Stalking the Next Comeback Names

Mar 7th 2018

What makes an old-time name come back? Why is Hazel a darling of 21st Century parents, while Ethel remains in hibernation? The answer lies deep in the mysterious heart of contemporary style. Today, we’re digging to try to find that answer—then use it to identify still-dormant names with comeback potential.


Image: Shutterstock/Anna Kraynova

I rounded up 25 names that first peaked in the decades between 1890 and 1920 then fell out of fashion, only to surge back into style in the 21st century. Then I paired each of those revivals with a name that was a statistical match for its first popularity wave, but hasn’t come back. Take a look at the paired lists:

Revival Name                Dormant Match Name
Abraham (M) Orville
Adeline (F) Winifred
Dominick (M) Wilfred
Eleanor (F) Pauline
Emmett (M) Percy
Evelyn (F) Mildred
Everett (M) Lester
Ezra (M) DeWitt
Felix (M) Reuben
Genevieve (F) Marguerite
Hazel (F) Ethel
Hugo (M) Ambrose
Josephine (F) Louise
Julian (M) Ervin
Leo (M) Floyd
Lillian (F) Edna
Lola (F) Estelle
Madeline (F) Fern
Max (M) Johnnie
Ruby (F) Lucille
Sophie (F) Velma
Theodore (M) Herman
Vera (F) Willie
Violet (F) Marion
Theo (M) Elmore

 

Reading the two lists, I think we can all sense a fashion divide. Here are some of the key ways the sets of revival and dormant names differ.                                                                              

Revival names are more likely to…

 Feature long vowel sounds. 50% more of the comeback names include a long vowel (a vowel pronounced like the name of the letter).

• Feature exotic, sharp-edged consonants. 9 of the revivals include a rare naming letter like X, Z or V, vs. only Orville, Ervin and Velma from the dormant list.

Dormant names are more likely to…

• Include consecutive consonant sounds. This may be the single starkest difference, with 16 of the dormant names featuring consonant clusters, 10 of those being clusters of voiced consonants. Among the revivals, only the biblical names Ezra and Abraham have consecutive consonants.

• Be stressed on the last syllable. None of the multisyllabic comeback names are stressed at the end in typical English pronunciation, while 6 of the dormant names are.

In addition, the two lists differ in their approaches to nicknames. Several of the revivals, such as Lola, Max and Theo, are short for longer names, but none have diminutive endings like Johnnie and Willie from the dormant list.

So, Let’s Go Name Hunting!

Now that we have a sense of what makes up fashion’s target, what other names might hit it? I screened popular names of past generations for matches. The resulting list reads like a roadmap for parents who love the quirky, retro edge of name style. Some of these names may still sound old to you, but among them you’re likely to find a few hidden gems.

25 Old-Fashioned Names with Revival Potential
Cleo (F)
Eleanora (F)
Evelina (F)
Geneva (F)
Iona (F)
Iva (F)
Lavinia (F)
Leora (F)
Mavis (F)
Miriam (F)
Nell (F)
Opal (F)
Reva (F)
Ruth (F)
Theodora (F)
Viola (F)
Zora (F)
Baxter (M)
Homer (M)
Hugh (M)
Jules (M)
Luther (M)
Ray (M)
Roscoe (M)
Vito (M)

 

 

Comments

1
March 8, 2018 4:39 AM

So happy to see Wilfred, an unfashionable porch sitter through and through! 

I know a little Opal, and I've heard Roscoe before too.

2
March 8, 2018 6:51 PM

I would venture I know about 1/3 of these in real life, all ages. I grew up in ID... porch sitting I suppose. :) There’s also a bit of a “hipster” factor now too, as well as a celebrity just choosing one to seal its potential so don‘t forget to come on back and talk later! Oh, this does make me wonder if after all these other letter trends we are going to end back up at the multiple consonants again sooner than later. (?) 

3
March 8, 2018 8:31 PM

The sheriff from the Dukes of Hazzard owns Roscoe to me.

Speaking of names owned by fictional characters, Simpsons creator Matt Groening named his son Homer because, having named a cartoon character after his father he felt he had to.

4
March 11, 2018 3:35 PM

Of all the revival potential names, Mavis, Miriam, Ruth, Hugh, and Ray were all in the top 1000 for 2016. Miriam was the most popular; over a thousand Miriams born. I am positive part of that is the religious aspect: a full third of 2016 Miriams were born in New York or New Jersey, where there are a lot of Orthodox Jews. 

My predictions:

Matilda is going to get a lot more popular. It appeared on the top 1000 in 2008 for the first time since 1964, and it's only gotten more popular since then. It was ranked #826 in 2008 and was #497 in 2016. It ends in a and has an l sound. Plus I think people still like 'Maddie' as a nickname but are very tired of Madison and are getting tired of Madeline. 'Mattie' sounds very similar to Maddie in most American accents. I could easily see Matilda in the top 100 within 10 years. 

