Starlet Names from the Silent Screen
Hollywood wouldn’t be what it is today without the pioneering glamour of its early starlets—and neither would the U.S. top 100 names list. Turn-of-the-century names like Clara (as in actress Clara Bow), Lillian (Gish), and Alice (Terry) are back in fashion, with modern parents drawn to their elegance and vintage vibes. If you like the throwback style, more names of the silent film era are ready to be discovered.
Some of these feminine names exude sophistication and uniqueness, while others embody a more classic and understated aura. Still, these fifteen retro names look beautiful whether headlining a movie poster or printed on a birth certificate.
Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917 - Image via Flickr
Theda. The original “vamp,” Theda Bara was known for her iconic femme fatale roles, as well as her exotic name - Theda is short for Theodosia, as Ms. Bara was named for Aaron Burr’s daughter. Today, Theda feels ripe for revival, with its formal simplicity and stunning appeal.
Corinne. This delicate French name is a gorgeous alternative to Cora, and comes from the Greek word for “maiden.” Actress Corinne Mae Griffith helped boost this name’s popularity in the 1920’s, but Corinne has always been appreciated for its femininity and grace.
Viola. Despite the popularity of Olivia and Violet, confident and compelling Viola has yet to join her style sisters on the top 1000. Silent film star Viola Dana is one thespian namesake, but twenty-first century audiences may relate the name more closely to modern actress Viola Davis.
Dorothy. A top ten name from 1904 to 1939, it’s no wonder that delightful Dorothy has begun to rise again - its English sound, notable namesakes, and overall positive vibes make it especially attractive. Actress Dorothy Gish was known for her talent as a comedienne, giving the name cinematic substance beyond The Wizard of Oz.
Olive. The lovely Ziegfeld star, Olive Thomas, was the first actress to portray a “flapper girl” on film, adding this pleasant name to the pantheon of movie history. Darling Olive has certainly been helped by the rise of Olivia, but it still feels like a vintage botanical choice.
Florence. With a stage name like Florence Lawrence, it’s no wonder that the performer earned the title of “The First Movie Star” during a time in which many actors were uncredited. The name Florence calls to mind historical figures and gardens in bloom, making it especially memorable today.
Mabel. Sweet and stylish Mabel has been slowly rising over the past few years along with retro gems like Lucy and Stella, yet it feels more timeless than trendy. Notable wearer Mabel Normand not only acted in early films, but also wrote for the screen and led her own production company - an inspiring early #GirlBoss.
Jetta. While this Dutch diminutive of Henriette is now associated with the Volkswagen brand, the name stands apart with a contemporary edge - Jetta is cool and quirky, an update to Jenna or Jade. The popularity of actress Jetta Goudal increased the name’s usage in the mid-1920s, but it’s never been given to more than 50 girls in a year.
Blanche. One of MGM’s first starlets, Blanche Sweet captivated audiences throughout the early twentieth century with her dynamic acting style. Bianca may have more fans these days, but Blanche deserves another look for its French sound, sophisticated aura, and (current) uncommon usage.
Mae. An ideal cross-cultural choice, Mae (as well as May and Mei) is beloved worldwide for its femininity and panache, working well as a nickname or full first name. Silent film star Mae Murray reportedly chose her stage name based on her birth month, but Mae’s most defining traits are its energy and flair.
Dolores. The dust is beginning to shake off this beautiful Spanish name as modern parents become drawn to its elegance - and its fabulous nicknames, Lola and Dolly. Actress Dolores Costello is known as the matriarch of the Barrymore acting family, as well as “The Goddess of the Silent Screen.”
Constance. The tenacious and funny Constance Talmadge joined her sister Norma in silent comedy films in the 1910’s, contributing to the early rise of Hollywood. This virtue name peaked in the mid-twentieth century, but Constance could make a comeback with its strength and gravitas.
Pola. Bombshell Pola Negri adopted her stage name from a shortening of her true middle name, Apolonia, but the name also nodded to Negri’s roots in Poland. The aurally similar Lola and Nola have gained attention for their concision and delicacy, so why not consider Pola?
Leatrice. Thanks to actress Leatrice Joy, this combination of Leah and Beatrice soared through the top 1000 in the 1920’s and 1930’s. With L-names especially favored nowadays, Leatrice could work well as a route to Leah or Trixie - but it admittedly may require a bit of explaining.
Bessie. A classic nickname for Elizabeth, Bessie has been worn by musicians, athletes, and actors, including silent film actress Bessie Love (born Juanita Horton). Once relegated to the barnyard, Bessie may be ready to bounce back with its upbeat spirit and amiable sound.