While the Victorian era may evoke puffed sleeves and woollen waistcoats, modern parents in search of perfect names are clamoring for the sought-after "it" names from the mid-to-late 1800s.
At the time, cross-the-pond trends were common. England was peaceful during Queen Victoria's reign … a name which spawned an entire era! Meanwhile, America was busy establishing its democracy during a bloody civil war. Americans borrowed elaborate fashions from England, as well as now-classic literature by Dickens, Thackeray and the Brontë sisters. Pioneers and prospectors were moving west in search of fortune, while average people were just trying to eat.
The feminine names of America during this time weren't tough like the times; they were sweet, even frilly. Popular male names were often inspired by religious beliefs or family names and trades. What we think of as quintessential Victorian names like Owen, Ella, Grace, and Isaac have been devoured by today's parents looking for appealing vintage sounds.
But what Victorian names are still flying under the modern-day radar? This list includes tasteful antiques that just might make an appearance on your list of favorites soon.
Adelia: Adelia strikes a stylistic balance between newly fashionable names Adele and Adelaide. This pitch-perfect choice has been sadly missing from our baby name favorites, not used in America since Victorian times. One exception is George Clooney's sister, named Adelia, though she goes by the nickname Ada.
Augustus: Fit for a toddling baby boy or a staunch Roman emperor, this seriously sober name also has the kind of whimsy that makes us smile. It takes the more popular name August up a notch in dignity, and still comes with the approachable nickname Gus (pioneers even liked to use Gust).
Baxter: It's easy to imagine a boy wearing Baxter today, alongside Dexter and other names we love for their x-appeal. This proper British surname means "baker" and feels friendly and approachable, maybe thanks in part to Ron Burgundy's dog in "Anchorman" … but don't let that spoil this very wearable name for you! The nickname Bax has a fresh, trend-worthy sound as well, like a combo of Bash and Jax.
Clementine: Is this name just for celebrity babies? We don't think so, though it seems everyday parents need some encouragement to free Clementine from its banjo-stringed cage. This feminine form of Clement may be a wonderful choice for parents who would like a Victorian-revival girl's name that's bold, frilly, and has a bit of twang. (Used by celeb parents Ethan Hawke, Claudia Schiffer, and Rachel Griffiths.)
Ebba: In Sweden, Ebba is very popular. But here, this germanic saint's name was lost long ago, along with its male derivative, Ebbe (short for Eberhard). It could easily take a place next to Ella and Emma. In the US, Ebba will be viewed as unusual but sweetly old-fashioned.
Eleanora: For a name that sounds like a combo of Ella and Nora, we're surprised more aren't catching on to this Victorian darling. After this name had faded from use, variations like Eleanor and Ellen took its place. We think it's safe to turn back the clock to this more elaborate but playground-ready form.
Ephraim: A traditional Hebrew name and a tribe of Israel in the Old Testament, Ephraim is saturated with history and culture. This name is just now showing potential in the US, barely appearing in the top 1,000 names last year for the first time since the 1800s. It was featured years ago for a character in the name-craze-inducing Twilight series, but that's not likely what inspired our newfound interest (though it probably didn't hurt!). Pronunciation is varied, though the most common is EHF-rəm.
Fletcher: A sturdy name meaning "arrow maker", Fletcher has a catchy sound along the lines of Flynn and Archer. But it hasn't yet recovered since hitting a peak in popularity in 1892. We are fond of the nickname Fletch, which may remind you of a mystery-solving reporter played by Chevy Chase in the Fletch films (Fletcher was the character's last name.)
Harriet: We're not just going to bring this name back from Victorian times, we're bringing it back to the US from across the pond. While Harriet is enjoying the popularity it deserves in the UK, Americans are a little shy about this sophisticated and sweet feminine form of Henry. Shorten it to Hattie and you've got a well-rounded vintage charmer.
Hugh: Many early Americans brought this name with them from Europe, though its popularity started waning quickly. It has germanic roots with lots of use in France and across the UK. Actors Jackman and Grant have helped bring Hugh into the 21st century, causing a few of us to take a second look at this promising throwback name.
