Names from the Gilded Age

Aug 28th 2017

During the 1880’s, names like Emma, Lillian, and Charlie ruled the roost - sound familiar? For today’s namers, everything old is new again - whether it’s the result of the “fourth-generation” rule or a newfound interest in classics of old, modern parents love the sound of names from this era. Mark Twain called it "The Gilded Age," referring to the aesthetic innovations of the time that tried to mask the turbulent political and social changes that boomed through the late 1800's. 

The lovely popular names of this era are far from gilded - they're strong and stylish, inside and out. if you’re looking for a truly retro gem, check out these fifteen vintage names from the 19th century. All ranked in the top 100 during their heyday, but none rank on the top 1000 today! Balancing old-fashioned sounds and unique personalities, these Gilded Age names are sure to inspire.

Michaelmas Daisy, 1901, via Wikimedia Commons

Ida. Sweet and energetic Ida owes its turn-of-the-century popularity to Tennyson’s poem about a Princess Ida, later made into a play by Gilbert and Sullivan. Today, this name is less princessy than persistent, perfect for an adventurous little girl. With it’s multitude of strong namesakes - like Wells and Tarbell - and similarity to adorable Ada and Isla, Ida ought to rise again.

Archie. While Archie came about as a nickname for Archibald, the short form has many more positive traits - it carries a friendly vibe, a vintage tone, and a dynamic energy. It’s another name that’s gained British fans, as well as a few American celebrities (including Amy Poehler and Will Arnett). Now that Archer is rising, Archie may not be far behind.

Florence. Already a revitalized star in the UK, Florence has an ethereal beauty about it - partially thanks to musician Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine. Still, this lovely name maintains its retro style, exuding a flowery aura while feeling substantial and sophisticated. Might Florence cross the pond and bloom once more on American shores?

Grover. President Grover Cleveland served his first term between 1885 and 1889 - it’s no wonder his name made it onto so many birth certificates of that era! Many parents may associate the name with the Muppet, but Grover works well as a modern boy’s choice: the form has a Gr-beginning (like Grant or Grayson) and an -er ending, and the sound is recognizable but unique.

Etta. Feminine but not frilly, Etta is a marvelous option for parents looking for Emma and Ella alternatives. Though it was originally a diminutive for Henrietta, it has since become a nickname for all kinds of -ette and -etta names, making it ideal as an honorific as well. With incredible singer Etta James as the most notable namesake, Etta hits all the right notes.

Milton. Though handsome Milton once primarily referenced the English poet, it soon gave way to a more prominent American namesake - Milton Berle. However, today’s parents may not mind its mid-century slip and could entertain this name for its surname history, literary credibility, and dapper masculine sound.

Lula. Soft and euphonic, Lula feels like a natural follower to trendy picks like Lily, Layla, and Lucy. But this pretty name is much less popular, and far more pleasant. It evolved as a nickname for all kinds of Lu-names, and could honor a familial Louis or Louise. Literary connections for Lula span from Capote to McCullers to Rowling, adding an extra kind of flair.

Floyd. This perpetually nebbish name could cross over into the “so clunky it’s cool” category, especially for fans of the band Pink Floyd, or DC Comics aficionados (Floyd is the true first name of Deadshot). It’s originally a variant of Welsh Lloyd, and even ranked briefly on the top 1000 for girls in the late 19th century.

Maude. A cute variation on gorgeous Matilda, Maude has been associated with the 1970’s television series and the cult film Harold and Maude for awhile. Still, many parents looking for names like Maeve or Maddie might find Maude appealing - it strikes a delicate balance between compelling and companionable, with a plethora of powerful wearers.

Chester. Though it ranked on the top 1000 continuously until 1995, Chester is a dashing standard that’s now been neglected for over two decades. It’s currently on the rise in the UK, attracting parents who like its kind and amicable sound combined with its extensive historical background. With the cheeky nickname Chet, Chester is sure to find favor in the US soon.

Nellie. Sunny and smiling, Nellie is an old-fashioned pick that would fit perfectly on the playground with Ellie and Bella. It’s originally a diminutive of names like Helen, Eleanor, etc., giving it the added function of being an uncommon honorific. It’s begun to increase in use over the past few years, so Nellie may not be rare for long!

Bernard. This distinguished choice has been linked to the eponymous dog breed for a long time, but let’s take another look at this smart name. Bernard has religious links - as the patron saint of mountain climbers - and literary credibility - via George Bernard Shaw. These days, Bernard is also associated with politician Bernie Sanders, which may account for its recent bump in popularity.

