When it comes go girls' names, the letter A reigns over the whole alphabet. It's the #1 first (and last) letter for American girls, by a mile. After A comes a powerhouse trio: E as in Emma, M as in Mia, S as in Sophia. Together, the four initials account for nearly half of American girls' names.
With such overwhelming popularity, you might expect that every traditional A, E, M and S name is already in heavy rotation. Yet a search through names of past generations reveals a bounty of underused possibilities. I screened for girls' names with these three properties:
No name on the list below ranks among the top 500 girls' names in the U.S. today. I also ruled out names like Ann which were so common in past generations that they still sound thoroughly familiar, even if they're currently rare.
2. Have some fashion momentum
Every name on the list has risen in popularity over the past five years.
3. Have some history behind them
I only considered names that appeared in the national baby name states prior to 1930. Most of the names chosen were given to hundreds or thousands of American girls from the 1880s-1920s.
That simple recipe yielded a bumper crop of names ranging from the stately (Seraphina) to the sweet (Edie) to the surprising (Amaryllis). Below are 50 of the most intriguing possibilities, 10 each of E, M and S names, and a double-helping of 20 for the super-popular letter A.
Intriguing A Names
Intriguing E Names
Intriguing M Names
Intriguing S Names
The top baby name of the 1970s was Michael, but meeting a man named Mike doesn't immediately conjure up the "Me Decade." Michael was too diffuse of a hit, encompassing half a century in its popularity wave. For a pure, potent dose of the '70s, you need names concentrated in that decade.
We've identified 20 names with pure '70s power. If you meet someone named Kojak, Chakakhan, or any of the other names on this list, you can be pretty confident they were born in the 1970s—and that their parents were steeped in the events of their time. Each name is listed with its "70s purity score," the percentage of all Americans with the name who were born from 1970 to 1979.
Mr. Drummond & friends of Diff'rent Strokes (Image: tvguidemagazine.com)
Kojak (M) '70s Purity Score: 100%. The police drama Kojak starred Telly Savalas as the titular NYC police detective. His trademark style of bald head and lollipop made such an impact in the '70s that the names Telly and Savalas could also qualify for this list…Telly for boys and girls alike.
Chakakhan (F) 100%. Once upon a time, a young aspiring singer named Yvette Stevens was dubbed Chaka by a Yoruba elder. She then married a man with the surname Khan, and under the bold new name Chaka Khan became the Queen of Funk. The name Chaka is heavily '70s in her honor, and the extended name Chakakhan is as pure '70s as they come.
Drummond (M) 75%. The most common memory of the sitcom Diff-rent Strokes is of young Arnold, played by Gary Coleman, saying "What you talkin bout, Willis?" But the character who sparked a '70s baby name wasn't Arnold or Willis but Mr. Drummond, the wealthy white man who took in the two orphaned African-American boys.
Sacheen (F) 95%. When the 1973 Academy awards announced Marlon Brando as Best Actor for The Godfather, Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to the stage on his behalf to refuse the award. Two lasting impacts: Oscar winners are no longer allowed to appoint proxies to receive their statuettes, and over a hundred American women were named Sacheen.
Travolta (M) 100%. A scattering of boys were named Travolta in the wake of John Travolta's star-making turn in polyester in Saturday Night Fever.
Ayatollah (M) 100%. There was a lot more to the '70s than sitcoms and disco. In 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini led the revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran—and before the extended Iran hostage crisis cemented Khomeini as a villain in the eyes of the American public—the name Ayatollah briefly caught on.
Darth (M) 100%. Yep, that would be the ultimate helmeted, hollow-voiced bad guy, Darth Vader. The name Darth popped up for a few years after the original Star Wars came out in 1977. Once the prequel trilogy appeared, parents opted for Vader's birth name, Anakin.
Shaft (M) 83%. The biggest name of the "blaxploitation" film genre, private detective Shaft was one tough dude with one catchy theme song.
Charo (F) 85%. Actress and flamenco guitarist Charo was a ubiquitous tv guest star in the '70s, known in the U.S. for her catch phrase "cuchi-cuchi."
Amitabh (M) 100%. Amitabh Bachchan was a towering superstar of 1970s Bollywood. Amitabh was one of the first Indian film star names to make a mark on U.S. name stats; today, top Bollywood stars and characters regularly register on the top-1000 name charts.
