20 Loveably Frumpy Names from the Good Old Days

Jan 19th 2015

 baby name roundups by theme

Some of today's most popular names are what we think of as old fashioned: Noah, Emma, Eva, and Henry were all favorites from the late 1800s. It's in that spirit that some parents have branched out in search of something not just stylishly old, but rare and retro.

If fanciful up and comers like August and Adelaide aren't boldly old fashioned enough for you, these names might be just right. They aren't shy. They are proudly, profoundly, over the hill names worn by generations past and now your little one. These names use a touch of frumpy to their advantage, balking at the lyrical modern choices that are mainstream. But they aren't altogether unattractive. We think some of them may just show more life in the next years as people dig for name relics that show creative spirit and wisdom beyond their years.

  1. Amos: What do you get when you mix biblical, old-fashioned, and questionable cultural associations? An enigma of a name that is waiting for a clean slate. It's possible that Amos is poised to break free from the nursing home and the reputation of a long-ago radio and TV show. It has strong roots, it's simple, easy to pronounce, and it's got an ever-popular "A" beginning. Amos is nowhere near the popularity of names like Aiden and Abel, but it has a sound worthy of consideration.

  2. Bernice: There's nothing modern about this name. But Bernice does have some unexpected glamor, in the form of an ancient Queen of Egypt (spelled Berenice), a famed Hawaiian princess, and a character from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (whose name may be a homage to the Egyptian queen). The name was at its most popular in 1921, and today it's very unusual. Some may consider Bernice's sound to be outdated, but between its royal heritage and the sweet nickname Bea, there's a certain charm to this antique choice.

  3. Clarence: Some of us would love this name if it was just a little bit, well, altogether different. Similarities to the feminine Claire could have helped this name (like Elliot and Ella), but instead we're just indifferent. The ending of this name adds a bit of a geeky feel, and without any obvious nicknames, Clarence is stuck in limbo. It does bring to mind the angel in It's a Wonderful Life, which adds some feel-good qualities to the name. Creative options for a nickname could include Clark, Larry, or Aren.

  4. Cordelia: We aren't sure why poor Cordelia has never moved past her antiquated image. She's Shakespearean and was used in the name-inspiring TV show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and yet...she's still sitting in the rocking chair knitting. We love her multisyllabic flow, and with nickname options like Cordie, Delia, and new favorite Cora, this not-so-shabby name should be a no-brainer.

  5. Clyde: Part outlaw, part grandpa, Clyde refuses to be properly categorized like a silvery old man sporting a fauxhawk. We're putting him in the frumpy column just for this post, and the numbers will back us up, as Clyde hit a peak in the 1890s. But Clyde's bad boy image, thanks to notorious American robber Clyde Barrow, combined with its so-out-it's-in sound is giving this name an edge. In 2013, Clyde made a sliver of an appearance in the top 1,000 at a triumphant rank of 999.

  6. Edith: In the 1800s, Edith was living large. An Old English name that means "wealth, fortune," Edith once lived up to its meaning with royal sophistication. But something happened along the way. In today's naming climate, Edith will strike most as either unfashionable and elderly, or hip and vintage. A Downton Abbey character is adding more appeal to this name, and the nickname Edie aims to please. Those who can't quite pull the trigger on Edith can go for Eden, but they may be missing out. Edith is on an upswing in England.

  7. Estelle: Are names like Esther, Stella, Esme, or Isabel on your favorites list? Take a second look at Estelle, a French import that hasn't had a good day since the roaring 20s. While Americans lost interest in this name quickly in the last century, we're just starting to take notice again after a few spunky grandmas have faded from pop culture, including actresses Estelle Getty of Golden Girls, and Estelle Harris of Seinfeld (who shared a first name with her character, Estelle Costanza). We think its only a matter of time before this name tosses the walker in favor of a tricycle.

  8. Frances: Over the past 20 years, the feminine name Frances had not been doing so well. Its unisex sound wasn't helped by one unfortunate nickname from the past: Fanny. But parents have started to see some charm in Fran and Frannie, and when Pope Francis was inaugurated in 2013, it gave the name Frances a bit of a boost. She may be the very definition of a loveably frumpy name, but that's part of her charm.