Larkin: This surname and variant of Laurence sounds so modern, it's hard to believe the last time it made the US charts was in the late 1800s. Recently used by celeb couple Alan Ruck and Mireille Enos for their son (born July 2014), we think this savvy Victorian choice is more than ready for the 21st century.
Luella: Would you be surprised to meet a little Luella? Probably not, and yet this name is patiently waiting for more parents to consider its charm. It has a vintage feel and sneaks in on-trend nicknames like Lulu and Ella.
Mabel: On the heels of hits like Maci and Bella, we're transforming this name's reputation from passé to pretty. So we're happy to report that after a long absence from the top 1,000, we just saw Mabel appear on the charts, ranked at 707 without dilly-dallying around the 900s. We think it's bound to catch on, at least a little.
Merritt: A sweet English surname meaning "boundary gate," we think this is a fitting twist on vintage contemporary favorites like Everett. This appealing choice sounds like a virtue name, as merit is a word that means "worthy".
Ottilie: A charming feminine form of Otto popular in the 1800s, Ottilie deserves a little more time in the spotlight. With attractive nicknames like Tillie and perhaps Lottie, we think this friend of Natalie has lots of potential.
Simeon: A Hebrew name that has been dancing around the 900s for more than a decade, Simeon is a steady but unique choice. Its sound may be a little different, but we love every bit of its three syllables and "on"-trend ending, with similarities to Sebastian and Damian.
Viola: A Shakespearean charmer from Twelfth Night, Viola takes its cues from the more popular Victorian choice Violet. Those who fear it's too much like the musical instrument can relax—it's usually pronounced viy-OH-lə. Catch a production of Twelfth Night, movie adaptations like "She's The Man," or Gwyneth Paltrow's character in "Shakespeare in Love" and you'll be convinced. (Or just look to Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis.)
Wiley and Wylie: Both spellings of this name can be found among family trees going back to the late 1800s. It's a twist on Willie that makes a sly statement. With troublemaker names like Wilder and Rowdy on the rise today, we think this cunning choice could fit right in.
Winnie: Celebrity baby name influence can be deceiving. Such is the case for Winnie, an antiquated name that many of us had forgotten until Jimmy Fallon's daughter was born. The response to her adorable name was overwhelmingly positive, but only a few parents followed the Fallons' lead—so far.
Zadie: Add Zadie to your list right now. A zingy take on the rediscovered antique Sadie, Zadie was at its most popular in the 1800s and has pioneer-revival written all over it. Worn by English author Zadie Smith, who changed her name from Sadie when she was 14.
Discovering appealing but unused names from this era is exactly the kind of challenge we love around here. It's true that there's usually a good reason a name gets left behind—it may have bad connotations, the wrong sound altogether, or other obstacles to overcome.
What are your favorite Victorian names, whether underused, overused, or somewhere in between? What rare old-fashioned name would you love to bring back?
Want to strike a blow for equality? Name your son Emily. Go ahead, I dare you. I'm betting that it's not going to happen, because "androgyny" in baby names is a one-way street, heading off toward the masculine horizon.
This point hit me hard when I read the viral tale of a man whose daughter wanted to dress as Han Solo of Star Wars for Halloween. The 7-year-old wasn't sure that she could choose that costume, because she was a girl. Her dad's response, in his own words:
"Screw that. I grabbed my laptop and started showing her some really excellent examples of other girls and women cosplaying as Han Solo....My daughter's eyes went wide. She was sold on the idea. This could happen."
But then came the wrinkle. Their father-daughter tradition was that she would pick out her own costume, and his. Since his daughter was going to be Han Solo, she naturally chose Princess Leia for her dad.
"She looked at me with an implied question in her eyes. And, c'mon, if I immediately told her, 'YES, a girl can be Han Solo,' it would've been pretty hypocritical of me to say, 'Nope, a boy can't be Princess Leia.' So, as quickly as I could, I said, 'That would be FANTASTIC. I totally should be Leia.' And that's exactly what I did. Because that's what dads do."
