Titan. Cairo. Royalty. Exotic word names like these are a hallmark of our naming era. With parents constantly on the lookout for fresh ideas, attractive titles, concepts, place names and more turn into popular names overnight. Yet as ultra-modern as these name styles sound, they’re not unprecedented. Our ancestors already gave them a spin generations ago.
Creative place names? Try Oklahoma for a baby girl. That name last registered in the U.S. name stats back in 1907. Unlikely pop-culture-inspired word names? The 1950s tv series Buffalo Bill, Jr. sparked a brief flurry of girls named after the title character’s sister, Calamity. And if it’s an exalted title you’re after, the name President was heard for boys in the 1910s and ‘20s.
Yes, those names were the exception in their days. They surely stood out against the steady background of English classics that dominated American naming. But it’s remarkable how many names of past generations still sound, well, remarkable, even by today’s standards. Here are 34 names plucked from past baby name stats that today’s parents haven’t touched…yet.
WORD NAMES OUR ANCESTORS USED THAT WE DON’T DARE
Think you know your alphabet, from A to Z? Get ready for a new ranking.
Today's list of the 26 English letters is in order of hotness. I tallied the total number of American babies receiving names starting with each initial, and looked at the change over a three-year period. (Change was measured by the Baby Name Wizard Hotness Formula, which considers both percentage change and the absolute number of babies.)
The ranking turned out to hold some surprises. If you can guess which baby name initial rose the fastest over the past three years, I tip my cap to you.
I'll count them down below, starting with the fastest faller at #26 and building to the #1 hottest initial in America. For fashion context, I've included each letter's biggest rising and falling names for boys and girls.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
|↑ Boy||↓ Girl||↓ Boy|
|While J is still a hugely popular initial, it's sliding as parents turn away from the familiar standards of recent generations, like Jason, Jacob, Justin Jennifer and Jessica.|
|The Brandon/Brittany/Brianna generation is receding, and there aren't enough Bentleys and Bellas to keep up.|
K names exploded in popularity starting in the mid-20th Century. Even in decline, this initial is still three times as common as it was as a century ago.
|D was the hottest letter of the 1950s, in names like David, Donna, Douglas, Diane and Deborah, but it has been slowly declining since then.|
|You could spell the fresh sound of the 1960s with T's: Tina, Tammy, Tracy, Tim, Todd. Today's T names like Teagan and Titus are much less common.|
|C has been one of the steadiest initials over time, even as style has shifted from Clarence to Christopher to Chase. We're now waiting for the next hot C names.|
|It's hardly even fair to track the overall trend for America's single least-favorite initial, which can rise and fall dramatically with a single modestly popular name.|
|I is sliding a bit, but remains near its recent historic peak thanks to antique-styled hits like Isabella and Isaiah.|
|The initial Y is virtually absent in English naming tradition. Every Y name currently common in America is Latin American (e.g. Yamileth), Hebrew (Yehuda) or Arabic (Yahya).|
|S is holding steady, though still significantly down from the glory days of Scott, Stephanie and Shawn.|
|The #1 most stable letter over the past three years, G is uncommon but has entries in a wide range of categories from Gabriel to Giovanni to Greyson.|
|With M, we turn the corner from falling letters to those that have risen over the past three years. And yet, if you add up ALL the M names in the girls' top 1000, from Maci to Myah, they don't equal the popularity of the name Mary back in the 1880s.|
|The initial N leans traditional, with plenty of familiar names (Noah, Nicholas, Natalie, Nathan) and unusually few modern inventions.|
|Z names are at their all-time historic peak today. Their relatively modest rise reflects the fact that parents are simply running out of Z options.|
|X is rising as an initial but is even hotter as an ending letter, lending its snap to names like Max, Lennox and Phoenix.|
|A is the country's most popular baby name initial, and it's not even a close contest. The alphabet's first letter leads names as traditional as Alice and Alexander and as new as Aspen and Axl.|
|The letter P entered a long slump for girls after the heyday of Peggy, Patty and Pam, but Paisley, Penelope and Piper are leading it back.|
|V powers elegant hits like Violet and Vivienne from the initial position, and you'll find lots more v's in the middle of fashionable choices like Everly, Oliver, Levi and Ava.|
|The rare initial Q had been totally male-dominated for decades, but its recent rise reflects Quinn taking off as a girl's name.|
|L is a hot letter in many countries today, with fashionable names like Lucas and Luna crossing borders smoothly.|
|The recent rise has brought the initial H to its highest point since the 1930s, but it still has a long way to go to match the era of Helen, Harry and Howard.|
|E has been rising steadily for more than 50 years now, in a succession of hits from Erin & Eric to Emily & Ethan to Everly & Ezra.|
|W had been slowly dropping since the 19th Century, when one boy in every twelve could be named William. The biggest factors in its recent rise are Wyatt, Willow and Weston.|
|Thoroughly unfashionable for half a century, F is finally showing new signs of life. It boasts no major hit names, but a number of quieter favorites like Fiona and Finley.|
|R was the hot letter for 1930s-40s boys like Richard, Ronald and Robert. Most of the new hot R names pair the initial with a long vowel sound: Reign, Rowan, Ryder, Roman, Ryleigh.|
|Meet America's hottest initial. Back in the 1960s only one baby in a thousand received an O name. Now, thanks to hits like Olivia, Owen and Oliver, this letter is a player.|
Looking for a name classic and elegant enough not just for a princess, but a princesse? We've scoured France's old royal family trees for names with regal style and the history to match. These names range in popularity and sound, but each one dazzles with femininity and a certain je ne sais quoi.
