When I wrote about 1930s Names for Girls, it was tough to put them into categories: definitely back, cautiously consider, gone for good. And yet, that list was nothing compared to the boys’ list!
If the 100-year rule holds true, then names popular in, say, 1935, should be on the rise right about now. I included a list of caveats in the girls’ post that went like this:
- Not every name comes back – some do fade into oblivion.
- 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.
- Not every name returns on schedule – some arrive earlier, others languish long past the time you’d expect them to be making it big.
- 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.
For boys’ names, there’s even more to consider:
- The number of truly timeless names is higher, as we’ve discussed before.
- Traditionally, change is slower in boys’ names, and parents are more likely to hew closely to established choices for a son. It seems like parents are less likely to take risks when naming a boy.
- It’s equally true that boys tend to receive more family names – so lots of Boy, Juniors and grandsons named after grandfathers also slows the rate of change.
And yet, parents undeniably consider style when naming sons. That’s part of what makes it tough to imagine a lot of 1930s names reviving.
Could it be that the 100-rule is more powerful for more volatile girl names? I’m not sure, and I’m eager to here your reactions!
On to the most popular names of the 1930s, and how they might wear in the US right about now:
Charles – Friendly, upbeat Charlie, as in the Chocolate Factory and the Peanuts comic strip, is a name that’s easy to like. Charles is his regal counterpart, worn by notables from Dickens to Darwin. Feminine forms Charlotte and Caroline are in vogue, too, and you’ll meet girl Charlies as well as boys. It’s a staple that feels exactly right in 2014.
Henry – Is it right to call Henry back? On numbers alone, he’s always been pretty popular, though the 1970s and 80s were low points for his use. It almost makes him a classic, along the lines of John. But Henry has gone so Hollywood in recent years – from Julia Roberts to Minnie Driver to Colin Farrell to Heidi Klum. And he is rising once more, reaching #43 in 2012, up from #115 in 2002.
Jack – Jack is back! Originally a nickname for the more formal John, today he stands on his own. Add up forms like Jax and Jackson, and you’re much more like to meet a Jack than a Johnny. He’s brisk, approachable, and all boy.
Leo – Among the first of the ends-with-o names to catch on, Leo is fierce as a lion, but retains a vintage, grandpa quality that feels quite approachable, too. He’s not as out there as Astro, less wild kingdom than Hawk – a thoroughly pleasing name that deserves to be as popular as he is nowadays.
Samuel – Like Charles and Henry, Sam could easily fit on the list of classics. But he feels like one of the most stylish of the classic choices at the moment, a combination of Hollywood baby name (thanks to the Garner-Afflecks’ youngest), Biblical boy, and retro everyguy name, a brother for Max and Gus.
Andrew – He spent the 1980s, 90s, and early part of the 2000s in the US Top Ten, but today Andrew has retreated to classic, rather than fashionable-classic. After all, Toy Story first introduced us to kid-Andy back in 1995, and the most recent installment sent him off to college. Now Andrew is just as likely to be the dad as the kid.
Anthony – Like Andrew, Anthony has been very popular in recent years. But despite peaking at #7 in 2007/2008, Anthony has never quite felt stylish. Classic and enduring? Yes. But trend-setting? Not quite. Still, Anthony – especially when used in full – is staggeringly handsome, and brings to mind Hollywood leading man Anthony Quinn and Anthony Hopkins. Plus he’s got plenty of cool – it’s the given name of Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, and Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis.
David – Michelangelo’s version of the Biblical hero is among the greatest achievements in Renaissance art, and plenty of notable Davids have reached their own lofty heights – saints and kings, David Bowie and David Byrne, David Cameron, David Sedaris. Fictional figures range from The Incredible Hulk’s Dr. David Banner to David Copperfield. It’s a versatile name, one that sacrifices no charm even as it is used and re-used over the years.
John – He’s lost ground to Jackson and other Jack- names in recent years, but that takes nothing away from his status as a dependable choice.
William – Worn by the future King of England, and currently a very popular name for boys throughout much of the world. Regal, literary, heroic, saintly, and historic, William loses none of his appeal for being in the US Top Ten since 2006. In the UK, William might be Billy, but in the US, he’s much more likely to be Will.
Joseph – Regular Joe is an upbeat, accessible name, and Joey is a kid, whether in kangaroo or human form. But Joseph has a quiet dignity. Some classics – like Charles and William – feel fashionable. Others, like Joseph, are just quietly evergreen.
Michael – As impeccable a classic as any on this list, somehow Michael feels a little more well-worn than David or William. File him with Andrew and Anthony – classics that we’re still happy to hear on boys, even though we’ve met dozens.
