Never Out of Style: Classic Names for Boys

Westfield House or Westfields,Chelmsford 1960s

Westfield House; image by sludgegulper via Flickr

Editor’s note: This post was one of the first ever published at AppMtn, on January 26, 2008, when the blog was a mere three days old. It was substantially revised and re-posted on Monday, March 19, 2012.

Are you a Brooks Brothers button-down kind of guy? Do you prefer your Thanksgiving turkey served on grandmother’s china with monogrammed table linens? Are you longing for a Silver Cross pram to take your new baby boy for a constitutional in the park?

Or maybe you’re one of the countless parents just plain frustrated with nouveau names. Nothing against Logan or Noah, but they’re as obviously tied to this generation as Jason and Kevin, Donald and Frank.

Let’s say you’re longing for a classic, a name impossible to tie to a decade of birth, a name that can’t betray the bearer’s age.

If so, your list is short. As of 2010, there are only three boys’ names that never left the US Top Twenty. In 2008, that number was four. Expand your search to include those never out of the Top 100 and you have a total of a dozen.

Can you guess what they are?

Jacob doesn’t make the list, nor does Alexander. Edward and Nicholas are more subject to the whims of fashion than you might imagine.  Classic names for boys are a small fraternity.

The elite trio that has always charted at #20 or more popular is as follows:

There’s a second tier of nearly-as-popular picks, names never out of the Top 50:

  • David
  • John – When this post originally appeared in 2008, John was also a member of the Big Three. Since then, he’s fallen, ranking just #26 in 2010. Make no mistake, John is still an evergreen choice. But he isn’t nearly as common as he once was.

A few more names have never been out of the Top 75:

  • Charles
  • Daniel
  • Michael
  • Robert
  • Thomas

Two more have never been out of the Top 100:

There’s one more that just barely missed the list: Anthony. He appeared just outside the Top 100 a few times in the 1880s.

It isn’t quite fair to say that names failing to make this list aren’t classics. Most would conside Henry and George timeless. But strictly speaking they’re more subject to the vagaries of style than you might guess.

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These classic, timeless names are favorites of my husband and myself. The names of four of our five sons appear above – – James, John, Michael, Robert; our oldest son is Edward (Ted). Five of our 12 grandsons’ names are in these shortlists too: James, Joseph, William, David and Andrew. Our seven other grandsons have long-standing names too. My family loves the classic names for boys!

My favorite from this list is Thomas. I’m surprised my husband’s name, Robert ever left the top 50. My husband was named after his great grandfather. I used to think my husband had a boring name, but I’ve grown to like it, especially considering that my father-in-law wanted to named him Brentwood and call him “Woody.” Thankfully my mother-in-law put her foot down.

My father-in-law is Richard, and I was surprised to learn it was in the top 100 as recently as 2007. I don’t consider Richard as dated as Ronald, but I don’t consider it timeless like Robert either, and would have guessed it would be out of the top 200 by now.

I dislike all of these names, seriously. Overused, and plain boring. There are so many classic names that have never achieved this level of popularity, let alone being continously popular. I suggest out with the old, in with the new.

I would use David in a heartbeat, if we didn’t have TWO neighbors named Dave.

One of my brothers has an Andrew William and a Joseph Richard. (Richard would have also made this list, but it fell out of the top 100 in 2008.) Both boys have solid names… all chosen for family reasons… but it’s a good thing their surname isn’t something typical like Johnson or Brown.

The others that come to mind as “almost classics” for me are Paul, Matthew, Mark, and Timothy. Again, all biblical. I find it interesting that Luke has come back into style as the hip Biblical choice (no doubt thanks to Skywalker and Perry, but still…)

Obviously, Samuel is my favorite from this list. I also really, truly love David, but found it unusable. I don’t know why. They’re basically the same name. You know what I mean.

And virtually ALL of them are Biblical originally (I once won a Sunday School prize for memorizing and reciting all the books of the Bible in order) and only William, Charles and Robert are non-Biblical. Of course those William and Charles are both the names of notable English kings and Robert was the name of several Scottish kings.

Wowsers, quite a few of those classic names have never been profiled. Hmmm, I may have to rethink the name I was planning on suggesting soon.

I love James, William, David, Daniel and Alexander. They are just too darn over used.
As a Sarah born in 1983 when the name was number 5, I have promised to never give my child a popular name.