18 Retro Names We Never Stopped Loving

Jun 16th 2015

 baby name roundups by theme

Are today's hot names destined to be discarded in a couple of decades? Not necessarily. As these names have proven, there is such a thing as a name that's both trendy and timeless. Here are our favorite names that we began to adore in the '60s-'80s and we've never felt the need to let them go.

They're elegant and endearing, and have already shown we aren't fickle about every newly popular name. As other fads have faded through the years, these reliable names have proven to be worthy of our favorites today.

Girls

  1. Andrea: We went wild for this lovely, feminine answer to Andrew in the '80s, and we've never looked back. Andrea feels like a true classic, and its loveable nicknames, including Andi and Drea, still strike us as fresh. It may not be a top-50 hit anymore, but we've proven Andrea still has plenty of life left in the years to come.

  2. Ashley: The name graph for Ashley is a little amusing, appearing for the first time with an intense spike in the 80s and leaving a plunging line in its wake. But as Ashley was a number 2 red-hot star at the top, there was nowhere for it to go but down, and it's doing that very slowly. We still love this England-inspired place name that strikes us as quite feminine, which is ironic since it began as a male name. The US has declared Ashley worthy of the top 100s, as its irresistible charms still have power over our hearts.

  3. Jessica: For children of the '80s, it's possible this name makes us think of "baby Jessica” McClure, or one half of theSweet Valley Twins, but in reality it probably just makes you think of someone you know. Jessica became a girl next door as the number 1 girls' name from 1985-1990, and again in '93-'95. It's still hanging in the top 200s today, and while some are starting to move on, we think this light-hearted Shakespearean name has true staying power.

  4. Kimberly: So many parents have loved this cheerful name through the decades, starting with its high point in the '60s. It has surname and British-locale style, derived from Kimberley in both South Africa and England. Today you can find Kimberly at a rank of 105, not too shabby for a name that used to sit in between Karen and Susan.

  5. Melanie: A sweetheart of a French name that took hold of England in Medieval times, Melanie started gripping American parents in the 70s. And, unlike many of the others in this list, Melanie is firmly in the top 100 today, and it's improved from where it was ranked at the turn of the century.

  6. Michelle: Another French name that avoided the fads, Michelle is a feminine form of Michael that became a stylish standard. While less-than-French trendsetters Michaela and Makala experience ups and downs, Michelle still rings out as a classic with a theme song (courtesy of The Beatles).

  7. Nicole: You guessed it. Nicole is the feminine and French answer to Nicholas that became a top-10 hit in the '80s. Our steadfast love of this crisp, youthful name has only wavered a little in the past few years. Nicole may be experiencing a new low, but 129 out of 1,000 isn't that bad...she's sitting between contemporary favorites Adalynn and Delilah.

  8. Vanessa: Pretty and poetic, Vanessa was at its most popular in the 80s, even though the name has been around since Jonathan Swift created it in the 1700s. We still adore this charming classic today, as it remains in the top 200s.

  9. Veronica: Of all the girls on this list, Veronica has by far the longest history of love over the last century and a half. But this spirited name has always felt ahead of its time, and parents in the '70s finally took notice, making it a top 100 hit for the first time. Original frenimies Veronica and Betty contributed to this name's fame, and todayVeronica Mars is still putting this name in the spotlight. But despite its history, Veronica is also struggling the most, sitting at 375 for 2014.

Boys

  1. Brandon: This name rocketed up to the top 20 almost as soon as it hit the charts, after a soap opera helped introduce it to parents in the mid-80s. Today, this likeable Old English name sits easily in the top 100s.

  2. Corey: An adorable name with loads of 80s flair, Corey makes us think of classic flicks starring "The Two Coreys,” Haim and Feldman. Over the years, this name has proven it also belongs in the 21st century, though it's slipping quite a bit since the glory of the '80s.

  3. Eric: In the '80s, Eric was as big as permed hair and members only jackets. But unlike those fads, this name has proven itself as a contemporary favorite, making Eric not only a fresh classic, but a Disney prince as well.

