we went with Katherine, another family name). My sister is Ellen, which is a name I’ve always liked – simple and strong. I know a Mary who is almost a year old; I love it on a little one.

Going against the fashion grain, I adore the -is names – Phyllis, Lois, Doris. Would love to see all of these gain over the next few years.

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manday January 24, 2014 at 11:02 PM

I actually love many of these names… but my husband doesn’t. Gladys and Virginia are in my top ten. I also love Rosemary, and Sylvia.
Just yesterday I was thinking why not Edna! This post has brought Marilyn and Gloria to my attention.

Great post!!

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Kara @ The Art of Naming January 24, 2014 at 5:49 PM

Such a great list!! My favorites are Alice, Audrey, Emma, Grace, Louise, June, Lucille, Esther, Lorraine. My great-grandmother was named Thelma but I can’t force myself to like it. My middle name is Yvonne and I’ve always hated it. I think you categorized them very well!

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Olivia January 24, 2014 at 5:38 PM

If Winter’s Tale is a big hit when it comes out next month (Colin Farrell, Jennifer Connelly etc) we might just have a few new Beverlys born in the year. It would be interesting to see the numbers. Other than that I think the 1930s is my year when it comes to names, I generally like all the names–even Gladys!

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Havoye January 24, 2014 at 5:15 PM

I seem to recall seeing Lois at a surprisingly high ranking the last time I looked at the UK lists. I think it could easily follow on Eloise’s and Iris’s coattails. Very interesting post…I need more time to comb through it!

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Linda January 24, 2014 at 5:06 PM

Just met a 3 year old named Doris Helen and was shocked. Her parents called her Dorie and Dora and she was a little spitfire! The name definitely suited her.

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Stefanie January 24, 2014 at 2:23 PM

This is definitely the “in” era in my area. We know 3 Esthers, multiple Rubys, Ellens, Helens, Louises, Hazels…I could go on. Can’t say it bothers me! I love all these little little-old-ladies running around.

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Zena Eve January 24, 2014 at 2:05 PM

I really hope that Irene remains in her cold position, I love the name, especially Irina, and I’m hoping it’ll stay out of favor for a while. I also adore Esther, Hazel, Mary, Theresa, Silvia, and Jane. Soft spots for names like June, Florence, Ruth, and Ethel also linger.
A few years ago I met a young girl who went by Millie, imagine my surprise when I found out her full name was Mildred. Honestly I think I would have preferred Millicent.

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Katybug January 24, 2014 at 12:55 PM

My first comment disappeared, sorry if this is a repeat. I love Beverly! It’s a total guilty pleasure of mine.

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Katybug January 24, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Beverly is a total guilty pleasure name for me, as is Bernadette, not on this list but almost of the same era. Oh, how I’d love to be a hipster mom with a little Bev and a little Bernie!

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C in DC January 24, 2014 at 12:46 PM

I know little girls named: Ruby, Audrey, Charlotte, Lillian, Clara, Grace, and Hazel; Anna and Katherine; and Rose (Rosie). I think Rose is ready big time for a revival, especially in combination (Rosemary, Rosalind, Annarose, etc.) Theresa was on our short list. I think some of the French endings, like Patrice for Patricia and Paulette for Pauline, might feel fresher. (I still think -ette may be our next -lyn/-ley ending to use.) I think Edna is hopelessly dated and will not come back, and think that Doris/Dolores has more of a chance. My beloved grandmother was Edna, and the closest we came to thinking about using it was rearranged into Neda or Dena for a girl or Dane for a boy. My cousin just named her cat Wanda, so it seems likely that it could come back into vogue for babies in about 20 years, especially since the -nda like name (Linda, Sandra) were just starting to rise in the late 1930s.

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Madelyn January 24, 2014 at 12:22 PM

Wow, this is a very extensive list! I love Irene but prefer the eye-ree-nee pronunciation, and since I live in the US, that would lead to a lot of correcting. I also like Lillian, Hazel, June, Esther, Janet, Loretta, and Ellen.

Oh, and my brother teaches a young Loretta who uses the nickname “Etta.”

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Megan M. January 24, 2014 at 11:38 AM

I kind of like Margie, but maybe that’s because I also really like Marnie.

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jennifer r January 24, 2014 at 11:32 AM

to be clear – I totally agree with your groupings… I just can’t figure out why Ellen is move down while everyone is fawning over such similar names.

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appellationmountain January 24, 2014 at 12:00 PM

I think it is probably because Ellen peaked later. She was on her way up in the 1930s, but actually peaked in the 40s/50s/60s – so lots of people probably still think of Ellen as a grandmother name. And we tend to revive great-grandma names … so Ellen will be back, but maybe not quite yet. But I think she’d wear well in 2014 – especially, as you say, with with all the girls named Ella and such.