  9. Gertrude: With plenty of consonants to stumble over, Gertrude's sound is boldly archaic. After the second world war, Gertrude's strong German roots made it difficult for parents to love this name, and with short and peppy names coming into fashion, it disappeared from the top 1,000 girls' names altogether in 1966. Today, there's not much room for names with a decidedly clunky sound, even though this one does have saintly and literary namesakes. Nicknames Gertie and Trudy don't offer much solace, and your daughter might just insist on going by her middle name if you choose this one.

  10. Gus: Gus just can't get it together. So many of us seem to love this name, but parents are looking to names like August for a longer, formal sound with more options. So while the actual numbers are showing Gus to be an old-time dud, it's really an unexpected hit. If you're looking for a little encouragement to go for a short, old-fashioned name, you got it—use Gus and you'll delight and surprise the masses.

  11. Harold: It's been a century since Harold was last popular. The name literally has "old" in it, which is fitting with the image this name brings to mind for a lot of people. On the flip side, Harold has some classic and kingly qualities, and the nickname Harry is starting to sound cute to American ears once again. While most aren't looking for a name that's been declining in use (Harold is hanging out in the high 800s), this regal, antiquated name could be just the right kind of different for your son.

  12. Hubert: On the whole, Hubert strikes us as a dusty relic of a name. It's been missing from the top 1,000s since 1987 and it doesn't look good for this name to come back. That being said, Hugh has some potential and Bert isn't unheard of. If you want to thumb your nose at today's naming trends, Hubert will make the statement you're looking for.

  13. Iva: As Americans embrace Ivy, a charming nature name that is much more popular now than ever before, the truly vintage Iva has been left in the dusty name chronicles of the 1890s. Iva has the grace of Eva and Ava, but it hasn't experienced any of their modern day success. Its Slavic roots give this name a certain unexpected glamor, and parents who are looking for a more unique take on today's popular old-fashioned choices shouldn't be afraid to add this one to the list.

  14. Millicent: Millicent may be a bit off-beat, but it has a sound that's full of frills and charisma. It's a unique choice that feels boldly old-fashioned, enough for some parents to avoid it and go straight for the irresistible nickname Millie. If the similarity to the word innocent is throwing you off, think of it as a sweet coincidence that makes Millicent on par with virtue names like Felicity or Grace. This one is ready for more use!

  15. Myron: A name with ancient Greek roots, Myron has been around forever. In the US, this name reached a peak in the early 30s, and fell into oblivion by the 21st century. While Myron has some obstacles to overcome, like its grandpa image and a seemingly built-in southern drawl, its sound could be compared to names like Milo, Miles, and even Cameron. We think there could be some hope for this one yet.

  16. Myrtle: In theory, this name should be red-hot. It's a vintage nature name with appearances in books like The Great Gatsby and the Harry Potter series. It shares a name with a Carolina beach and comes from a flowering plant. So what's the problem? The biggest obstacle poor Myrtle has is its lack of flow, jamming one consonant after another together (and a sometimes-vowel), with no relief until a single silent e at the end. It also happens to rhyme with turtle. But Myrtle may be ideal if you're looking for a sturdy name that's a perfect picture of days gone by.

  17. Opal: With gem names like Pearl and Ruby on the rise, Opal is a throwback name worthy of consideration. Despite its "grandma" status, Opal is sophisticated and charming, and manages to carry a tasteful ring to it that more parents are bound to discover.

  18. Otis: This bygone moniker brings to mind an elderly man clad in suspenders, driving a golf cart around the retirement condos in Florida. But that's exactly why this dinosaur of a name is ready for a little excavating. Modern parents looking for freshly fossilized names can add this grandfatherly choice to their lists, alongside Silas, Cyrus, Augustus, and Elias. In case you sense a theme, it's the striking ending of this name that gives Otis potential.

