In memoriam: the departed names of 2005

Jun 20th 2006

99 baby names that made the U.S. top-1000 lists in 2004 vanished from the charts in 2005. Most of them lived their whole lives on the popularity fringes -- variant spellings (Jazmyne, Jakobe) or fleeting pop-culture phenomena (Gwyneth, Koda). But some were old friends. A dozen familiar, once-common names left the charts for the first time this year after decades of steady use.

I'll present them in order, based on the decade when each hit its peak:


1880s Guy
1890s
1900s
1910s Arnold
1920s Dorothy
1930s Benny
1940s
1950s Barry    Dwight    Anita   Diane
1960s Robin   Sheila
1970s Christa   Tracy

Some of the departed are unsurprising. Arnold, for instance, had been hanging on by a thread, sustained largely by family namesakes. In contrast, Robin's decline has been shockingly swift. It's a clear victim of the rush toward the new and different -- if the name Robin hadn't already had its day, parents would be inventing it right now.

The biggest surprise to me, though, is Dorothy. With so many parents looking for sweet old-fashioned girls' names, I've been expecting Dorothy (or Dorothea) to start an upswing. Instead, the name is disappearing altogether. So here's an opportunity for all of you who say you want to avoid popular trends: follow the yellow brick road.

Comments

1
By Tanya (not verified)
June 20, 2006 5:52 PM

I doubt Dorothea will make a showing any time soon, since it is the name of one of the most notorious female serial killers of the 1990s. That plus the little old lady connotations pretty much kill it by association.

2
By Julie (not verified)
June 20, 2006 6:42 PM

I wonder if Robin has fallen off the list because it is too gender-neutral. Jordan, Jessie, and Jamie are all perfectly good names for boys and girls, and they are all fading fast, while lighter, more feminine names like Amelia and Angelina thrive.

3
By Christiana (not verified)
June 20, 2006 7:31 PM

I actually really like the name Robin (though I'd probably spell it Robyn if i were to use it) - it has pleasant connotations for me. It seems old, but not old like the trend - maybe 20 years old? 30? I don't know too many young Robins.

Diane and Dorothy both seem boring and outdated to me. I think Julie has a point about the feminine quality of the popular names today - just like with fashion, girly things seem to be coming back into play these days.

4
By Caren (not verified)
June 20, 2006 7:41 PM

RIP "Robin" That's a shocker to me! It's sweet, familiar-yet-not-too-common, and androgynous. It has a clean, clear sound to me. I've always liked it, for a girl or a boy.

5
By Christiana (not verified)
June 20, 2006 7:41 PM

I've also always hated the name Guy. It's like naming your dog Dog, only worse. It also to me has the conotation of being very low class - I've never met a quality "Guy." I suppose there are a few out there, I've just never met them. I have to say I'm not sorry to see it go.

6
By Elizabeth (not verified)
June 20, 2006 7:52 PM

We picked Dorothy as a family name (my husband and I each had a grandmother named Dorothy), and I love it. Everyone knows it, everyone knows how to spell it, and no one else has it. I'm mystified why there aren't more of them.

I do feel like I've seen more Theodoras lately - maybe that's the new Dorothy?

7
By Amber (not verified)
June 20, 2006 11:06 PM

I wonder if Dorothy is fading away because it's become synonymous with Dorothy the Dinosaur (from the Wiggles) and Dorothy, Elmo's pet goldfish, on Sesame Street.
It's one thing to have the Wizard of Oz association, but at least that Dorothy was human. I doubt many people would choose to name their kid after a dinosaur or a Muppet (or pet of a Muppet).
Has the decline of names like Kermit, Elmo, Bert, and Ernie been hurried along since Sesame Street's debut?

8
By bev (not verified)
June 20, 2006 11:57 PM

I grew up with lots of girl Robins (I was born in the late '50s) but lately have seen as many male Robins as females.. One of my closest friends is a male Robin in his early 30s. I think people who like bird names are leaning more these days toward Phoebe and Raven (yes, even for white girls), but I still love Robin for either sex.