  4. Jason: You don't have to go back to 1974 to envision a baby named Jason, but since it was a number 2 hit back then, this name may be more likely to remind you of someone middle aged. With its Greek roots and an extensive history, Jason has maintained a strong running even today, as it's holding steady in the top 100 at 75. The "Jay” sound is still wildly popular—just take a look at Jacob, James, Jayden, and Jace, all names that have the edge over Jason.

  5. Justin: It's amazing to think that this name wasn't even a blip on the radar until the 80s, despite a history that goes back as far as the 2nd century. The sound and classic feel has kept Justin a top-100 hit even today, as it fits right in with trendier names.

  6. Kevin: Parents struck gold in the 60s with Kevin, a contemporary Celtic choice with a crisp sound and an ending that's just right. While it may be awhile before Kevin is ever a top 20 rockstar, today this name is at an impressive rank of 70.

  7. Ryan: First, it was actor Ryan O'Neal who made Ryan a household name, but today Mr. Gosling has stolen the limelight. Even so, no one person can take credit for the enthusiasm we've shared for this name since it appeared in the 80s. Its Celtic tones and simple charms has made Ryan a longstanding hit, holding on to its style for both boys and girls.

  8. Sean: The Irish form of John first struck parents with Sean fever in the mid '80s. Its soft sound and celebrity stylings, from Sean Connery to Sean Preston Federline, have kept this name feeling current no matter what decade we're in. Today, Sean remains in the top 200.

  9. Troy: A late 60s hit that comes from a surname, Troy is inspired by the legendary ancient city that fell to the Greeks after a 10-year siege. This name may be falling a bit nowadays, but it's got classic style fit for an epic poem. (And we're pretty sure Brad Pitt would approve.)

Do these names make you want to cut footloose? We think you might also like 20 Loveably Frumpy Names from the Good Old Days and 20 Classic Names on the Endangered List.

7 Ways You Can Get Your Baby's Name Wrong

Jun 11th 2015


I don't usually talk about "bad" baby names. Names are chosen with great thought and care, and a choice isn't wrong just because it doesn't suit your taste or mine. Yet I've talked to enough anguished parents to know that it's possible to for a name choice to lead to painful regrets. The usual misstep isn't bad taste, but a bad decision process. Here are the most common mistakes that can lead to namer's remorse:

1. Talking yourself out of your own taste. Parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to be creative with their name choices. I've heard plenty of wistful moms talk about lifelong favorite names they abandoned out of fear that they're not original or distinctive enough to impress people. Listen to your heart. If you get a happy glow when you hear a particular name, chances are others will too. What better start in life could a child have than a name that makes people happy?

2. Putting the middle name first. "We're using the middle name Morton after my grandfather. What first name goes with Morton?" Red alert, red alert! You're doing this backwards. You're not going to use that middle name on a daily basis, and frankly, you don't even like it. (If you did, you'd be using it as a first name.) So put the middle name aside until you've come up with a few ideas you really love, then it can serve as a tiebreaker. Don't count on a middle name to fix a tough first-last match, either. At the end of the day, Reed Alexander Snead is still Reed Snead.

3. Not doing your research. The most common source of name regret is unhappy surprises. I've heard from parents who had no idea that Noah had become such a popular name, or that Aurora was the name of a Disney princess. As a result, they chose names that were very different from what they were looking for. For confirmation of the cultural impact of a favorite name, check in with other parents of small children, or with Namipedia or -- if I say so myself -- the Baby Name Wizard book.

4. Thinking an unusual spelling makes an unusual name. There's nothing wrong with customizing the spelling of a name in a way that looks attractive to you. But do it because you like the effect, not just to make your child stand out. A Jaxsen will still be confused with the Jacksons and Jaxons in his school -- even more so, because all of their names will end up misspelled. Similarly, if you want a unique name and are tempted by Aarya, be sure to look up the popularity of spellings like Arya and Aria for a better sense of how distinctive the name will sound.

5. Over-focusing on the "sibset." To you, your kids are a set. You see them together, and say their names together. But out in the world, they're individuals. The impression each child's name makes on its own matters more than how well it coordinates with your other kids' names.