Agnes. Popular in Scandinavia, Agnes has been slowly increasing in use in the US since the premiere of the film Despicable Me (featuring a young and adorable Agnes). This animated name has a delightful energy to it, as well as a long history of courageous namesakes. Might Agnes join with Astrid and Freya to crack the top 1000?

Luther. The stylistic history of this name is fascinating - from its 16th century attachment to theologian Martin Luther, to its 1960’s and 70’s image honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., to the recent BBC hit show Luther, starring Idris Elba. Understated yet memorable, Luther is a tenacious choice for any modern boy.

Mattie. Though this darling name has a boyish edge, Mattie has been favored for girls for decades. It’s affectionate like Hattie or Sadie, and bypasses the trendiness of sound-alike Maddie (and it’s many long forms). It ranked as recently as 2014, but hasn’t ever returned to the height of its popularity at the turn of the century.

If you like this style, check out these other articles from BabyNameWizard:

29 Old-Fashioned Girls' Nicknames with Comeback Potential

These Old-Time Baby Names are Still Rare, But Coming Back

Missing Links: A Name Puzzle

Aug 24th 2017

They say that one man's last name is another man's first. Or at least they should say that, as the line between surnames and given names gets blurrier every day.

Surnames lure us with a rich vein of new baby name ideas that are grounded in the familiar. It's an irresistible combo for many parents: the name's style is fresh and new, yet everyone can spell and pronounce it and nobody calls it "made up." Surname-styled names like Mason, Madison and Riley already rank near the top of the popularity charts, and more like Everly and Weston are climbing fast.

That means that more and more of us will find our last names popping up in the first name column. To illustrate, I've taken pairs of famous individuals and joined them at their shared names (for one it's a surname, the other a given name). Then I've used the remaining parts to form a new, mild-mannered secret identity for the two. For instance, Elizabeth Taylor and Taylor Swift join to become "Elizabeth Swift."

Can you find the missing name link that turns each of the ordinary-looking names below into two full famous names?


George Ford

Samuel Pollack

Pamela Cooper

Anna Lamar

Edmund Clinton

Eli Houston

Willie Mandela

Dorothy Posey

Meg Gosling

Harry Capote


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 


George (Harrison) Ford

Samuel (Jackson) Pollack

Pamela (Anderson) Cooper

Anna (Kendrick) Lamar

Edmund (Hillary) Clinton

Eli (Whitney) Houston

Willie (Nelson) Mandela

Dorothy (Parker) Posey

Meg (Ryan) Gosling

Harry (Truman) Capote


Think You Know Some Popular Baby Names? Think Again

Aug 16th 2017

Something mysterious has happened to America's popular baby names: they've disappeared.

No, the names Noah and Emma haven't suddenly vanished from the nation's nurseries. Those names are still #1 for American boys and girls. But it's debatable whether they're truly popular, at least by historical standards. For perspective, let's take a look at popular names of the past.

Dialing all the way back to 1880 (the earliest year of detailed baby name stats), half of all American boys received a name ranked among the top 15 on the popularity chart. Each of those 15 names was given to at least 1% of American boys. That makes for a tidy criterion: back in the age of traditional naming, a very popular boy's name was one given to 1% of all boys born, and a typical baby boy was likely to bear one of those names.

Baby naming evolved during the 20th Century, but that 1% standard remained a reasonable way to describe popular names. In the graph below, you'll see the total percentage of American boys receiving any name given to 1% or more of boys, in 25 year increments from 1880 through 1980. I've also listed the names that qualified at each point to get a sense of what "popular" names looked like at the time.

Styles certainly changed, from the eras of Fred and Frank to Larry and Gary to Jason and Justin. Yet the common names of each era still accounted for well over a third of all boys born. Now let's extend that same graph into the 21st Century.

Oh my, it appears we've fallen off a cliff! The list of qualifying names in 2005 was just Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew and Ethan. Today (as of 2016 data), it's null. Zero, zip, nothing. Not a single boy's name today reaches the threshold that marked everyday popularity in generations past.

The graph for girls' names is nearly as stark:

It's one thing to say that we're naming more creatively today. It's quite another to realize that, from a historical perspective, popular names essentially no longer exist. Sure, we know that today's #1 names, Noah and Emma, aren't what John and Mary used to be. But they're not even what, say, Gary and Cynthia used to be.

The next generation, growing up at the far end of those graphs, is bound to have a different perspective on names. There are no generic names in their cohort. That's no "every Tom, Dick and Harry," no "little Susie and Johnny," no "Karen, hold my calls." Instead, each name points more than ever to a specific place, time and subculture into which a child was born.