The devoted dad pushed past a double standard for his daughter's sake, but he still felt it. He knew that in our society, there's a huge difference between a girl dressing as Han and a guy dressing as Leia. Her cross-gender costume was a bold, confident choice. His was comical. How would this story have been different, I wonder, if it had started with a boy wanting to be Princess Leia for Halloween? Or — brace yourself — if the parents had decided to name their son Leia?
Our modern naming age sees lots of names flowing around the gender divide. Some traditional male names, like Micah and Riley, are showing up more and more on the girls' side. Other names with no traditional gender link, like word names, place names, and surnames, are flipping back and forth or remaining unisex. But even in this fluid, creative naming culture, I challenge you to find a traditionally female name that is given to boys. Much as a reference to running or fighting "like a girl" is taken as an insult, so do we shrink from any hint of girliness in our boys' names. As a result, the move toward androgyny in baby names turns out to look an awful lot like masculinization.
Frankly, there's research to back that parental attitude. Study after study confirms that masculine names are a winning move. Girls with feminine-sounding names are less likely to advance in math and science. Female lawyers are more likely to become judges if they have masculine-sounding names. Boys with names that are common for girls are more likely to be disruptive in school. In the realm of names, masculine is an absolute, functional good.
Given those findings, it's not surprising that we see no boys named Emily. But does it suggest that we should also choose boyish names for our girls, in the spirit of equality? Certainly, some parents do approach gender-bending names in that spirit. Yet it can also be seen as capitulating to inequality. In our naming patterns, we're plainly acknowledging that the masculine is privileged. We give our girls a boost by letting them hitch a ride on a male name, like bicycles slipstreaming behind an 18-wheeler.
I can't fault any parents for choosing a name that they believe will give their child an advantage in life. And yet I balk at the idea that choosing a "strong" name has to mean choosing a masculine-sounding name.
Names have enormous symbolic power. They send messages. What message would it send to girls if the women of the U.S. Supreme Court were named Raymond, Simon and Elliot instead of Ruth, Sonia and Elena? Just as we may wish for a future where "running like a girl" means "running as fast and long as you can," I'm rooting for a future where a little Leia is considered just as bold and confident as a girl dressed — or named — like Han.
Expecting a little angel soon and want her name to match? You're not alone—many parents look for heavenly qualities in a name. Whether you want to express spiritual beliefs, pass on a wish for her lifelong bliss, or share what your daughter means to you, these idyllic choices are full of otherworldly charm.
Of course, we couldn't create this list without addressing one name in particular. It's been a few years since Nevaeh, which spells "heaven" backwards, took this country by storm, and we thought it was time for a check-in.
Even though Nevaeh is still in the top 50 names for girls (sitting between Alexis and Sarah), it's slowing down in popularity since it hit a peak in 2010. The Baby Name Wizard has discussed how polarizing Nevaeh can be, but whether you love it or hate it, there are plenty of equally inspiring celestial names. The great news is that these encompass a variety of styles, so you are bound to find one or two that lift you to another realm.
Angelina, Angela, Angel, Angelica, and Angelique: These names, listed in order of popularity, all signify what an angel your daughter is. The most popular option, Angelina, has a little star-power in actress Jolie and Jersey Shore's Pivamick. They all come from Latin, meaning "messenger of God".
Celeste: This French form of the Latin for celestial is perfectly heavenly, though it's tapered off a bit in use recently and sits in the middle of the top 1,000 girls' names. It may not have any traditional short forms, but Ella is a round-about possibility.
Celine: Brought to us by a certain French-Canadian singer, Celine hit a peak right after the movie Titanic came out. Parents are starting to catch on to this name's elegant sound and blissful message once again, as it means "heavenly."
