Slow and steady

Nov 3rd 2005

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.


By Anonymous (not verified)
November 3, 2005 7:39 PM

I never heard of anyone named Antonia, and I thought Noel was a girls name and pronounced like Noelle. Another name I think is Saul

By Leslie (not verified)
November 4, 2005 7:57 AM

I feel like that's a weird metric which will bias toward less popular names. Did you try looking directly at variance?

By Becky (not verified)
November 4, 2005 12:41 PM

The only place I've ever heard "Antonia" was in the Willa Cather novel, and the only place I've ever heard "Johanna" was in the Bob Dylan song. Interesting that a lot of the boys' names mentioned were names related to famous people: (Lord) Byron, (Henry) Clay, (Abe) Lincoln, (Thomas) Jefferson (Davis), Malcolm (X), (General George) Marshall...

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 4, 2005 4:49 PM

Leslie, Wasn't that the point? The point of the article isn't to find the most popular name in America (over time) but to find the most consistently popular of the less common names. These names have resisted the wild swings of other names (such as Anna).

By Laura (not verified)
November 4, 2005 5:30 PM

Leslie, thanks for the variance question! I did initially use the coefficient of variance (stdev/mean*100), but opted for the range-based measure because it seemed a bit more sensitive to outliers. In fact the two criteria track extremely closely, so it might have been smarter to stick with the more standard stat for clarity. The list would be essentially the same.FYI, both measures rank three of the most common names (Katherine, Joseph and Elizabeth) in the top 20 at almost exactly the same spots. I screened out names that averaged over 300 pmb (per million babies) frequency for the list.

By Leslie (not verified)
November 4, 2005 7:05 PM

Thanks for the clarification, Laura. It was a bit jarring to not see those three names on the list originally, because they are so consistently popular, and made me wary of the analysis. I did not realize you'd intentionally left them out in order to spotlight the other names. Thanks for the great site!

By Abby (not verified)
November 5, 2005 10:43 PM

I worked with a lady whose daughter is named Antonia, and she's two years younger than me - 24.I think it's a lovely name. I love that it sounds literary.

By Sylvie (not verified)
November 7, 2005 5:22 AM

I quite like both Sterling and Byron for boys. Sterling makes me think of Sterling Morrison, guitarist for the Velvet Underground, wearing dark shades and hanging out at the Factory in New York in the '60s. Byron has the air of Lord Byron about it, but it also could be a cool modern name on the right boy.Claudia's great too (though I don't love Claude).

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 9, 2005 1:59 AM

I have been looking for some information, any information, on Johanna! My husband and I are pretty settled on that for our little girl due in January. Such a lovely name, very traditional, nice meaning, classy, and it never really seems to pop onto the popularity radar screen (at least judging by its SSA website history). This is fascinating data and just the kind of thing I was interested in finding (am a former stats TA). Any additional girls' names out there that you didn't list (other than the more popular ones)?

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 9, 2005 5:45 AM

Thanks for listing the consistently unpopular names! Your site is always a good read...My first name is Corinne, which I love. The only thing that drives me crazy is that it is pronounced "cor-RIN" 99% of the time instead of "cor-REEN", which is (I think), a much nicer name...

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 9, 2005 8:53 PM

Random note, but Johanna is the name of a person on the current season of "Real World" on MTV.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 9, 2005 8:57 PM

After we named our daughter Caroline 3 years ago, I noticed a couple of obituaries for women in their 80s and 90s named Caroline in the paper. It occured to me how timeless a name it is, and could have just as easily been chosen 100 or 50 years ago as it is today.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 9, 2005 11:02 PM

Anecdotally, Felix is on a huge rise in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe), so I'd imagine that that trend will cross the Atlantic sometime soon. One of my husband's collegues recently had a son John Felix, called maybe it's started...

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 10, 2005 4:47 AM

I may be wrong, but I have always thought that the name Corinne was a French name pronounced Cor-IN. Or, rather, the way I pronounced Cor, which is most of the time something like ker or kur or even kuh! I guess that's just my accent. I've never thought of reen though. Wouldn't that be at odds with the French language itself? My first name is Matilda, which, although it is quite an uncommon name, no one really seems to get stumped on the pronunciation!

By Dramas=0 (not verified)
November 10, 2005 4:14 PM

This is where cultural factors really show up. "Clay" or "Vance" sound really outlandish to my (European) ears, even considering that these are "under the radar" names. I think that naming differences within countries/cultures are less different than those between countries, even ones which share some history or language.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 10, 2005 11:31 PM

I like the name Felix. Besides the whole Felix the Cat thing, it was the name of the son on the TV show Avonlea some years back. I have to nix all names beginning with 'F' though -- last name starts with 'U'. :D

By Danae (not verified)
November 11, 2005 1:37 PM

I have a really good friend named Antonia and she goes by Toni.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 12, 2005 8:42 AM

In regards to the name "Johanna" I have a friend with that name and she's 21 I think? We've always just called her Jo and so it rarely occurs ot me that her actual full name is Johanna.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 15, 2005 5:54 PM

We call my friend "Johanna" Hanna. I'm really thrilled to find a list like this, i've been searching high and low for the perfect name, and classic but not overused, not trendy, serious ... well thats perfect to me.