  19. Walter: A cherished choice once considered a classic, Walter has tons of famous namesakes and a dapper sound. It's the most popular choice on this list by far, but it still has a small town soda-fountain feel that makes us think of the good ol' days. Its popularity was at an all-time high in 1892, giving it an antique feel. The nickname Walt feels stylish, while Wally seems fit for a big box discount retailer.

  20. Wilbur: It's the fictional namesakes that make this name a lock for a hopelessly rural old-man name, including the owner of famed talking horse "Mister Ed" and the pig from Charlotte's Web. But even without those characters, the sound of this name would still be pretty frumpy to our ears. Perhaps the most famous Wilbur is inventor and aviator Wright, who was born in 1867. So if you're looking for a name that is so old it's new again, Wilbur will express your sense of humor if not your style.

For more unusual baby names from the past, check out 20 Forgotten Victorian Names to Put on Your List.


January 19, 2015 3:43 PM

"An Old English name that means "wealth, fortune," Edith once lived up to its meaning with royal sophistication."

Edith is the modern form of an Old English (Germanic) bithematic name.  The first element 'ead-' does indeed mean 'wealth', but the second element '-gyth' means 'battle,' 'war', something that the meaning-conscious might want to consider.  It wouldn't concern me, but it might concern others.  Once again, if "meanings" are mentioned, they ought to be accurate.

Re Harold: if for some reason someone likes the name but is put off by the spelling -old, the Scandinavian spelling Harald would solve that problem.

Re Millicent:  the forebear of Millicent is Melisande, the name of one of the Crusader queens of Jerusalem. Melisande is a personal favorite of mine.


January 19, 2015 9:14 PM

I keep hoping for an Otto comeback.  (I find Otto catchier than Otis, but that could just be me.)


There is already a Cordelia at daycare...I agree, this name is ready for a comeback.

By mk
January 20, 2015 12:49 AM

I know an Otto and a Millicent (not siblings). Both were surprising choices to me.

I can see some of these coming back (Cordelia, Frances, Opal, to name a few). But others I am fine with remaining a part of history.

January 20, 2015 12:34 PM

Thanks, Laura- there are some gems here.

Aha, I hoped Clarence would be on this list. I love Clarence. I'm past naming babies now, but maybe a cat some day?

I had a Great-Aunt Bernice, but for some reason it was pronounced BER-niss, to rhyme with furnace, which seems rather ugly. Is it normally pronounced ber-NEESE?

I know an Otis who is young, dashing and very successful, so that's changed my impression of the name.

How about Roland? That's another great favourite of mine that I haven't had chance to use. Also Arthur. Both heroes of legend.

I agree with Miriam about Melisande. Such a beautiful name... Of course everything sounds better in French, for example if you substitute Myrtille for Myrtle. Even Muriel sounds vastly better.


January 20, 2015 1:48 PM

I have never understood why Melisande hasn't caught on.  It has popular/fashionable sounds and can yield a number of viable nicknames.  And it's the name of a medieval queen.  Are people just unaware that it exists?  It is that rare and sought after creature: a name with real history that is (way) underused and yet has sounds that fit with current fashion.  It is so not Bertha....

January 20, 2015 2:16 PM

I think my own name kinda fits this category: Martha. Granted, its popularity has never gone down to zero (like some of the other names listed), but it definitely was vastly more popular long ago than it is now. Not that I mind: I like having a practically-unique name (in the sense of I never meet namesakes) which nevertheless everybody recognizes as a name and knows how to spell.

January 20, 2015 2:58 PM

You're quite right about Gus. I get a lot of delighted comments when people hear me call my three year old son by his name in public. His full name is August, but we chose Gus first. 

January 20, 2015 3:58 PM

I once had a cat called Myrtle. Her daughter was Mona.

By mk
January 21, 2015 1:05 AM

I never knew the name Melisande until I read the fantasy series Kushiel's Legacy a few years ago. I just think it is not known, and it's so uncommon that many don't get the opportunity to hear it.

It is pretty.

January 21, 2015 4:07 AM

For Estelle you missed the recently born princess of Sweden as a reference. Royal names still work.

Millicent always spells "one thousandth of a cent" to me---I prefer the original form Melisande that does not have this problem.


