The Most Common Baby Names You've Never Heard Of

Mar 17th 2016


Let me tell you about a certain name. It's a girl's name, four letters long, with independent origins in Ireland and Scandinavia. This name ranked among America's top 250 girls' names for decades, and in the top 1,000 for a century straight. At its peak, it was more popular than names like Jasmine, Sydney and Kayla -- and Mary and Maria -- are today. The name:

Elva.


Image via iStock.com/ STEEX

It's possible that you've known an Elva. Perhaps there happens to be an Elva in your own family tree. But I'll bet that to most of you, Elva is a name you've flat-out never heard of. It's one of the forgotten hits, names that had long runs of popularity before vanishing, not just from the popularity charts but from our mental name pool.

Each of the names below ranked among America's top 1000 boys' or girls' names for decades, and spent at least some of that time in the top 500. Yet each sounds utterly unfamiliar to most Americans today.

GIRLS

Floy. Peak Rank: #291 in 1887. Apparently a nickname for the then-wildly-popular name Florence, with echoes of the fashionable male name Floyd.

Mozelle. Peak: #417 in 1920. This name was nearly unknown outside the Southern U.S., but there it was popular enough to place multiple variants (Mozell, Mozella) on the nationwide top-1000 list.

Marvel. Peak: #487 in 1899. Not all Victorian girls' names were modest. Marvelous Marvel took off starting in the 1890s, mostly in the Midwest. Silent film star Marvel Rea was born in Nebraska in 1901.

Ollie. Peak: #96 in 1888. Ollie can be short for Olive as well as Oliver, so it may not surprise you that there were girls with the given name Ollie. What's surprising is how many. In its prime, Ollie was more popular than names like Maya and Mackenzie are today.

Arvilla. #435 in 1881. Many have guessed at the origins of Arvilla. A feminine form of Arnold, perhaps, or of the Welsh name Arwel? I like to think of it as a distillation of the romantic sounds of its moment, much as a name like Aubriella is today.

Elva. Peak: #161 in 1885 & 1901. Elva can be a Nordic name (meaning "elf") or an Irish name (anglicized from Ailbhe). But Elva's long run of popularity wasn't linked to any particular ethnic group. The name was simply stylish, sharing a heyday with names like Erma, Iva and Edna.

BOYS

Gust. Peak: #330 in 1887. A short form of Gustave, or perhaps in some cases an adoption of the German surname Gust. Probably not an adoption of the word "gust."

Cloyd. #447 in 1892. Cloyd is an occasional surname, and the Anglicized name of the Welsh river Clwyd. But the real key to understanding Cloyd as a given name is that it peaked at a time when Clyde, Lloyd and Floyd all ranked among the top 100 boys' names.

Elzie. Peak: #352 in 1891. Elzie may be a nickname for names like Eliezer, or transferred use of the surname Elzie. There have been a number of notable Elzies who chose to work under other names, like "Popeye" cartoonist E.C. Segar; stock car racer "Buck" Baker; and sportswriter LZ Granderson.

Otha. Peak: #451 in 1909. The name Otha was popular with both black and white families throughout the Southern U.S. In its peak year, the similar names Otho (a Roman emperor) and Othel also ranked in the top 1,000. Beyond that, I can't figure out what the heck this name is. Any insights, readers?

Comments

1
March 17, 2016 8:59 AM

It amazes me how unfashionable Erma, Edna and Elva seem right now, and yet, they really aren't far from Elsa, Ava, Eva, (B)Ella or Olivia.  Could they make a comeback, or are they just too far gone?

2
March 17, 2016 10:51 AM

I think they are on the cusp of a revival.  I have been hearing interest in Enid, and Asa and Ira for the gentlemen.  I think the trend is toward clean, tailored appellations.  

3
March 17, 2016 2:34 PM

I know a family with 3 generations of Cloyds... and none of them actually go by Cloyd (they go by their middle name or initials). They seem to know how unfashionable it is, and still keep passing it along!

I would have thought Marvel would pick back up about now, with the recent comic craze. It could fit in with names like Marley and Marlow, and has the fashionable V sound.