I love Dorothy but can't stand Dot/Dottie as nicknames, even though I knew a wonderful Dottie. If I had a Dorothy I'd nn her Dodie or Dora.

I also knew lots of Guys growing up but I lived in a heavily French-Canadian area. Benny is a surprise if they were Benjamins. I know lots of baby Benjamins.

I'd give Dorothy another 20 years to come back into style. Girls' names tend to run on a 100-year popularity cycle (look at Emily, Emma, Hannah, Sophie). In the 2020s we'll probably see a whole new crop of Marjories, Dorothys, Dorises, Sylvias and Phyllises (four of those five names belong to my mom (b. 1921) and her sisters).

9
By Jamie (not verified)
June 21, 2006 2:50 AM

I love the name Christa I think it is beautiful actually thought about using for my baby girl, but with Ava-Jewel instead. I think Christa will have a comeback though!!!

10
By Rachel (not verified)
June 21, 2006 8:49 AM

As a teacher I haven't seen many Robins/Robyns for a while, but there are still many in middle school/high school (female).

Sheila is just too Australian for girl. I can't even say that name in my head without the accent anymore.
Christa is probably dying out with all the trillions of Krystals, Christinas, Kristines and all those names.
Arnold, Benny and Barry are just awful in the first place.

11
By Kathie (not verified)
June 21, 2006 10:01 AM

I expected Dorothy would enjoy a rebirth along with Isabel, Lillian, and Sophie. As a nickname, Doro would be very cool. Yes, there are little-old-lady connotations but a new generation could rewrite that story.

12
By Dorothy (not verified)
June 21, 2006 11:55 AM

A 27-year-old Dorothy checking in! I was also named for both grandmothers. Growing up I neeeever encountered other girls my age with my name, so much so that it was kind of lonely (trying to find a personalized toothbrush and the like, but with all the U-neeq names out there today, maybe nobody can find one!). Let's see: I always got "where's Toto?" (groan); NOT everyone can spell it (ugh, "Dorthy" - come on, people!); I do sometimes use Doro but have successfully avoided Dot (99% of the time I just use the full "Dorothy"); I'm sure when people see my name they assume I'm a granny; I get surprised looks for being young!

While I've learned it's nice to be "the only one", I'm also surprised it hasn't come back in popularity. I guess if people use it on their babies, the age gap will be so great that I wouldn't mind (if my resume says Dorothy, well, obviously that's not a 2-year-old!) Maybe in 20 years, I *will* be the granny Dorothy!

Or if my name stays off the charts, I have no problem with that, too! :)

13
By Dorothy (not verified)
June 21, 2006 12:04 PM

Oh, one more thought: Since I'm already sort of an age-anomaly, if the Dorothy population shifts from grannies to babies, it still leaves me where I am! I'll always be that rare Dorothy in my age group. I kind of like how it's "dated", but from way before my time (not like other '79 names, Jennifer, Jessica, etc.).

14
By Jordan (not verified)
June 21, 2006 1:54 PM

I gotta say that I'm actually glad to see Diane go, and for entirely selfish reasons. My mother's name is Diana, which I think is much prettier. However, people call her Diane quite often (or at least it seems often to me).

Where is Diana on the charts? In 2005 it was #99. Hurray. So in just a couple more decades people might actually call my mother Diana.

15
By Molly D. (not verified)
June 21, 2006 2:13 PM

To Dorothy:
i can sympathise with regard to stupid comments - i don't mind Molly Dolly but stuff like "Good Golly Miss Molly what's the homework?" gets to me after a while

16
By Dana (not verified)
June 21, 2006 3:37 PM

Dorothy will forever have a Golden Girls connection to me.

17
By Dana (not verified)
June 21, 2006 3:38 PM

I think Dorthea is really pretty and think Thee or Thea is a nice nn.

18
By Kristin (not verified)
June 21, 2006 3:44 PM

I'm with Dana - Dorothy always makes me think of those horrible outfits with the gigantic shoulder pads that Dorothy wore on The Golden Girls. Same with Blanche ... I always think of a slutty senior citizen.

Somehow, Rose and Sophia don't have the same association.