Edith. It has also jumped quite a bit in the rankings, from #845 in 2009 to #488 in 2016. And Edie fits right in with all the cute girls nicknames with lots of vowels that people like right now, plus when it was in it was very very in, so a lot of people are going to have older female relatives named Edith they might like to name after. I can't see it in the top 100, but top 250, definitely.

Both Matilda and Edith also have a certain genteel, British-y vibe to me, which is in. There's another name that fits those qualities that I could see getting popular: Florence. It's been super hot in the UK for a while, and it was #1053 in the US in 2016 if you look at the beyond the top 1000-- that's only 17 fewer babies than the #1000 name. And lately there've been other hot British names making their way to the US a few years after they became trendy in the UK. Poppy made its top 1000 debut in 2016, and Isla was at its most popular in 2016. And like Edith, a lot of people will have relatives named Florence--it was a number 10 name at its peak. 

I think a good way to gauge potentially future-popular name is to look at state top 100s, because name trends often start in one place and then spread outwards. Here's some I think we could start seeing soon:

Maggie (#100, Arkansas): I know Laura says people aren't into ie endings, but I think that's only true for boys. Lots of people like Ellie, along with other names with that sound like Emily, Avery, and Lily. It's cute, it sounds like other currently popular nicknames (Maddie), it's not unheard of, and it's a way to name after grandma Margaret without calling her Margaret.

Margot (#86, Washington DC): It's quirky-different, like Hazel, and it's sort of European. The statistics back me up on this one, because it rejoined the top 1000 in 2013 after having been absent since 1966, and since then it's gone from #942 to #433.

Josiah (#4, New Mexico, top 100 in other states): This probably shouldn't count since it's already in the top 100 nationally, but I could see it getting to the top 15 or maybe even top 10 soon-ish. It's currently most popular in states with large Hispanic populations, but it has the potential to appeal to a lot of people: people who like Joe/Joey as a nickname but think Joseph is too common or boring, people who like Biblical names, and people who like 19th century politician names.

Hattie (#84 North Dakota, #100, South Dakota): Pretty much the same deal as Maggie in terms of why people would like it. Rejoined the top 1000 in 2011 for the first time since 1968, and has gone up since then. 

Millie (#91, Utah): Another cute old fashioned girls' nickname ending with ie. Rejoined the top 1000 in 2009 for the first time since 1966, and has gone up since then. Also fits into my theory that popular names in the UK will filter over here, because it's very big there. 

August (#73, North Dakota, #94, Minnesota): Also 'quirky-different'; appeals to the same people who like Theodore. Also has a sort of refined upper class feeling. Had the highest ranking in 2016 it's had since 1917. 

Walter (#100, Wyoming): I realize this sounds far fetched and it only made Wyoming's top 100 because so few people live there a name with only 7 babies will make the top 100, but I'm hopeful. It's been slowly but steadily going up for the past 20 years, okay! It was #302 in 2016; I would not be surprised to see it within the top 250 (probably at or around 250, granted) on the 2017 list. 

Looking again at the beyond the top 1000, here are the names that were from #1001-#1050 that fit the old name revival category. Mollie, Magdalena, Cordelia, Etta, Opal, Mattie, Octavia, Margo, Mercedes, and Della for girls. Roderick, Simeon, Abner, Sidney, Wallace, Truman, and Edmund for boys. 

5
March 12, 2018 11:04 AM

I think that Maggie, Millie, and Hattie are more popular than their statistics indicate because people in the US, compared to the UK, like "formal" names on the birth certificate.

Florence is definitely being held back by the "Aunt Flo" association.

I think that you're right about Matilda, Margot, August, and Josiah (Name Voyager supports their recent increases in popularity), while I think that Walter will come around but needs a bit more time than the other vowel-heavy boys' names.

6
March 12, 2018 5:35 PM

I also think Flo has the connotations of a nickname for someone who works at a greasy spoon, chainsmokes, and hangs out with women named things like Barb, Deb, and Wanda. And Flossie is too 19th century to make a comeback. Flora, though! 

The reason I think Millie will get more popular is because people really don't like Millicent or Mildred. There could be a lot of people naming their daughters Emilia and calling them Millie, though. Elsie fits the same trend as the other -ie names I mentioned and it was in a couple state 100s. I think as people get tired of Ellie they will turn to Elsie. 

For boys, I know Richard is going down, but I hope it turns around, because I love Richard and my all-time favorite boys' name is #3 right now so I need something else to watch. #97 in Alaska is something, right? (no) Warren has also been slowly but steadily going up for 25 years now. It'll be interesting to see how the hurricane affected Harvey, because it was on an upward track since 2011. Winston and Hank have also been getting more popular (and perhaps a lot of little Henrys are getting called Hank--I could also see Henry within the top 10 soon-ish). 

7
March 27, 2018 2:58 AM

Although these names are old but all of the names are beautiful. Evelina is the name of my wife who is working with an academic help company.