Daniel – Most of the Daniels in my life have been Danny or Dan. But there’s something rather appealing about this Biblical hero, he of the lion’s den, when his name is used in full. He still hovers just outside the US Top Ten, fitting in with Noah and Joshua, Sebastian and Oliver – softer names for boys that have dominated in recent decades.
Ready for Revival
Arthur – The legendary king of Camelot was in hibernation as a given name for decades. But signs pointed to his revival – Courtney Cox’s Cougar Town alter ego suggested it as a name for the baby she’d adopt with her new beau. Selma Blair welcomed son Arthur in 2011. Unlike Henry, the numbers don’t demonstrate that he’s gaining – in 2012, Arthur still ranked a cool #355. But buzz suggests that Arthur is the new Henry.
Edward – Yes, there’s the sparkly vampire. But Edward has as much backstory as William or Charles or Henry, and should be considered an underused classic. If nickname Eddie makes you think Munster, there’s also Ned, which is both traditional and unexpected in 2014 – a winning combination.
Francis – The new pope has revived interest in his chosen name – a sharp departure from the previous pontiffs. But the Bishop of Rome isn’t the only thing boosting this name’s profile. From Francis Bacon to Francis Scott Key, many a notable has answered to Francis – or nickname Frank, as in Sinatra – and it was a Top 100 choice into the 1950s. It might feel a smidge spiritual for non-Catholics in 2014, but it could appeal to many parents, along with all of the Francis-names.
Robert – There’s something a little bit fusty about Robert, and yet this former #1 name has much to recommend him. Bob is probably your grandpa – unless you’re Charlie Sheen, who named his twins Max and Bob in 2009. Bobby is as dated as the rest of the Brady Bunch names, though he’s keeping company with nickname names like Alfie and Archie in the UK. The reason Robert is ready for revival is Rob and Robbie. Both are right at home with names we’re using for our sons now. Gus, Max, and Rob. I think it works.
George – The name of the world’s most famous prince, and a classic that’s been little used in recent years. I’m a sucker for short form Geordie. He ranked a relatively frosty #166 in 2012, and we’ll have to wait a few years to see if the new royal causes more parents to reconsider George.
Harry – He’s on top of the charts in England, and the heroic Harry Potter is a worthy namesake. Why isn’t he more successful in the US? Could it be that we fear he’ll sound too much like the word hairy?
Louis – He’s the second middle for young Prince George, and the name of Sandra Bullock’s baby boy, too. Pronounced like Lewis, he’s buttoned-down – though not necessarily in a bad way. But Louie has an irresistible charm.
Peter – Peter is a rock, a saintly name worn by a member of The Brady Bunch and plenty of notables. Saints and monarchs take the name in one direction; a rabbit and Neverland’s most famous resident push him to another place. At #205 in 2012, he’s at his least popular ever – but could easily suit parents seeking something more unusual than William, more established than Archer.
Philip – He was the baby name that Angela and Pam tussled over on The Office – a hint that Philip is ready for revival, even though the numbers still show a slide.
Raymond, Ray – Short form Ray is as cool as any of its famous bearers – Bradbury, Charles. Raymond is to Ray as John is to Jack – not quite as cool, but still definitely worthy of consideration.
Thomas – From the pages of children’s books to an animated series and countless tiny toy trains, Thomas is a staple in many homes. But most of the boys playing with those trains won’t be named Thomas – as of 2012, it had fallen to #63 in the US, his lowest point ever. Still, the few kids called Thomas that I’ve met have worn it well, and if you’re after a classic less common than James, Thomas is a possibility.
Theodore – Is it any wonder than Theo is following Leo right up the popularity charts? After decades of decline, Theodore reversed course a few years back. Singing chipmunk or no, this one hits the right notes for many parents. Short form Theo is also rising at a rapid rate.
Walter – If online chatter is a good gauge – and I think it is – Walter is on the comeback trail. His numbers don’t reflect it – as of 2012, he ranked #376, nearly his lowest ranking ever, and quite a fall after spending 1880 through 1972 in the Top 100. But Walter’s got great nickname Walt, as in Whitman and Disney, as well as that stylish -r ending.
Albert – I want to love Albert. He’s regal – Queen Victoria’s adored husband, after all! Plus there’s Einstein and Camus! And yet, Albert still feels fusty. Maybe that’s because none of the nicknames – Al, Alby, Bert – seem quite right in 2014. Still, if you’re willing to use Albert in full, I think he has possibilities.
Alfred – Batman’s capable butler answered to Alfred. So did Tennyson and Hitchcock. Despite this pedigree Alfred has been sliding towards obscurity in the US. Meanwhile, nickname form Alfie is the height of style in the UK. What does that mean for Alfred? Hard to say, but don’t count him out.