Cielo: This romantic name is synonymous with "sky" and "heaven" in Spanish and Italian, and it was given to 100 American girls last year. This celestial name is truly without borders, given that its lyrical lilt will be understood in nearly every romance language spoken, and it's showing potential in America, too. In Italy, this name is pronounced CHEH-loh, while the Spanish form sounds like SYEH-loh.
Eden: A picture of paradise gives Eden a heavenly feel, which comes from a word that means "delight". Eden has ancient sensibilities coupled with a perfectly modern sound. It feels like a biblical, feminine answer to the popular boys' name Aiden.
Evangeline: Once old-fashioned and nearly unheard of, Evangeline is now contemporary and fresh. It has a natural nickname in Eva, and we also love that it has the word angel in the middle, making opportunities for variations like Angie, Angeline, and Vangie. It means "good tidings" and sits in the 300s. The name was coined in an epic poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and recently revived with the help of actress Evangeline Lilly.
Eternity: Something close to a virtue name, Eternity is an otherworldly, pretty word along the lines of Serenity and Felicity. It's much more unusual than both of those names, which is one reason why some prefer it.
Ever: This simple storybook word hints at forever and is sweet and blissful. It is still rare, while Everly (which has different origins) quickly rose to 383 last year. Chosen by actress/model Milla Jovovich for a daugher, and Alanis Morissette for her son.
Gabrielle, Gabriella: The feminine form of Gabriel, a prominent angel named in the Bible, Gabrielle and Gabriella are pitch-perfect choices featuring the much-loved bree sound. Their ancient roots give them both a sound that is equal parts traditional and contemporary.
Gloria: After WWI, Gloria soared. Its beautiful sound, coupled with angelic associations, kept it in the top 100s for nearly four decades. While it manages to be elegant and cute at the same time, Gloria isn't quite ready for its former (ahem) glory because it reminds us of our parent's generation instead of our grandparents.
Halo: Fit for a cherub, Halo is saccharine and saintly...unless, of course, it reminds you of the online gaming phenomenon of the same name. With such divergent associations, it's hard to know where a name like Halo sits. We place it in the heavenly realm for now, though some gaming fanatics may find the name appeals from every angle.
Haven: A lovely name that conjures safety and warmth, Haven is a step away from Heaven with a hint of Raven. Famously used by Jessica Alba and Cash Warren for their second daughter, sister to Honor.
Heaven: For the past decade, Heaven has been near the 300s out of the top 1,000 girls names. It has a soft sound and a can't-miss-it meaning, making it the most straightforward heavenly name on this list.
Lani: Hawaiian for "heavenly", Lani is more often than not combined with other words to create naming sensations like Leilani, which means "heavenly lei". But on its own, Lani is still an elegant celestial name with lots of potential.
Luz: A Spanish name meaning "light" with references to Our Lady of Light, this name makes us think of beams of sunshine and parting clouds. Pronounced "loos", it shares roots with other light-related names like Lucy, Lucia, and Lucille.
Miracle: Every year there are hundreds of baby girls born with this name, and its obvious why. A lovely word that means "divine work", this name makes it clear that the girl bearing it is extraordinary. The short form Mira is beginning to catch on, though it's not as popular yet.
Nevaeh: This name has a remarkable story and a not-so-secret meaning. Its on-trend sound fits in with names like Evelyn and Elena. So much can be said about this name that it has its own section for more reading at the end of this post!
Raphaela, Rafaela, and Raffaela: In several religious works, an angel named Raphael brings healing, making it a standout name on an international level. Feminine forms are particularly popular in European countries.
Seraphina: Derived from a Hebrew word that describes an order of six-winged angels in the Bible, Seraphina goes a step beyond angelic. This beautiful name has echoes of Sophia and Serena, and can be shortened to Sera. It was chosen by Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner for their second daughter.
Trinity: Most parents discovered Trinity after watching The Matrix back in 1999. And since then, it has proved to have true staying power and is currently near the 100 mark. It's a spiritually-significant, divine name clad in patent leather and sunglasses. We love how it walks a line between spunky and holy.
Read the story of the baby name Nevaeh