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jennifer r January 24, 2014 at 11:30 AM

There must be something unusual about my associations because we just love the name Ellen for a girl and don’t find it outdated or frumpy at all. But I recognize that others will see it that way for some odd reason – I just can’t figure it out. With Evelyn and Eleanor headed up, and the Ella names spreading like wildfire, I am surprised that Ellen is not being chosen more often. It sounds so smart and sweet to me, a great name for a little girl.

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Katybug January 24, 2014 at 12:43 PM

I know a toddler aged Ellen and it wears beautifully! I think that Ellen will continue to be recognized as a classic and the other Ellie names of this era will feel dated.

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colleen January 24, 2014 at 7:35 AM

Shhh, let’s not talk about Rose too much. When we have a daughter, that will be her name. The only good thing is that I live in a rural area very behind the times.

I love so many of the names on this list. I actually like Dolores even though it would be heavy for a child today.

Love, love Kathleen and Theresa. Super sweet with adorable nicknames.

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Vicki January 24, 2014 at 7:14 AM

I really do agree with most of those groupings, and having a Sally I don’t want that to be revived just yet anyway!

Over in the UK Martha is a big hit, however, coming in at #77 in 2012. I can see Lois coming back though, and I think both Nancy and Mary are on the rise here.

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Anon January 24, 2014 at 5:53 AM

Is this my decade? I love a lot of these. I have thoughts on so many.

Alice – I love Alice. It feels completely classic to me.
Ruby – Top Ten here in Oz. (I’m a Yank abroad). I know a lot of little Rubys. I prefer Opal, honestly. Or just Rue.
Jane – I love this one, especially with an eccentric/embroidered middle, but my husband vetoed it as “plain” which is, I think, what holds it back most.
Charlotte – Super popular, but I prefer either dated Fern (the connection to me is Charlotte’s Web) or classic and related Caroline.
Lillian – I love this one. My mom is HORRIFIED. :)
Hazel – Love this one. Vetoed by the same man who hates Jane. Was a character in a favourite series of sci-fi novels. I love the associations of nature and colour, but a surprising number of people don’t know it’s a kind of tree.
Catherine – It’s Katharine, with two a’s, as in Hepburn, that I love, but Catherine is nice too. Some form of it is always in.
Betty – In my family this was a nickname for Beatrice *not* Elizabeth. I rather like it for that. I can’t convince anyone else of the charms of Beatrice/Beatrix.
Dorothy – Can’t warm to this, but husband just mentioned a fondness for Dot as a NN recently. I prefer flip-form Theodora.
Ruth – I know my sister intends to use this one.
Marie – My husband’s grandmother. Just to confuse things she was an Aussie and it was MA-ree, never ma-REE. We’re going to use an M name to honour it.
Rose – I know only one under 30. Beautiful girl. I like it like I like Jane, as a FN with an eccentric or long flowing middle name. It’s a bit dull in the middle.
Irene – Grandmother’s name. Do love it, husband doesn’t have the connection and only hears that it sounds old. I will probably have to settle for another I name.
Esther – Husband loves this name so much he brought me around on it. I HATE Estelle and Stella, but I don’t mind this tailored Biblical pick. It’s not my favourite Biblical name, but I can’t write it off.
Rosemary – I love this one. Feels so herbal and cleansing.
Martha – I love this. Was the name of the heroine of True Grit, which forever gave it a cowgirl feel to me.
Judith – Love this. I feel like Judy has a rockabilly feel like Betty. And Judith is such a strong Biblical character, paired with a name that’s pretty direct and familiar, especially compared with Yael or Tamar.
Kathleen – I have an inexplicable (none in my family! None in his family! Where did it come from!) fondness for this, and nickname Kay. I picture a slim flapper girl with scandalously bobbed hair, similar to played-by-Myrna-Loy Nora.
Theresa – Sister’s dibsed this. She loves it to bits, always has. For Tess, not Terri!
Marlene – Reminded me of Marceline, which I really like, but grosses a lot of people out.
Dolores, Delores – I like Dolly and Lola, and yes, some part of me admires Dolores, but it feels so Catholic…?
Juanita – I like this a lot, actually. Everyone would think it was extraordinarily random, but I think it’s cute.

Norma and Norman should stay gone, but I rather like Nora.

Willie is a no-go for me but I secretly love Billie, and am generally blasted for it.

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Kris January 24, 2014 at 5:52 AM

These are my favorite era of names. We just had a girl and Rosemary, Hazel, and Virginia were all on the table. She was almost Eliza Ruth, but ultimately we went with Eliza June :) plus my dog is Ruby. I definitely love these names!

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appellationmountain January 24, 2014 at 8:21 AM

What a great name, Kris – love the swingy, retro sound of Eliza June. Congrats!

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C in DC January 24, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Eliza Jane was an early name crush of mine. Love your Eliza June pairing.

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Kris January 27, 2014 at 8:25 AM

Thank you! I loved it bc it felt a little vintage, but spunky, and a little southern but classic. I call her by both names because it’s the pairing that made it special to me. But most people end up just calling her Eliza. I hope she chooses to use both of them when she’s older.

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