Allen – Is it me, or is Allen a grandpa name? Maybe that’s Alan Alda, who graduated from M*A*S*H to Molly Ringwald’s dad in Betsy’s Wedding. Speaking of Alda, respell this one Alan, and it feels French and almost intriguing.
Clyde – Now Clyde is a name that could really work. He’s short, and we’re all about short names for boys nowadays. Plus, he has a sort of Guys and Dolls sensibility. As 1930s names go, he’d fit right in – there’s the ill-fated Clyde Griffiths of American Tragedy, set in 1925, the bank-robbing Clyde Barrow of the early 1930s. It would take some daring to introduce your son as Clyde, but for fashionable parents in urban areas, I think he’ll be among the 1930s names making a comeback.
Earl – Earl actually peaked at the end of the nineteenth century. Since then, he’s gone from aristocrat to hickster. Yet the same logic that holds for Clyde could carry Earl back into use. Television hasn’t been kind to Earl – beyond Jason Lee’s memorable character, there’s the drunken Earl Kinsella on Hart of Dixie. And yet, just like those Dukes of Hazzard names seemed outlandish in the 1980s, add two more decades and this one could feel downhome – in a good way.
Edwin – If Edward is a classic prime for a comeback, why wouldn’t Edwin be just as much of a possibility? Especially with his winning final syllable, the regal and saintly Edwin might work.
Ernest – An inadvertent virtue name, boosted by Oscar Wilde’s play-on-words, Ernest has been fading for years. But if we’re willing to name our children Temperance and True, is Ernest – or Earnest – so out there?
Floyd – He’s a cousin to Lloyd, and, like Clyde, I think he’s one of the daring 1930s names that could work.
Franklin – If Francis feels too papish and Frank too plain, how about surname name Franklin? He’s a founding father and a widely admired US president. Plus the meaning is great – freeman.
Frederick, Fred – One of my favorite names, hamstrung by the feeling that Fred is a Flinstone. Or a Munster. But this generation probably thinks of Fred Weasley, and there’s always Frederic Chopin. And yet, even if Fred feels dated, Freddie is darling. And somehow, that makes me think that this name would wear just fine.
Glenn – I’ve been seeing Glenn as dated for ages, but lately his nature/place name qualities have me thinking that he’s worthy of another looking. The numbers don’t bear it out, but if Finn and Ben are big, why not Glenn?
Harold – It’s a stretch, I know. But there’s the adorable children’s classic Harold and the Purple Crayon, built-in nickname Harry, and – well, I know a little Harold and I’m surprised to report that it wears perfectly well.
Harvey – So if Henry is stylish, is Harvey ready to be worn by something other than invisible rabbits and Canadian burger chains? I can see this one on a child without any difficulty, though when the name is shortened to Harv, somehow it feels aged once more.
Jerome – I once dismissed Jerome as dated. But then I read Bree’s post on the name, and suddenly Jerome felt artistic, interesting – and possibly wearable for a newborn in 2014.
Lee – Lee is headed towards obscurity for boys, even while the Biblical Leah rises for girls. Still, Lee seems like a possibility – less daring than Floyd or Clyde, and in step with short names like Chase and Luke. Plus, popular picks Levi and Liam share his sound.
Leon – When the Jolie-Pitts announced that this was the middle they’d chosen for son Knox, surprise followed. But Leon is on the rise in France right now, where Knox was born. And with Leo and Liam in vogue, Leon isn’t such a stretch.
Lloyd – If Reese and company can enjoy wide use, how about the equally Welsh Lloyd?
Martin – Martin is a hero name, a modern crusader thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr., and a religious significant one thanks to the original Martin Luther. Just like Harv feels different than Harvey, Marty feels less wearable than Martin. Martin makes me think of retro cool Dean Martin and fits in with all of those two-syllable, ends-with-n, surnamey names: Landon, Logan, Mason, Austin, Nolan, Martin.
Roger – Mad Men and professional tennis have given us Rogers that make this name feel wearable in 2014. And yet this storied name has fallen from his peak in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. At #565 in 2012, a baby Roger would be pretty rare – but not necessarily unwearable in our age of Connor, Carter, Asher, and Archer.
Roy – If Ray is ready for revival, why not the colorful, regal Roy?
