Rare 1885 baby names are a quirky bunch, a mix of place names, surnames, and what exactly explains this? names.
They’re the flipside of my series on Neglected Gems from the 1880s and 1890s. While the chart toppers of generations past may feel fusty today, we remember and acknowledge them as given names, even if we’re not actively considering them for our children. It’s easy to imagine that someone will bring back Ralph and Sallie – it’s just a question of when.
Because they never became very popular, it’s easy to imagine that rare 1885 baby names will fade from our memory. In some cases, that might be okay. I’m not sure that Capitola or Lugenia have much of a future.
But other names could be exactly what 2016 parents are after – familiar, but seldom heard. Or just a little bit different than the names that everyone else is choosing today.
For this post, I limited my search to names ranked #500 and higher. They’re not big in 2016, but they could be, given the right profile-boosting event. And while they may have been slightly more popular in the years following 1885, but they’ve never cracked the US Top 100.
Read on for two dozen of my favorite rare 1885 baby names.
Rare 1885 Baby Names: Girls
Odessa – Odessa feels European – as in the Ukraine – and cowboy cool, too – thanks to Odessa, Texas. It’s a feminine form of Odysseus, but feels far more approachable, an alternative to Tessa and Vanessa, or maybe even Olivia. The name peaked around the year 1900, and has been out of the Top 1000 for decades.
Delphia – I think that all of the Del- names for girls have potential, from Della to Delphine, to this rarity: Delphia. It’s awfully close to Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia, but like many of the Del- names it refers to the ancient city of Delphi, where Apollo’s oracle once stood. It also peaked around the year 1900 and has been little heard since.
Sophronia – Sophia is a chart-topper, but Sophronia is nearly forgotten. Sophronius is a seventh century saint known for his wisdom, and indeed, the name means sensible. The feminine form appeared in a sixteenth century poem, but was fading from use even in 1885 – the name peaked that decade, and has trended towards obscurity ever since.
Clotilde – I’m a sucker for Clothilde, spelled with the ‘h’, but any way you spell this name, it’s been long neglected. Clotilde is a Germanic name. The most famous bearer was a queen, wife to Clovis, King of the Franks, and responsible for his conversation to Christianity. She’s considered a saint. With names like Chloe and Matilda, as well as French names for girls like Genevieve and Madeleine, considered fashionable, Clotilde might wear well in 2016 – but it hasn’t happened. 1885 was the peak of Clotilde’s popularity.
Tressa – Tressa is a modern Cornish girls’ name meaning third. But that might not be the explanation for the name’s popularity in the nineteenth century. In the 1880s and 90s, Tressa might have been a form of Theresa, or maybe a creative spin on other -ess names, including Top Twenty Bessie, Top 100 Jessie, as well as Essie, Bess, Dessie, Lessie, Besse, and, of course, Odessa. There was even a steamboat called the Tressa May operating in Oregon in the era, but I suspect the boat’s name was part of the trend, not the cause.
Exie – Modern parents love the letter X, and we’re fond of sassy, retro nickname name like Sadie, too. Does that make Exie an obvious, can’t-miss 2016 pick, or does it still feel too insubstantial? While it strikes me as the kind of Jaylie/Tinlee invention we see so much of today, the name has barely been used in recent years.
Albertine – This name was completely off my radar until a reader suggested it as Baby Name of the Day a while back. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking how Albertine isn’t so different from Madeline or Genevieve, though perhaps the “bert” adds a little more friction that we like in our girls’ names today. The nicknames are great – Allie, Abby, and Aline all work, and that’s just a start. It was big in 1885, but, like Albert, is seldom heard today.
Novella – Name your daughter Novella in 2016, and others will think it is a complete innovation, along the lines of other literally literary names like Story and Fable. But it was probably borrowed from the Latin nova – new, possibly referring to spring. It peaked around the year 1900, and is slowly being rediscovered today. It was given to 47 girls in 2014. That makes it a good bet if you’re choosing between word names and frillier, feminine ones – with Novella, you can have both.
Victorine – We like our nice, neat lists of feminine/masculine forms, with one corresponding to one. Only it isn’t that easy. John has Joan and Jane and so many more. Samantha is a much newer name than Samuel. And while we love our regal, Top 100 Victoria, there’s also Victorine. I think it’s particularly appealing for parents looking for a tailored middle name alternative to the obvious Elizabeth and Katherine. Just as a chorus girl was once called a chorine, there’s something forgotten about this name – a true member of the rare 1885 baby names club!
Maebelle – Is Maebelle just too country? Vintage Mabel is making a comeback, but this is more of a smoosh name, between Mae and Belle. Maebelle does feel a little bit like a Dukes of Hazzard baby name – but those are among the most stylish of choices in 2016. It’s a sister for Emmylou, an alternative to Maisie or Bess.
Dulcie – Dulcie means sweet, from the Latin dulcis. That’s more familiar to American English speakers than ever, thanks to dulce de leche – a caramel-like confection popular throughout Latin America. It could be short for Dulcinea, a name that Miguel de Cervantes used for his 1605 novel Don Quixote – in fact, he may have invented the name. It’s headed for obscurity today, but if Sadie and Elsie work, why not Dulcie?
