Today’s baby-name time machine takes us all the way back to the 1920s. You’ll find some familiar names in the top 25—James and William were both in the top 10 for boys back then, and stalwarts like Elizabeth, Anna and Lillian were near the top, back then as they are now. But some top names aren’t anywhere to be found—Robert and Mary topped the charts back then, but are #61 and #123 now, respectively. And of course, there are names there that may never again see the light of day (or at least not anytime soon)—I’m looking at you, Melvin, Floyd, Edna and Gertrude.
But I see some real hidden gems on the list that you might want to consider. Ponder these top 1920s names:
Arthur began a slow and steady decline after spending the 1920s in the top 20 names—it’s now at #355 for boys. But this Celtic name that means “bear” deserves another shot. Think Knights of the Round Table, not the drunken millionaire from the 1970s comedy.
Lawrence ranked #36 in the 1920s, but is down toward the top 500 now—which is better than the other spelling, Laurence, has fared (it dropped out of the top 1000 back in 1995). Think Laurence of Arabia, Laurence Olivier, and Laurence Fishburne.
Gilbert is a delightfully nerdy name–it hit its peak as a top 100 baby name in the 1920s, and barely ranks in the top 1000 now (despite the fact that it was the name of Anne of Green Gables‘ true love, and the title character—played by Johnny Depp—in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?). The name has a lovely meaning—shining pledge.
I’ve been campaigning for Harry for boys since I took over this gig—and I’m still shocked that this name, which means ruler, is still on a sharp decline. (After all, it has the magical Mr. Potter and the British royal sporting it.) It was #23 in the 1920s, but now stands at number 718.
Walter has steadied out in the top 400 names, but this classic name, which means ruler, was at #16 in the 1920s.
Dorothy hit its heyday back in the 1920s, when it was the #2 name in the land—and that was before the ruby slippered gal hit the silver screen. It nearly fell out of the top 1000 names back in 2006, but now it’s making a bit of a comeback. Consider the cute nicknames Dot or Dorrie!
Virginia is another top 10 name from the 1920s that seems ripe for a revival—it’s barely in the top 600 right now. It means pure, and has the state and historic ladies like author Virginia Woolf and the first English girl born in the U.S., Virginia Dare. With the story of seminal sex researcher Virginia Johnson now being showcased in the Showtime show Masters of Sex, it might be time for this name to make a comeback.
Agnes is another name that means pure—it was #67 in the 1920s, but hasn’t ranked in the top 1000 since 1972. But with so many people loving the Abbie/Aggie nicknames for girls, it’s only a matter of time before Agnes starts her comeback.
Don’t let the “Moaning Myrtle” character from Harry Potter scare you off this name, chosen for a flowering tree. It was #90 back in the 1920s, and dropped out of the top 1000 back in the 1960s.
Florence means flowering, and was #21 in the 1920s—and it hasn’t made it into the top 1000 since 1980. Don’t let the cheesy “Flo” Progressive spokeswoman scare you off this name, which also was the name of famous nurse Florence Nightingale, and the lead singer, Florence Welch, of Florence + the Machine.
Do any of these throwback names sound good—or should they be preserved in mothballs? Let me know in the comments.
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Image: Roaring 20s girl by Olena Zaskochenko/Shutterstock.com