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 16, 2005 4:12 PM

Interesting post. AND, I have a friend who is planning on naming her baby Lucia if it's a girl. [Due this winter...]

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 18, 2005 6:17 PM

I had a friend named Lucia in school. The pronounciation she used was two slyables, "Loo Sha" but I wonder if other choose the three sylable, "Loo Chee A"

By Anonymous (not verified)
November 18, 2005 6:46 PM

Lucia could also be pronounced "Loo See Ah" and is in Spanish. Latino immigrants probably account for the majority of Lucias on the list.

By Anonymous (not verified)
December 7, 2005 1:11 AM

What do you all think about the name Felix for a girl? It's quite pretty.

By Anonymous (not verified)
December 11, 2005 2:33 AM

We looked for a classical, international name but one not commonly used and came up with Celia. It's interesting to see Cecilia on your list. I like Celia better as it seems more contemporary. Also, my mother's name is Lea - classy and timeless.

By Anonymous (not verified)
December 29, 2005 7:40 PM

Corinne is indeed a French name (I am French Canadian). It is pronounced in French Cor-IN, and the American pronunciation is, as someone points out above, at odds with the French origins. Just let the name roll off your tongue Cor-IN rather than trying to end it quickly with an "EEN" sound, it's lovely.My current fave name is Justine (which is funny considering my comment above about Corinne)... I also find it to be timeless but portable to today...

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 2, 2006 12:06 PM

My daughter was born in Sept.03. We wanted a name that was not entirely different or unheard of, but not one that was trendy or popular. We settled on Cecelia, and Violet for her middle name. I noticed it in the list. All the "old" people love it. Like a previous poster said about the obituaries, I have noticed the same thing about this name as well.According to the babyname voyager, this spelling is the less common of the two, but we liked it better. Since her birth, I have noticed the name only twice in the local paper's birth announcements, but spelled the same way.Now we're working on #2 and are already looking at names. This site is VERY helpful.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 12, 2006 7:14 PM

My two cents:My name is Corinne; cor-RIN is how we pronounce it. It was my understanding that Corrine is pronounced cor-REEN. Also, in the english language a rule is that any vowel followed by two (2) consonants is short.

By Tansey (not verified)
January 21, 2006 1:45 AM

I think most people would find it a bit hard to come to terms with a girl named Felix, but Felice might be a good alternative. Felix means happiness and Felicity is a feminine form of the same meaning.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 24, 2006 10:54 PM

I have two daughters...Amelia and Dinah. We will have another daughter this summer. I like Claudia, which was on your list. But it means "lame". Does that matter in the long run ? I can't decide if I should let that change my mind.

By Gail Knight (not verified)
May 10, 2006 7:22 PM

I went to school with two Johannas. One of them was called Johanna, and the other was called "Jody." I think it is fascinating the way some names indicate the time period they were born in. My mother, Virginia Cecelia, is 87 years old. What do you think when you see Mildred, Myrtle, Lois, Betty, Lucille, and then there's Carol, Jan, Susan, Linda, Sandy, Karen and Debbie. On to Jennifer, Kim, Crystal and it's many spellings. It's all very interesting to think about.
Some of my favorite names are, Jane, Rosemary, and Lydia.
Looking back at my genealogy, I see I have 5 6th great-grandmothers from 1686-
1729 with the name Antonia.
Keep up the good work.

By Antonia (not verified)
June 26, 2006 3:28 AM

My name is Antonia. I was thrilled to see it is a 'timeless' name. When I was younger, I wasn't so sure I liked the name. It was hard for people to get it right and to then remember it. But now, as an adult, I love it. I get compliments frequently. Thank you for sharing!

By Tim (not verified)
August 27, 2006 4:05 PM

What about using the name Lincoln for a girls name.

By Jodie (not verified)
August 31, 2006 8:21 PM

I know this is an old thread, but was absolutely intrigued, I had my first baby in sept 2004 and named her Antonia, mainly because we had a lot of Anne's in our family and wanted to incorporate it some way without using it as a second name. To be honest I was worried after I named her lol, but it has really grown on me and there aren't many others here in NZ at her age with the same name.

By ... (not verified)
September 1, 2006 11:19 PM

Felix Is a BAD name. Do not name your child Felix. In mexico there is a famous mad man who rides a pig of the same name. It has a bad reputation there and in most of spain. It is a realy realy bad idea to name your baby Felix.