While many of the names here are often written with diacritical marks to indicate pronunciation (Joséphine instead of Josephine, for instance), the spellings have been simplified for Americans' sake - many states don't currently allow diacritical marks on birth certificates.
Antoinette. Used as far back as the fifth century for French nobility, the most famous bearer of this quintessentially pretty name is Marie Antoinette, of course. Despite her notorious reputation, Antoinette remained fairly popular in the United States and France until the early twentieth century. Far from the spotlight today, this substantial feminine choice is worth a second look.
Blanche. An early queen of France, Blanche of Castile’s roles of devoted mother, pious Christian, and determined leader made her a paragon of womanhood for later generations. Her name is now more associated with mid-century styles, thanks to Tennessee Williams and The Golden Girls, but Blanche continues to balance retro and ancient connections gracefully.
Josephine. This “classic” name became popular after the rise of Napoleon, who gave his wife Marie Josèphe Rose the nickname during their courtship. Now a charming standard, Josephine can be found everywhere, from the pages of Little Women to the halls of Downton Abbey - and it currently ranks at #114 on the US Top 1000.
Sophie. A rare choice for French royalty, sweet Sophie was first bestowed upon one of the granddaughters of the Sun King (Louis XIV) in the eighteenth century. This timeless name meaning “wisdom” is a bit more down-to-earth than today’s mega-popular variant Sophia. Sophie can be found just outside the top 100, beloved by modern parents for its friendliness and vintage vibe.
Amelie. Now rising in use thanks to similar-sounding Emily and Amelia, Amelie is unique for its distinctly French feel (and its link to the eponymous recent film). It gained usage in the nineteenth century, thanks to Marie-Amelie, the Duchess of Orleans, as well as writers like Balzac. Amelie is distinguished yet pleasant, the sort of name that works for all kinds of personalities.
Henriette. With Henry and Hattie among the darling noms du jour, why not Henriette? It’s long been a favorite in many monarchies throughout Europe, even inspiring adoption of the variant Henrietta in England in the seventeenth century. Henriette is both cheeky and cosmopolitan, a memorable name for a little girl.
Christine. Though this name rose to great heights in the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Christine’s legacy extends further backwards, through centuries of religious French nobles. Prominent in pop culture - Stephen King’s eponymous book, the hit musical Phantom of the Opera, the television series Bones - Christine is attractive and enduring.
Therese. Derived from the Greek verb therizo (“to harvest”), Therese is the sophisticated Gallic version of age-old Theresa. Once used far and wide, the only variants of this name currently in the US Top 1000 include Tessa and Teresa, making the French form all the more unusual: Therese has a truly unparalleled air of refinement and respectability.
Marguerite. Since at least the thirteenth century, countless Marguerites have filled the genealogies of European royal families - this old-fashioned name is dignified yet dainty. In fact, the French word for “daisy” is “marguerite”! This beautiful name has yet to be rediscovered today, despite its appearance on popularity charts over 100 years ago.
Louise. The number one name for baby girls in France, Louise is getting attention in the anglophone world as parents seek alternatives to Lucy, Luna, and Lucille. It’s well-known without feeling dated, and lends itself to all kinds of nickname ideas. One prominent namesake is Louise of Savoy, a strong and dedicated queen of France in the sixteenth century.
Helene. A few princesses in history wore this gorgeous, mythological name, but its popularity peaked in the early twentieth century. While the “Hel-EEN” pronunciation has been common in the United States, the French “El-ENN” is far more compelling. Heidi Klum’s daughter Helene uses the nickname Leni, and other short forms like Lena or Ellie would work well.
Charlotte. The most popular name on this list and a favorite around the globe, Charlotte is now associated with the modern British princess. But this sensational pick dates back to the fourteenth century at least, with a great many French- and English-speaking Charlottes of note. Whether you’re inspired by women of the past or women of the future, Charlotte is a fantastic choice.
Marie. One of the most historically popular names for women, along with Mary and Maria, Marie is now at its lowest point in the past decade - ideal for those who want a name that’s unexpected in a kindergarten class. Marie has often been used in tandem with other French names, like Marie-Christine or Marie-Sophie, which may interest Americans looking for something more uncommon.
Adelaide. Alluring Adelaide has been climbing the charts steadily over the past decade, along with other Addie picks like Adeline, Adriana, and Addison. The name comes from Old German for “noble” (an apt derivation) and has been used for European nobility for over 1000 years. At #258 in the United States, Adelaide remains just outside the trends - but won’t be there long!
Jeanne. A simple and elegant choice, Jeanne is the French feminization of John that dipped in and out of the top 100 in the twentieth century. A bit dated - especially when pronounced as “Jeen” instead of “Zhahn” - Jeanne is still worth considering today. There’s the honorific angle, being that Jeanne is connected to all types of John/Jane/Joan names, and its vintage personality will stand out on twenty-first century playgrounds.