19
By Katy (not verified)
June 21, 2006 4:33 PM

I had a student named Dorothy and her nickname was Dot. I thought the Dot part was really cute.

I didn't know any of those creature names, but I don't have any kids. I think it has come-back potential.

KM

20
By Christiana (not verified)
June 21, 2006 4:44 PM

My grandmother has half a dozen friends named Dorothy nn, Dottie. Isn't that an old slang term for silly or dopey in the head? "Do you think I'm so dotty I don't know you're messing with me?" I like the name Dorothy, but hate the old nn for it (not crazy about Dot either - reminds me of polka dot). Dorothy sits with me about like Shirley does. I just can't picture a little girl named Dorothy, even though the most famous Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz) was young.

21
By Katie (not verified)
June 21, 2006 11:03 PM

I like Dorothy! Our girls are Mary Grace, Helen and Caroline. If we had another, I would put Dorothy right up at the top of my list, especially now that it is out of the top 1000. We never meet any little Helens either, and that's fine. They are solid names and are really reborn on a little girl.

22
By joan (not verified)
June 22, 2006 12:09 AM

I think Dorothy, nickname Dottie, is absolutely charming. And I could also fall for Arnold, nickname Arnie.

23
By Wendy (not verified)
June 22, 2006 1:19 AM

Can't feel too bad about Christa when Krista is at 592 on the list.

As for names fading when there is a muppet name... Zoe certainly hasn't be hurt by her muppet namesake.

If people will name their children Katrina after last years hurricane, then I doubt they will think twice about naming a kid after a dinosaur.

However, Dorothy remains an "old name". For how long? Who knows. Up until about 2000, Sophia, Ava and Grace sounded like old lady names to me.

24
By Christiana (not verified)
June 22, 2006 12:20 PM

It's interesting to me how we associate older names with a certain generation - I said something to my mother about the name Madeline and she had a fit - "she'll sound like an old lady or that girl on the cartoon!" That I wanted to spell it Madalyn didn't help. :-) But then I always think of Emily and Molly as little girls even though a know a bunch of 20-something Emilys. I used to always think of Christy as a kid name, too and several of my best friends are Kristys. I always worry about naming my kid something that won't grow with her - I liked Cailey Joy, but felt like it would always make her sound 12, even when she's 30.

25
By Catherine (not verified)
June 22, 2006 1:57 PM

I once knew a Dorothy (b. about 1971) whose nickname was Dart. That was cool.

26
By Jennifer (not verified)
June 22, 2006 5:15 PM

With Diane going off the charts, just wondering how everyone thinks the name Diana would sound on a baby these days? Does it sound like an older woman, or is it a name that fits any age?

27
By Molly D. (not verified)
June 22, 2006 5:41 PM

Personally i feel my name did grow with me and also that the view that it is too "youth" is outdated. I guess it depends on the person as in everything.

28
By Em (not verified)
June 22, 2006 7:22 PM

Why do you think that Gwyneth has never grown in popularity? It seems with Gwyneth Paltrow and Gwen Stefani, that the name would grow.

29
By Christina (not verified)
June 22, 2006 9:37 PM

"Old lady names" always seem to resurge (if they have style potential) after the last generation that had those names finally dies off. Most people born in the late 1800's/early 1900's are dead now...which can be attested to the relative lack of Graces, Emilys, and Sophias that I've seen in nursing homes.

When I worked in a nursing home a few years back, the female residents had names like Melba, Betty, Roberta, and Shirlene...names that hardly seem like revival candidates now. But, as soon as that generation dies off, and the "old lady" connotation fades with memory, I'm sure some of those names will be resurrected.

30
By Christiana (not verified)
June 22, 2006 10:58 PM

Laura's book mentions that we tend to choose names from our great-grandparents generations because they are farther removed from our concepts of old people.

31
By Janna (not verified)
June 23, 2006 1:27 AM

Interesting that you characterize Gwyneth as a short-lived pop-culture phenomenon, Laura. It was the name of my great-great aunt, born in the late 1800s. Her siblings were Frank, Harry, George, Joseph, and Helen.