Stanley – Like Walter, Stanley earns his place on this list thanks to the positive comments by others. And when you think about it, Stan is quite cool, bringing to mind the legendary Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee. Plus there’s ice hockey’s Stanley Cup and Hollywood’s young Marlon Brando as the brutish Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Not Quite Yet
Alvin – With his ‘v’ sound, how can Alvin rate a not quite yet? Blame it on the animated chipmunk, maybe. While Alvin ranked #522 in 2012, he’s holding steady – a familiar name that’s seldom heard, and isn’t generating much buzz – now.
Bruce – From fictional sharks to Robert the Bruce to Batman’s alter ego, this name has an edge. But in the 1930s he was on the upswing, having just entered the US Top 100 in 1932. His real heyday was the 1940s, and he remained popular into the 1960s. This suggests that Bruce needs a few more decades before he feels fresh once more.
Carl – Somehow the Germanic Carl feels harsh, even as we embrace Charles and lots of other names with the ar sound. Like Bruce, his popularity extended far beyond the 1930s – Carl still ranked in the US Top 100 in the early 1970s.
Clifford – I have a hard time hearing Clifford and not immediately adding Big Red Dog to the name. Ford is plenty stylish, and I can imagine Cliff working well, too. Yet somehow, Clifford is caught in style limbo.
Dennis – Is it fair to call Dennis dull? He’s borrowed from the god of wine and revelry, Dionysius, and has been worn by many a character over the years – comedian Denis Leary, NBA star Dennis Rodman, and fictional troublemaker Dennis the Menace. Still, he’s slipped quickly over the last few years, reaching an all-time low of #427 in 2012.
Douglas – There’s something dashing about Douglas, and something dignified, too. And yet Doug feels more like your uncle than your son. Give him a few more years, and he’ll be back.
Gary – If I had been blogging baby names in the 1930s, I’d have been raving about Gary, the Mason of his generation. Today Gary feels more dated than many a name on this list – and therefore, less likely to make a comeback any time soon.
Gordon – I want to like Gordon, mostly because of abrasive chef Gordon Ramsay. And yet Gordon doesn’t quite hit the right note for me.
Leonard – Yes to Leo, and to Leonardo, and maybe even Leon and Len. But, with apologies to Mr. Nimoy, Leonard doesn’t feel quite right for a kiddo.
Howard – Sportscaster extraordinaire Howard Cosell answered to this name. So did controversial radio personality Howard Stern. It’s the given name of H.P. Lovecraft and Duane Altman. But Howard feels a little off kilter in 2014. Then again, I met a Howard who answered to Hoby. Could a great nickname be Howard’s key to a comeback? Maybe …
Richard – If you want to refer to “every Tom, Dick, and Harry” in 2014, you need to change the names – especially if you’re dealing with an under-40 crowd. Richard, especially, has been on the wane. All of his nicknames feel either dated – Ricky, Rich – or like punchlines. And yet, if Arthur can make a comeback, why not the equally regal Richard? I also think that nickname Hardy could go a long ways to help reviving this one.
Donald, Don – Mad Men put this name on everyone’s lips, but even Jon Hamm can’t convince parents to rediscover Donald in 2014.
Marvin – Like Alvin, Marvin has that great ‘v’ sound – and also like Alvin, he seems pretty obscure nowadays.
Ronald – With Ron Weasley starring as Harry’s sidekick in the Wizarding World, you might expect Ronald to fare better. But the name has nosedived, even as the books and movies have soared.
Ralph – I want to call Ralph back. It’s the name of DesignMom’s firstborn. There’s Ralph Fiennes. And now that A Christmas Story is a classic – and I identify far more with the mother than the kid – Ralphie seems downright adorable. Then again, the holiday flick was set in the 1940s – so maybe this one just needs a little more time to seem retro instead of dated.
Paul – Legendary rocker McCartney, plus French artists Gaugin, Matisse, and Cezanne also answered to this first name. There’s Paul Newman, Paul Simon, Paul Revere – to say nothing of Saint Paul himself. So Paul counts as classic. But just like Mary on the girls’ side, some classic names are really out of use in 2014. Paul is among them.
Kenneth – He ranked in the US Top 20 from 1924 through 1964, and only left the Top 100 in the 1990s. The Scottish Kenneth had such a good run that he needs some time out of the spotlight.
Leroy – There’s something hickster about Leroy, despite his royal roots – he’s from the French phrase le roi – the king. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him on a super-edgy neighborhood playground somewhere, but for now, the numbers say that he’s in hibernation.
Frank – When Elvis Costello and Diana Krall welcomed twin sons named Dexter and Frank in 2006, I thought both names might get a boost. But Dexter was different – he’d never been super popular, while Frank was in the US Top 100 into the 1980s. Despite the enduring cool of Sinatra, let’s call this one not quite ready for a comeback.