Leda – It’s not such a surprise that Exie and Dulcie, Maebelle and Victorine have been forgotten. But Leda? The name peaked in the 1890s, and then we all forgot this mythological name, even as we rediscovered Chloe and Penelope and Phoebe and dozens of other choices inspired by Greek myth. True, the story of Leda and the Swan isn’t exactly a fairytale. But saints’ stories are plenty gory, and we’ve embraced many a mythological name with a problematic tale attached. Leda conforms to our two-syllable, ends-in-a pattern so popular for girls’ names like Emma and Lila. It’s a great, underused alternative to consider in 2016.
Rare 1885 Baby Names: Boys
Houston – The girls’ list started with a place name, and so does the 1885 baby names for boys list! We’ve embraced Austin, another Texas city named for its founder, Stephen F. Austin. But Sam Houston may be even more legendary. The city of Houston is a booming metropolis. One reason it might cause hesitation? “Houston, we have a problem” is familiar to anyone in the English-speaking world today. Here’s the story behind it. But the potential for the odd joke, Houston fits in well with Hudson and other place names for boys so in vogue today.
Ransom – It’s easy to dismiss Ransom as a crazy baby name, but stay with me. There’s a spiritual meaning to it, and it’s familiar to many. The ransom theory of atonement its the scholarly name, but many Christians are familiar with the idea of the death of Jesus as a ransom. In this sense, it’s similar to the word redemption. That’s a lovely idea for a child’s name, especially for people of faith. It’s also worth noting that Ransom shares sounds with Rowan and Roman and Landon, all stylish choices for a son today.
Benton – Ben is big. Benjamin has never been more popular, and Bennett and Benson and even Benedict are all getting more use. But Benton is relatively overlooked, even though it is every bit a Ben- surname name that works well in 2016. Could it remind people of Bentonville, Arkansas, the corporate home to Wal-Mart? Maybe, but I had to Google it to be sure that was the name of the town. Like many 1885 baby names, I think this one just plain overlooked – even though it has snuck back into the US Top 1000 in recent years, currently ranking #944.
Lafe – I think that Lafe is nothing more than a phonetic respelling of Leif. Leif is a Scandi name rich with history, but in the US, we tend to pronounce it like leaf. That’s true in 2016, decades after former teenage heartthrob Leif Garrett was a sensation. So if you love Leif, but want a more authentically Scandinavian pronunciation, the phonetic spelling is certainly an option. Lafe also feels like a creative twist on Raphael short form Rafe. Either way, it’s nearly unknown as a child’s name in 2016.
Hollis – Love names like Brooks and Wilder, names with a sort of buttoned-up preppy vibe, but not too much starch? I think Hollis is another one ready for consideration. Hollis refers to a grove of holly trees, and always makes me think of Christmas – not only for the botanical tie-in, but because of Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” How’s that for a different twist on 1885 baby names? 125 boys and 112 girls were named Hollis in 2014, so maybe this name is on the verge of rediscovery.
Rome – It’s another place name possibility. We’re wild about Roman, a name poised just outside of the US Top 100 as of 2014. But how ’bout Rome? It sounds a little bit like a verb, or maybe an order or a lyric. Roam, if you want to. But the eternal city is as good a place name candidate as Camden or Boston, and far less expected. 125 boys were named Rome in 2014, making this a contender for parents who love Jude and Kai, but want something much less popular.
Leopold – Leopold makes me think of German-born monarchs from days gone by, and The Producers‘ Leopold Bloom, named for James Joyce’s character in Ulysses. But mostly I think Leopold is a fun, unexpected formal name for Leo. Leo stands just fine on its own, of course, but if you’d like something longer, this is one of the Leo names that was big around 1885, but nearly forgotten since.
Fielding – Names like Forrest and Parker conjure up the great outdoors, but only just. They’re also surname names that have stomped the mud off their boots to mix with mainstream favorites like Mason and Carter. English writer Henry Fielding makes it literary. Altogether, Fielding is completely unexpected, but rich with potential in 2016.
Sumner – On the downside, Sumner would almost certainly be mistaken for Summer. Maybe constantly. But on the plus side, Sumner has the same surname vibe as so many popular choices, like Hunter and Oliver. And the name doesn’t have a seasonal connection, either – it’s an occupational surname for a summoner, one who brought witnesses to court in the Middle Ages.
Dempsey – Dempsey has just the right amount of swagger. It’s ultimately from an Irish given name meaning proud, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. But in 2016, Dempsey feels nostalgic, a nod to 1920s boxer and World Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey. While Dempsey – like Riley and Bailey and dozens of other -y ending surname names – could be borrowed for a girl, I think the association with boxing puts this one on Team Blue. 94 boys were given the name in 2014, but that’s still down from the name’s peak around 1920, and not enough to return it to the US Top 1000, where it could be found in 1885.
Orson – In 2016, we’re naming our boys Fox and Wolf and Bear. Orson is a quietly ursine name, borrowed from the Latin ursus – bear. Orson Welles is probably the most famous bearer of the name – no pun intended – and he was born in 1915, maybe twenty years after the name peaked. As 1885 baby names go, Orson feels both vintage and modern at once – an alternate to Otis or Mason.
Hamilton – Will the Broadway blockbuster inspire baby names? So far the answer is no – but Hamilton debuted in February 2015, arriving on Broadway later that year – much too late to have an impact on the 2014 charts. Ham and Milt are non-starters as short forms, but Milo works. And with surname names for boys like Harrison going nickname-free, there’s really no need to shorten this patriotic choice. One more reason to think Hamilton could wear well in 2016? It was, indeed, on the fringes of 1885 baby names, peaking in the 1880s.
Would you consider any of these 1885 baby names for a child in 2016?