32
By Janna (not verified)
June 23, 2006 1:29 AM

Oops...and Otto.

33
By Emily (not verified)
June 23, 2006 4:04 AM

Christina, I know what you mean about the lack of Graces, Emilys, and Sophias in nursing homes. I am a 25 year old Emily, named after my great grandmother. Whenever I volunteer at Nursing homes I always get comments on my name. I am always told things like "Oh, Emily, thats such an old name..." It makes me smile because all of the other Emilys I know are 7 and under.

34
By Christina (not verified)
June 23, 2006 6:42 AM

I know what you mean. These days, it's hard for me to picture an Emily older than 25 (I'm 21, so I wasn't alive for the last batch of Emilys).

35
By Em (not verified)
June 23, 2006 3:07 PM

When I look at Gwyneth in more detail, I do see what Laura means. Neither Gwen, Gwendolyn or Gwyneth have ever broken the top 100 (Gwendolyn was the closest). Gwyneth Just recently hit the top 1000, while Gwen and Gwendolyn have long histories on the chart.

On the contrary, Emily, Grace, Sophia and Dorothy have last much longer in the top 1000 and have sat much higher in popularity. Grace was in the top 100s from 1890s - 1930s and Dorothy from 1890s - 1960s.

36
By Angela (not verified)
June 23, 2006 5:43 PM

Gwendolyn was our pick for a girl name - we ended up having a boy, and named him Henry. When I told my parents that I wanted to name a girl Gwendolyn they thought it was a horrible name, but I think it's beautiful, classic, and not overused. Lots of cute nicknames as well. We'll definitely use it if we have a girl someday. When I floated the name to my friends (I'm 29) they all liked it. Just shows you how different generations perceive names completely different! Another girl name I think is beautiful is "Alice" and my parents hated that one as well.

37
By Becky (not verified)
June 24, 2006 2:54 PM

The popularity of "Benny" as a given name in the 30s certainly reflects the popularity of Benny Goodman (think of it as the Kanye of the 30s). I'm sure most boys called "Benny" now are actually named Benjamin, which is in the Top 40.

38
By Christiana (not verified)
June 26, 2006 12:55 PM

I'm actually surprised that Anita has fallen away - it's similar to a lot of popular names - Anna, Ania/Aine, etc. I haven't heard it in awhile, but that it's not hung on is a surprise.

39
By Marjorie (not verified)
June 26, 2006 10:09 PM

Felt I had to comment on this one. My mother was a Dorothy and her mother was Dorothy. She had an older brother Theodore as well, with both the male and female meaning "Gift of God" ! Logical enough as my Grandmother chose her name at the time of her baptism and entry into the church, and she later served as a missionary in China.

She was born in 1868 and named Birdie. I thought that was just a sort of nickname but the Wizard shows it as being quite popular in the 1880s. I like Birdie but it died out finally. Maybe that is when "Robin" got popular ;-)

I have always disliked my own name as well although I did know one or two in school. I thought it old-fashioned but I guess it's still the person that is important, not just the name. And I have lived with it for 74 years!

Love this blog, by the way. Thanks Laura.

40
By bev (not verified)
June 26, 2006 11:00 PM

Hello, Marjorie! You share a name with one of my aunts, and I've always liked the name. I'm 47 and actually know a couple of Marjories who are younger than I am: One goes by Marji, the other is Maggie.

When I worked in a nursing home in the 1970s, the place was full of Lillians and Ethels. I don't think Ethel will ever make a comeback, thanks to Ethel Mertz living on in reruns, but I'm surprised Lillian hasn't. I meet lots of young Lilys but almost no Lillians, and it's a beautiful name. Maybe because I associate it with Lillian Gish, and she was drop-dead gorgeous.

Perception of what's an "old lady" name is relative. I worked a few years ago with a 20-something Linda who didn't like her name because it was "old."

Me: That's not old, it's my sister's name.
Linda: How old is your sister?
Me: Fifty-three.
Linda: That's old!