By vijay (not verified)
September 11, 2006 7:39 AM

I want a boy baby name starts with 'pu' and 'sha'

By Johanna (not verified)
September 21, 2006 8:10 PM

My name is Johanna - pronounced without the 'h' slient and I love it. I'm 24, but growing up I felt so unique that had a rare name as many of my friends were Ashley or Melissa. It is a family name for me, with German roots. Anyway, just thought it was interesting that it is timeless! Thanks for the great site!

By Johanna (not verified)
October 20, 2006 11:40 PM

My mom named me Johanna back in 1976 and I have always been glad to have no one in my personal realm of aquaintance with the same name. (aside from author Johanna Spyri of Heidi fame I didn't know of another for years!) Of course, the challenge has always been having people pronounce it and remember it the way my parents intended (Jo-AH-na --silent "h" "ah" like father not "a" like sand) It does not follow the English phonics rules (Jo-Han-na) or the German original (Yo-hah-na). But its my name...spelled one way said another!

By Claudia (not verified)
January 5, 2007 7:59 PM

My name is Claudia and I very rarely meet another Claudia. Usually, they're either Latina (like me) or of Italian descent. I hated it growing up, but I like it now as an adult, since it is a relatively rare name in the U.S. (it's also pretty rare in the part of Latin America where I was born). And, yes, it does mean lame, which the junior high kids quickly figured out! I'm past caring now. My mother's name is Antonia and she HATES it. Probably because its nicknames in Spanish are really close to that of the male name, Antonio, and she always hated being called by a boy-like name. I like it and am considering it for a name for future kids...

By CORINNE (not verified)
February 2, 2007 9:18 PM

I've never really cared for my name (Corinne Lee) probably because so many people mispronounce it. I get called Corinin, Cornin, Korean, Corn?!, and the absolute worst- COR-REEEN. Kuh-rin is how i pronounce it. and i've always associated COR REEN with corrine. i'm in my third year of highschool french and my teacher studied abroad there. she had no problem pronouncing my first name. french don't put like that REEN sound much.

By kristi (not verified)
March 23, 2007 5:46 PM

Sha- names are mostly reserved for girls, from Shalanda to Shania. Shaquille or Shamyron are strong enough for a boy. Shawn? Shadrach? Not a lot of options.
And for Pu- names, no possibilities whatsoever in English.

By kelly (not verified)
April 10, 2007 8:49 PM

I love the name Corinne! I have a very common last name so I love that it is not so popular.My problem is coming up with a middle name(Renee?) Adding an "A" (Corinna) seems to mesh better.

By Corinne!! (not verified)
April 14, 2007 2:15 AM

I'm a Corinne. Corinne Elizabeth. I quite like Corinna as well!!

By Nicola (not verified)
July 4, 2007 2:07 PM

I have a 7 month old baby girl named Antonia Lucia. We couldn't decide which name we liked best at birth but preferred that arrangement. We have been calling her Antonia but I'm tempted to use Lucia, as I'm finding Antonia a bit long (and I don't like shortened names)...

By Sophie (not verified)
August 28, 2007 8:43 PM

I have a four month old named Lucia; we call her Lucie despite the upward trend in the name (with the "y" ending.) The pronunciation thing has been a BIG headache – we're using the portuguese pronun (Lúcia: say LOO-syah, like Julia)and it's just a big pain! I love the formality of the name, and its versatility, yet...I wonder if we've saddled her with a lifetime of correcting folks who address her!

By Corrinne (not verified)
August 31, 2007 12:29 PM

My name is Corrinne and I go by Kuh-Rin and I absolutely HATE when people call me COR-REEN. I think they get tripped up with all the r's and n's. My husband is French Canadian and I have noticed that his friends and family have no problem saying my name right :)

By anon. (not verified)
January 25, 2008 12:52 PM

I named my kid Felix. I think it's a great name, and he wears it proudly. My mother-in-law wasn't so keen however. She's a southern belle. Before he was born, she asked me "What are you going to call it?"
"If it's a boy, it'll be Felix."
"I don't lahk Felix."
"Then we'll call him Leroy."
"I think I lahk Felix bettah."

By NatalieHastings (not verified)
May 6, 2009 8:36 PM

I don't think Lincoln is timeless anymore. I know 5 babies named Lincoln born within the last 12 months, probably about 50% of the male babies I know.

By Joannah (not verified)
January 21, 2011 4:43 PM

We have a child prince in Denmark named Felix and it sure made a lot of people raise eyebrows. Johanne/Johanna is timeless and trendy at the same time here but the H is definitely always pronounced, where as it causes confusion in English speaking languages. I got stuck with the h on the end. Please, Joanna without any H's!