6. Not picking up the phone and asking. Will your cousin think you're a name thief if you choose the same name she did? Will your divorced dad feel slighted if you choose a name from your mom's family tree? The best way to tackle interpersonal name questions is head-on. If you ask in advance, you can explain your thinking and present the issue in a positive light. Plus you'll show that you care about the person's feelings, which is the most important part of the message.

7. Imagining you can control the name. Baby name decisions belong to the parents, but the names themselves belong to the children, and the world. That means that your little Nicholas will end up answering to Nick, no matter how much you loathe that name. It also means that a name with an unconventional spelling or pronunciation will be mistaken constantly, and you'll have to be patient and cheerful about it. Be honest with yourself. If you can't stand the idea of the likely corrections, confusions or nicknames that come with your favorite name, it may be best to look elsewhere.

 

"Call Me Caitlyn": Naming a New Self

Jun 2nd 2015


How central are our names to our identities? The cover of the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair magazine offers a clue. The athlete and reality tv personality formerly known as Bruce Jenner introduces her new female identity to the world with three simple words, "Call Me Caitlyn."

A name change can represent a profound turning point for a transgender person. Choosing that name is every bit as complicated as choosing a baby name, but the considerations can be different. Many people look for names that echo the sound of their old names. That can help create continuity for others, and for themselves; we're all deeply conditioned to respond to our own names. Some in transition opt for an androgynous name to facilitate a gradual shift or non-binary identification. Others prefer a strongly gendered name to leave no doubt about their new identity. As with baby names, each name sends rich messages.

The message sent by Caitlyn is on most levels disarmingly ordinary. It's not a flashy celebrity name, but a girl-next-door name. Cheerful, popular, and mainstream, Caitlyn is one of the most well-liked names of its generation. That's not so surprising for a transgender name choice. An "ordinary" name is a natural approach if you want to fit in, rather than stand out. The kicker is the generation part.

Bruce Jenner was born in 1949, at the popularity peak of the name Bruce. The name Caitlyn peaked in 1998, making the typical Caitlyn a 17-year-old high school junior. The name didn't even show up for the first time until decades after Jenner was born. To put it simply, you will not meet anyone else of her age named Caitlyn.

For some background, Caitlyn is one of many variations on the Irish Gaelic name Caitlín. The Irish name is pronounced koit-HLEEN or kotch-LEEN, and its anglicized version is the old favorite Kathleen. But some English-speaking parents who saw Caitlín written down pronounced it as if it were English, and ended up with "KAYT-lin." That led to new spellings like Katelynn. Together, the many spellings became a big part of baby name style from the 1980s-2000s, and inspired similar names like Kaylin.

What would a comparable name from Jenner's own generation look like? As it happens, the #1 best statistical match for the historical popularity of Bruce is...Kathleen.

Try taking a look at the Vanity Fair photos and picturing the woman you see as a Kathleen. The people I've asked all say that the name seems like a natural fit. It's possible, in fact, that the outside world would have had an easier time adjusting to the generationally typical name Kathleen Jenner. But Caitlyn Jenner is how she saw herself.

The gender transition process is sometimes described as making your outer self match your inner self. The name Caitlyn would seem to match an inner self much younger than Jenner's years. If she's chasing youth, of course, she's hardly alone. How many 60-something Hollywood celebrities eagerly embrace aging? More broadly, it's unrealistic to expect anyone to use 1949 fashion sense to choose a 2015 name. We name ourselves as we dress ourselves, based on the style of the here and now.

If anything, the name Caitlyn suggests a generational limbo, a frozen point in time. It isn't native to Caitlyn Jenner's generation, but neither is it quite of this fashion moment. Jenner has said that she first took steps to become a woman back in the 1980s. I wouldn't be surprised if she considered the name Caitlyn back then, when it was a fresh new hit, and has been living with it privately ever since. If so, it's a both a fitting and poignant choice: the six-letter embodiment of a decades-long dream to be fresh and new, and to be the girl who Bruce never got to be.