41
By Elizabeth (not verified)
June 27, 2006 12:14 AM

I taught at young woman named Birdie about fifteen years ago--she'd be about 33 now. I too am saddened by the "demise" of the name Dorothy on the charts. It's my mother's name (she was born in 1943 and named after an aunt). My young neice, almost 2 years old, is named Lillian. Her twin sister is named Isabel. Both names were ranked about #70 in 2004, the year they were born.

42
By Elizabeth (not verified)
June 27, 2006 12:59 AM

Hi Laura,
I was looking through a couple of old entries and read the posting of someone from the UK who asked why Americans don't like the name Jemima. I responded that it wasn't the syrup so much as the fact that the marketers pushing the brand used a very racist archetype to sell the product. It caused me to wonder: are there any other names that have either been doomed by marketing or propelled to stardom because of the brands they push? (Tiffany comes to mind as a counterpoint to Jemima.) I went to school with two girls named Avis and always wondered if their parents thought about the car rental company at all when they were named.

43
By Jen (not verified)
June 27, 2006 6:44 AM

I've met a few children of, erm, lower class parents in the UK that actually name their children AFTER brands. Examples are Elise (the sports brand), Chardonnay and Fiesta (possibly after the car, but possibly meaning 'celebration') Then of course, there was the news story about the baby names Ikea.

44
By Jen (not verified)
June 27, 2006 6:45 AM

The baby NAMED Ikea, I mean

45
By Jen (not verified)
June 27, 2006 6:49 AM

Jennifer, about the name Diana - I wonder if that name will be forever associated with Princess Diana? I certainly can't see anyone in the UK using it.

46
By Christiana (not verified)
June 27, 2006 12:22 PM

Bev - Lillian has certainly made a come back. If you add together all the the similar spellings and names like Lily, Lillian and Lilliana, there were over 16,000 babies named that last year which puts it towards the top (I didn't add up all the Madison, EMily, etc variations, so I can't tell you exactly where it ranks, but the number four name last year, Abigail only had 15,000 uses, if that gives you an idea. I love the name Lillian, but it's probably too popular for my preferences.

47
By Jordan (not verified)
June 27, 2006 3:08 PM

Jennifer -- Another note about the name Diana. As I mentioned before, it's my mom's name (incidentally, her sister is named Jennifer), so I'm not entirely impartial. I've always preferred it to Diane. I don't know if Princess Diana will really have that much of an influence in the US. My mom is 45, and we know a few Dianas her age. I also know a couple Dianas in their 20s -- young enough to be born after Diana Spencer became Princess Diana. The name peaked in the 50s (although its highest rank was in the 40s at #52) but currently hovers around #100.

I don't see Diana as a baby so much, but as I mentioned before, it's still in the top 100 baby names. The only surprise is that it hasn't become more popular sooner, really. To me, it's a classic name (a Greek goddess!) with timeless appeal. It's elegant and simple. Heck, it's even mentioned in the Bible! Nearly a decade has passed since Princess Diana's untimely demise. Diana's day has come.

As a name, I give Diana eleven stars. No, I'm not biased. ;)

48
By Christiana (not verified)
June 27, 2006 6:59 PM

Dwight was my grandfather's middle name (he's approximately 90 now), but I think it's kind of distinguished. My dad'd middle name is Royce (when I was a kid, I thought he was named after the car Rolls Royce) which I also think sounds slightly snobby, but in a good way. I'm sad to see Dwight falling off the list.

49
By Abby (not verified)
June 27, 2006 10:57 PM

Elise is a pretty common name around here and isn't considered lower-class. My nephew's girlfriend has it, and I know some older ladies with it, too. I also read a food blog, Simply Recipes, and the writer is named Elise.

So much determines name popularity and such. I think it's almost impossible to put any one name into a box!

50
By Dorie (not verified)
June 28, 2006 5:55 PM

Another Dorothy checking in -- I'm 35, and have met only two other Dorothys that I can remember. And I also got a lot of the "Where's Toto?" jokes, groan.

I was named after my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother (and we named our son Theodore!) I like my name and my nickname, but it doesn't bother me much that it's not more popular. People don't have a lot of expectations except occasional surprise that I am not a grandmother, and most people manage to spell it (the same cannot be said for Dorie, but that's okay).