It turns out that plenty of today’s familiar favorites were the most popular baby names one hundred years ago, too. But mixed in with upstanding classics like James and John, we find some unexpected gems. A few of these names – both from the 1923 boy names’ Top 100 and beyond – sound downright 2023.
Let’s look at two groups of names. First, the surprisingly stylish. The outliers, rising in use, but still not mainstream. They’re the names i would’ve been blogging – and we all would’ve been talking about – 100 years ago.
Then let’s look at the Top 100, a mix of the familiar and the wait that name was THAT popular, too.
Why does it matter?
In naming, we often talk about the 100-Year Rule.
Names from our generation are ordinary, “normal” names. But our parents’ names and their parents’ names often feel dated.
After all, if you’re having children today, your parents’ names are probably something like Mark and Julie, or maybe Scott and Nicole. Your grandparents’ names could be something still dated – Ron and Shirley, perhaps. But it’s also possible that you’ll find some vintage gems, like Betty and George.
Even farther back, it’s a good bet that your great-grandparents’ names trace back about 100 years. And that century brings us back to names like Arthur and Evelyn, Frank and Grace. They’re the vintage gems we’re all after for our children circa 2023.
A quick note about vintage girls’ names: they’re often easier to find. That’s because there have traditionally been more girls’ names in use overall, and they’ve cycled in and out of fashion more rapidly. Only Elizabeth feels as classic as James and William; it’s one of a tiny number of girls’ names perpetually ranked near the top of the charts. Dozens of names – think Mildred or Phyllis – feel unthinkably out of favor today. Others, like Esther and Dorothy, are back – but not quite at the top of the style charts. But then there are Ruby, Clara, and Alice – truly vintage names from the 1920s and 30s that feel equally stylish today.
The sheer number of names means that vintage choices for girls are greater in number, and it takes more fine-tuning of the dial. Irene or June? Rita or Edith? Is it too soon for Doris and Gloria to make a comeback?
Meanwhile, the surprising finds from 1923 boy names feel even more out-there, while the Top 100 overlaps considerably with today’s list of the most popular boy names.
Step into the time machine, and let’s investigate 1923 boy names.
SURPRISING FINDS FROM 1923 BOY NAMES
ANGUS (unranked now; #777 then)
A kilted Scottish import, Angus reads a little bit antique – but also rather cool, thanks to heavy metal guitar legend Angus Young.
BASIL (unranked now; #379 then)
Depending on pronunciation, Basil is either a brother for Rosemary and Sage, or a delightfully antique British throwback.
DORSEY (unranked now: #651 then)
A surname name related to the French place name Orsay, it may trace its roots all the way to the Greek word horkos, meaning oath.
DOYLE (unranked now; #263 then)
Friendly Irish surname, Doyle brings to mind Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan.
IKE (unranked now; #797 then)
A mini name big on style, Ike can be short for Isaac, or possibly stand on its own. It sounds old school and fresh at the same time. The name’s popularity predates former President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, who rose to fame during World War II.
LEANDER (unranked now; #667 then)
The name means “lion of a man,” from the Greek. But we know him as a tragic Romeo of the ancient world, who lost his life swimming across the Hellespont, a straight that separated him from his beloved.
LEOPOLD (unranked now; #774 then)
Popular with German royals, and literary thanks to James Joyce, Leopold could succeed in the 2020s because we’re wild for lion names, from Leonardo to Leovanni.
THERON (unranked now; #563 then)
There’s something surprising about Theron, though nicknames like Theo and Teddy could make it readily accessible. It comes from a Greek word meaning “to hunt.”
VAUGHN (unranked now; #538 then)
Smooth, sophisticated Vaughn only recently left the US Top 1000. But no question it was more popular in the past. Today it fits with timeless choices like Graham.
WILEY (unranked now; #346 then)
Along with Wylie, this name can come from evergreen William, or a place name with a meaning like “willow clearing.” It’s nicely masculine, but also comfortably modern, a surname we’re not using but easily could be.
TOP 100 BOY NAMES of 1923
* indicates that the name does not rank in the current US Top 1000
What are your favorite 1923 boy names?
First published on January 5, 2023, this post was updated on August 10, 2023.