Antique or forgery?
When parents with a traditional bent look for a fresh baby name, they look to the past. Not just one generation back, but four or five to the time of the baby's great-great ancestors. That generation of names has lain fallow long enough that the names sound new again. The names also take on a patina of grace and charm from the bygone era they evoke.
These antique revival names are especially popular for girls, as you can tell by a glance at the U.S. name popularity chart. Names like Emma, Olivia and Ava are all in the top-10. This graph of the number of Emmas born shows the classic revival trend:
Emma was an old-time favorite that had all but vanished, so now it sounds sweetly old-fashioned. Or take Olivia, another staple of "retro" and "old-fashioned" baby-name lists:
Wait a second. Where's the antique part? We all know that Olivia is a great-great-grandmother name...right? But if you look at the numbers, it turns out that a baby girl was actually more likely to be named Olivia in 1950 than in 1890. Huh.
Well, let's look at Ava instead. A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the antique name cycle claimed: "Old-fashioned names like Ava, Milo, Hazel, Hugo and Clara are coming back."
How's that for an old-fashioned name? And that graph is a major year out of date. More Avas were born in the United States last year than in 1880-1980 -- the whole century combined. How can a name "come back" when it was never here to begin with?
Perhaps they're even more antique than my graphs can show--say, top hits of the 1840s. But no, a check of census records says otherwise. The unavoidable conclusion is that Olivia and Ava aren't real antiques. They were timeless but uncommon names that are suddenly, dramatically contemporary. So why do we hear them as old-fashioned?
More on this next time....