January 21, 2015 3:06 PM

1) Myrtle is a non-starter due to "Fertile Myrtle," I would think, just as "Big Bertha" killed that name. Rhyming with turle isn't going to help. And there are Harry Potter names, and then there are HP names, ya know? Yes, there's a Myrtle, but she's comic relief with a tragic past, not exactly a heroic Hermione. ;-)

2) I have always loved Millicent since I went to FAO Schwartz for the first time as a child, where I learned that it is Barbie's middle name. Barbara Millicent Roberts, if you're curious. The name's sound reminds me more of Maleficent (and no, not just recently because of that movie) than innocent.

3) Hmm, Melisande. I've never heard of it, but on "Game of Thrones," the Red Woman, the priestess of the Lord of light aiding Stannis, is named Melisandre, so I wonder if that name will get a Khaleesi bumb. ;-)

January 21, 2015 3:53 PM

Zora is another name I'd love to see with a comeback.  Vowel heavy and starts with a "Scrabble letter".

January 22, 2015 3:54 PM

The cartoon "Legend of Korra" (a big hit with geeks in the 20-something demographic) had a lovely character named Opal, so I could certainly see that name coming back soon. Not to mention it's my favorite precious stone. :)

January 24, 2015 3:27 AM

I'm having a boy in June...if I can convince my husband to go for either Walter or Hubert I'd be happy. I'd pronounce Hubert the French way (or the Stephen Colbert way): Hugh-BEAR!

January 27, 2015 2:58 PM

Any thoughts about Mabel?  It seems to fit this list to me and I was just wondering the other day if it was ready for a comeback.  I think it's more charming than Bernice or Gertrude.....

January 27, 2015 4:02 PM

Clarence was at the top of my list when we were expecting our first baby in 1999/2000 but DH didn't like it and thought people would naturally shorten it to Clare rather than call him by his full name (my preference) or Ren (my second choice). We named him Henry instead. 

Edith, Frances, and Millicent were all on our list when we were choosing our second baby's name, twelve years later, and we settled on Agnes. 

One of our groomsmen is Otis, third in a line but he ended the tradition with his son. Too bad! 

Cordelia is one of the most beautiful names ever, in my opinion, but any fan of Shakespeare (such as I) can't get past its tragic association! 

January 27, 2015 10:38 PM

My grandson is named "Clemeth" and goes mostly by "Clem."  I think it fits right in there with Clarence and Clyde.  I didn't like it at first, but all the 'Klem Kadiddlehopper' and country rube connotations have dissolved as my grandchild completely owns his name!

January 27, 2015 11:53 PM

Met a little girl named Edith at work the other day, I've never really liked it, but it was cute and suited her. A friend of mine also has two daughters - Eliza and Esmee.

I went to school with a Beatrice, Francis, Camilla, Poppy, Harriet, Eloise, Clarissa, and Claudia too, and my childhood best friend was Millicent, Millie for short. I'm only in my early 20's, so people haven't been hesitant to use old fashioned names before now.


I really like Clementine (popularized by The Walking Dead video game), Carmen, Carys, Mona, Amora, Mina, Valentina, Vera, Gloria, and my two all time old fashioned favourite names Sylvia and Trixie. I plan on using Johanna (jo-ha-na) one day too, it's a family name, and Josie can be used as a nn. The only old fashioned boys' name I like is another family name, Frederick.

January 28, 2015 2:14 PM

I'd be surprised if Edith makes a comeback after Downton Abbey...not even her parents seem to like her that much! I wouldn't think she's the best character to name your child after. If any name came back from the show I'd guess Sybil. 

January 29, 2015 1:03 PM

I love Harold, especially with the nickname Hal.


June 20, 2015 9:14 AM

I am in love with Cordelia, who would've thought that a 1990s vampire TV show would affect it so negatively.  Everytime I mention the name, people make a face and mention Buffy.  My point of reference is King Lear, but whatever. 

June 8, 2016 7:48 PM

Does anyone know of anyone called Fennore? Would it be pronounced Fenner or Feenore?