children, little girl by rainy day windowOne of the first posts I ever wrote was Never Out of Style: Boy’s Edition, a post I recently revised and expanded.

But what about the girls?

While it doesn’t take a name nerd to notice that girls’ names are more varied and diverse than those we give to our sons, the statistics surprise.

From 1880 through 2010, only one girl’s name has never left the US Top 30: Elizabeth.

But there is a long line of also-rans, with more years in the Top 100 than out, and never out of the US Top 200:

  • Anna
  • Julia
  • Katherine – This is a particularly tricky case.  The few years that Katherine dipped out of the Top 100, Catherine was on the rise.  The sound isn’t subject to the whims of fashion, but the spelling.  Kathryn also fared well at different times.
  • Margaret
  • Mary – If I’d written this list a few years earlier, Mary would’ve been right up there with Elizabeth.  But she left the Top 100 two years ago, and shows no signs of making a comeback.
  • Rebecca
  • Sarah

When it comes to naming our daughters, attention to style is the rule.  Is there another way to look at which names might be declared members of that elite sorority, The Classics?

Conventional wisdom tells us that certain names are classics, numbers or no.  How many decades have they appeared in the US Top 100?

  • Alice: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s
  • Caroline: 1880s, 1990s, 2000s  Note: If Carolyn had been included, the stats would look very different!
  • Charlotte: 1880s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s
  • Eleanor: 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s
  • Frances: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s
  • Grace: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1990s, 2000s
  • Helen: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s
  • Jane: 1880s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s
  • Laura: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s
  • Louise: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s
  • Rose: 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s

With a slightly expanded definition, there are plenty of classic girls names to consider, both those in heavy circulation in 2012, and those slightly less common.  Even the most enduring name for a girl, though, is still more subject to name trends than the classic picks for boys.

Why do you think parents are more adventurous with our daughter’s names?  Is there a change happening, with parents willing to bestow trendy or stylish names on their sons, too?  Do you favor more traditional names for boys?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I wouldn’t use any of the ultra-classics. I like Hannah or Annabel but not Anna, I could use Molly but could never use Mary. I could use (and love) Rosemary – but that feels less classic than either Rose or Mary.

    Of the second list I love Alice, Caroline, Jane, and Rose. Jane is probably my most favorite but my husband vetoed it (for being boring, of course… grrr) and my mom laughed and laughed when I said I liked Caroline… apparently “it’s too rich for OUR blood” and “you’re not having a princess!”

    I like the sound of Katherine but my secret shame is my favorite spelling is about the least popular – Katharine.

    Mary, Margaret, and Elizabeth feel very Christian to me, and were never really used in my (Jewish) family. It also keeps a few of these fresh – I swear I’ve never known a Jane IRL. It has the perfect mix of known, classic, and no case of being Jane M. for me. It’s a bit of a little-black-dress name as far as I’m concerned.

    1. “Little black dress” name — I totally agree. I’ve adored Jane for years. And my partner also thinks it’s too boring!

    2. Also… thinking of Caroline as being “too rich” is interesting. As I got older I got some upper-class associations, but my first impressions of the name were all homespun prairie… Caroline Ingalls.

  2. I think part of the reason many “classic” boys names stick around, is because of the juniors. Most girls simply don’t get their mothers name, while boys do, and a lot. Plus, what’s more impressive is that the juniors always have names like John, Michael, Matthew, Robert, John, David, William, James, Alexander, Richard, Charles, etc, so that is a big part of the reason they’ve stuck around forever at the top end of the chart. You don’t really meet Kyle Jrs, or Brandon Jrs.
    I recently saw a post on parentdish about the most popular names of all time, and the only men who commented were 3 men who were named one of those “eternally popular names” like MIchael, and they all said that they would never give their sons a name that would be popular because they hated growing up with a name shared by many others – so maybe there is a shift happening parallel to the juniors, where parents who have lived with tremendously popular names, are searching for something more unique to give their children, regardless of their gender.
    I consider myself equally adventurous with boys and girls names, although I guess I’m more daring with boys names because I stay well clear of any “common” male names for the most part. But then I’m a male Skye, I guess I have the “unique” in me haha. The difference for me however is that I tolerate oldschool girl names because most of them haven’t been overused to the point of annoyance. The same can’t be said for boys names, because they’re continously overused and I just get sick of hearing them all the time.