Herbert, Herman – I’ll root for Harvey and Harold, too, but somehow I think Herbert and Herman are a little too out there for consideration.
Russell – Even the star power of Russell Crowe has failed to convince parents to rediscover this name. But that’s probably because he suffers from the same problem as Frank – Russell was popular into the 1980s, so he’ll need more of a break before parents are ready to reconsider him.
Lewis – How can it be that Louis is stylish, but Lewis is … not? Hard to say, but the Lewis/Louis split demonstrates that, when it comes to names, spelling counts.
Warren – He’s presidential and philanthropic, worn by rapper Warren G. and actor Warren Beatty. But he’s not worn by a lot of little boys nowadays, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
Wayne – Like Leroy, I half expect to meet a little boy named Wayne on a super-fashionable urban playground, a hipster pick that’s so uncool it is cool, the new Rufus. Except that it hasn’t happened yet. Then again, John Wayne made his acting debut in the 1930s, so maybe he’ll start to resurface as some of these other names catch on.
The Nickname Brigade
Bill, Billy – William made the classics list, and he’s also undeniably in vogue – he’s been in or just outside the US Top Ten since 2000. But the go-to nickname these days is Will. While British families might bring back Billy, in the US, it would be pretty unusual to see either of these short forms on a birth certificate. Just 41 boys were named Bill in 2012, and 354 for charming Billy.
Bob, Bobby – Bobby is a Brady and a Kennedy, a name from a more innocent age. And while some boys still answer to Bobby, it seems as borrowed from the past as Billy.
Eddie – With Edward in style limbo, this nickname, too, feels slightly dated. If I did meet a little Edward, odds are he’d be Edward. And the one elementary school aged Edward I know answers to the retro Ned.
Jim, Jimmie, Jimmy – 585 boys were named Jimmy, not James; another 90 were called Jimmie; and 57 were just Jim. And yet, just like Bill and Billy, this one feels out of vogue. Most of the kids named James that I meet nowadays are called James – or Jamie or Jamey.
Johnny – You’re more likely to meet a Jack than a Johnny in 2014. But some boys are still answering to the classic John, and so likely this nickname, too. Mira Sorvino welcomed a son named Johnny Christopher in 2006, the same year that Melissa Etheridge gave the name Johnnie Rose to a daughter.
Joe – I know so many Josephs, and most of them are quite content to answer to the approachable, regular-guy Joe. And yet, few of them have it on their birth certificates, so my first reaction is to say that just Joe is a no-go. Except that the three-letter, looks-good-on-a-workshirt Joe seems at home with Gus and Max. Let’s not count him out yet.
Tommy – He suffers from the same challenge as Eddie – since few parents are using formal form Thomas, we’re not meeting many Tommys.
Willie – I can cautiously imagine Billy as a given name. And Will is charming. But somehow Willie feels like a punchline, the name given to the weasel-ish character in too many stories.
Gone for Good?
Bernard – He’s a quintessential old man name, a well-established and respectable choice that somehow still feels reserved for septuagenarians and up. Could it be because Weekend at Bernie’s was such a big hit in 1989?
Dale – Dale was big in the 1930s, and like many names that I’ve declared not ready for revival, remained big into the 1960s. I’d call Dale very wearable for a girl in 2014, but too animated chipmunk to consider for a son right now.
Eugene, Gene – He’s the go-to name for the awkward character, from Grease to Tangled, where the male lead sheds Eugene in favor of Flynn Ryder. And yet, when Mad Men’s Betty Draper named her youngest Eugene, in honor of her late father, I thought … maybe. It has yet to show signs of wearability, even though feminine Eu names, from Eugenie to Eulalia feel fresh. So maybe it is only a matter of time – a lot more time.
Gerald, Jerry – Could Gerald make a comeback? I have my doubts. While he’s perfectly established as a name – good ol’ Germanic roots, brought to England by the Normans – somehow Gerald and Jerry feel like the most dated of dated names.
Larry – Lawrence has potential, but this nickname-name feels too dated for consideration now.
Melvin – There’s nothing about this name that appeals in 2014. Though short form Mel might have potential.
Norman – Blame it on Psycho. Or possibly the Cheers character. Either way, I have a hard time imagining a child called Norm in 2014.
Vernon – He’s Harry’s awful uncle in the Harry Potter series. While I know men my age and older who answer to Vern, it is tough to imagine a child sharing a name with Mr. Dursley.
What do you think of 1930s names for boys? Which are your favorites? Can you see some of these making a comeback? And are Vernon, Herbert, and the other names on my “Gone for Good” list truly headed for obscurity, or am I wrong about that?
Original photo credit: Old Guard Museum via Flickr