Slow and steady
Last week, I talked about "date-stamped" names that rise and fall seemingly overnight. The opposites of these are the timeless classics, names that remain trend-proof across generations. Katherine and Joseph, for instance, have been steadily popular through most of American history. When you hear those names, you have no clue whether the person is aged 1 or 100.
What about names that are steady, but not popular? Can you achieve the same timelessness with a name that's uncommon, or even surprising?
In fact, some of the most trend-proof names have flown steadily under the radar. Looking at the past 125 years of American baby names, I identified 450 names which ranked among the top 1000 for boys or girls in every decade. (A steadily unheard-of name isn't really timeless, but simply rare.) Then I looked for the most trend-proof names, regardless of overall level of usage. (My criterion for trend resistance, in case you're interested, is range/mean.) As it turns out, the #1 most timeless name in America is not Katherine or Joseph, or Elizabeth or James. It's one you'd probably never think of:
With its current popularity rank of #771, Antonia is a regular on my lists of underused names. Its grace and dignity stand up well to current favorites like Caroline and Sophia. And it is absolutely rock-solid timeless.
Antonia is a bit of an exception, though. Girls' names have always been most subject to fashion swings, and the uncommon-but-timeless roster is dominated by boys. Some of the notables:
There's some pretty good variety in that list, but if a single theme emerges it's an air of formality. From the smoothly urbane (Noel) to the classical (Claudia) to the aggressively sophisticated (Sterling), this is by and large a group that takes itself seriously. Formal fashions are more resistant to change than casual styles. A tuxedo is still a tuxedo, actresses dressing for the Academy Awards still try to look like Grace Kelly. And Katherine is still elegant, reliable Katherine...even as Kathi disappears from view.