Starbuck (M) 100%. Before Seattle's Starbucks Coffee conquered the world (and long after chief mate Starbuck tried to counter mad Captain Ahab in Moby Dick), Starbuck was a swashbuckling space pilot in the 1970s tv series Battlestar Galactica.
Comaneci (F) 100%. Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci was a breakout star of the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Starsky (M) 85%. The police detectives of the action series Starsky & Hutch tore around the mean streets of Southern California in a flashy Ford Gran Torino.
Kizzy (F) 79%. The most popular name on this list, Kizzy was the daughter of Kunta Kinte in the 1977 miniseries Roots, a show which left behind a powerful legacy in American baby names. Kizzy was a nickname for Keziah, a biblical daughter of Job.
Benji (F) 77%. Why were girls suddenly named Benji in the '70s? The answer walks on four paws. The title dog of hit film Benji won hearts with his winsome manner and crime-fighting acumen.
Thalmus (M) 100%. Thalmus Rasulala may not be a well-known name today, but the actor was a staple of 1970s African-American productions from Blacula to Roots to What's Happening!!
Sossity (F) 100%. For a dose of the earnest, weighty folk-rock that helped define the spirit of the early '70s, cue up the Jethro Tull song "Sossity: You're a Woman."
Coffy (F) 100%. The 1973 film Coffy starred Pam Grier as a vigilante, "The baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad that ever hit town!" Grier's most famous role of the period, "Foxy Brown," also inspired a handful of Foxy namesakes.
Snapper (M) 100%. Heartthrob doctor Snapper Foster of the soap opera The Young and the Restless was played by a young David Hasselhoff, before he took on the mantle of Knight Rider.
Tennille (F) 71%. Songs like "Love Will Keep Us Together" and the rodent ode "Muskrat Love" made the duo Captain & Tennille one of the biggest musical acts of the mid' 70s.
Here at BabyNameWizard.com, we leave no stone unturned in our investigation of names and culture. In that spirit, we present a new first: a tale of baby names and body hair.
The name in today's spotlight is the playfully regal confection Milady. Some may associate the term "milady" with the cynical seduction techniques of "The Pickup Artist" a decade ago. Others may hear it as kin to new exalted name inventions like Myangel, LaKing and SirCharles. But Milady first became an American baby name over a century ago, thanks to the introduction of . . . sleeveless dresses.
In the Victorian era, clothing reliably covered women's limbs. As the 20th Century began to ease strictures in dress and deportment, feminine armpits started to see the light of day. Culturally speaking, women's bodily features tend to be divided into two categories. There are the concealed parts, which are treated as objects of titillation, and the revealed parts, which are treated as objects of scrutiny and self-doubt. When the female armpit began its shift from concealed to revealed, marketers rushed in to speed the transition. Self-doubt, after all, is a major sales opportunity.
First to the party was the legendary King C. Gillette, inventor of the safety razor. Gillette saw a chance to double his market by introducing shaving—which is to say, the perceived need for shaving—to women. In 1915, he offered the first razor marketed specifically for the denuding of the female armpit (which Gillette's ads referred to by the then-new euphemism "underarm.") The marketing campaign presented this new ladies' razor as a class marker, an emblem of elegance. That point was underscored by its design in gold plate and ivory, and its name: the Milady Décolleté.
That $5 price point translates to $122 today. Note how the ad presents the product name as if announcing a guest at a ball: "Milady Décolleté Gillette." Note, too, how the text smoothly alternates between using "Milady" to refer to the razor and to its genteel owner. They were selling a brand image as much as a product.
The success of Gillette's campaign in hitting its emotional target can be seen in an unintended effect, on baby names. As of 1915, Milady was unknown as a personal name. After an ad campaign that pitched the sophistication of Milady Décolleté in every ladies' magazine, dozens of American girls were named Milady.
The baby name was clearly inspired by the brand. That isn't quite the same, though, as saying that the babies were "named after" a razor. Similarly, a 21st-century girl called Lexus isn't necessarily named after a car. Luxury brand names and advertising campaigns are designed to conjure a dream of the good life. Generation after generation, that's a dream expectant parents share for their kids. Milady was a harbinger of a century of luxury brand marketing, and a century of baby names to match.