4
March 18, 2016 5:44 PM

I also know a familly with three generations of Cloyds...not the same because they all go be Cloyd, sometimes called Cloyd-ee.  I also knew a Mozel teen boy in the 90's.  

 

5
March 19, 2016 1:40 AM

Is "Otha" related to the Anglo-Saxon name "Offa"? I may be grasping at straws a bit here...

6
March 21, 2016 10:56 PM

Dunno why, but Gust just reminds me of "de gustibus non est disputandum", which is Latin for "tastes differ" (or, more literally, "there's no arguing taste").

7
March 22, 2016 3:26 PM

I actually knew a Mozelle as a child growing up in Texas! She was quite old then so was probably born around the time of it's peak usage. 

8
March 23, 2016 7:28 PM

I had a great-aunt named Ollie! Ollie Belle, to be specific. She just passed away in the last year or so; I believe she was in her eighties. Her siblings' names include such gems as Dorris, Edgar, Leona, Beara, and in-laws Gladys and Marzella. 
Three cheers for the naming norms of the pre-Depression rural South. 

9
March 29, 2016 7:23 AM

I have a cousin Helve whose name is pronounced 'Elva'. Her father was Estonian.

10
By erin
March 29, 2016 12:07 PM

Interesting. The only Elva I have ever known is in her 40s or 50s and is from El Salvador.

11
March 29, 2016 12:40 PM

I have a Moselle (pronounced like Mozelle)! She's 3. I love the name because it is "old fashioned" (as is the trend), but virtually unheard of today. People always comment on how unusual it is, which I enjoy, but I like knowing that 100 years ago it was much more common. 

12
March 29, 2016 1:58 PM

Perhaps Otha is related to Otto?

13
March 29, 2016 2:29 PM

I have a distant cousin named Elvanetta.  I'm assuming it's a riff off Elva.  I never knew!

14
March 29, 2016 6:00 PM

Wow!  I've only heard of four of these!

There was a woman in my church named Mozelle, who died in 2011 at the age of 89.  A friend from childhood lost her mother Mozelle a few years ago, and this woman was probably in her early 70's.  I never knew this one's first name until  her daughter posted the news of her death on Facebook; as a child, I just called her Mrs. [Last Name].

Grand Ole Opry star Jean Shepard's birth name is Ollie Imogene, but she's always gone by Jean.  Ollie can also be a nickname for Olivia.

Many moons ago, the road known as Music Valley Drive here in Nashville, TN (where I live), was called Elzie Miller Drive.  This was long before I came to Nashville, but at one time I worked at a business on Music Valley Drive, and occasionally we would receive mail addressed to the Elzie Miller address.  I never learned who it was named after in those days, and coworkers and I assumed Elzie was the name of a female.  I only learned it's a male name in reading this article!

Singer Juice Newton (of "Angel Of The Morning" and "Queen Of Hearts" and "Break It To Me Gently" fame of the early 1980's) had a boyfriend/manager for several years named Otha Young.

All the other names in this list are brand new to me! 

 

 

 

15
March 30, 2016 3:19 PM

Otha sounds Anglo-Saxon, though I wouldn't think the "th" sound could have got transmuted from the ff's in Offa. .    It also makes me think of Uther, as in Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur.  

It's not in the Bible as far as I can see.   Maybe someone just sat down and invented it one day, and it caught on?     Like Wendy, which was a complete invention but hugely popular for quite a while.

16
March 30, 2016 3:22 PM

...I can see why Elzie might have gone out of favour as a boys' name.      Lttle boys saddled with it would get called Elsie for sure.

17
April 1, 2016 7:18 PM

Curlew, modern scholarship has found Wendy in use, perhaps as a nickname for Gwendolyn, centuries before Peter Pan was written. It's possible that Barrie re-invented it for his story, and it's unquestionable that he popularized it as a stand-alone name, but it's not as modern a name as was believed.

18
April 4, 2016 8:58 PM

I knew an Ollie and an Elva but the rest are new.