Although it was the time of the Cold War, the Korean War, a presidential assassination attempt, and plenty more political conflict, the year 1950 was also the beginning of a baby boom that lasted the entire decade. Almost 4 million babies were born in 1952, and over 4 million every year from 1954 until 1964. That’s a lot of babies- and a lot of parents looking for the perfect name.
While parents today tend to pride themselves on their creativity in coming up with interesting spellings and meaningful names that no other tot already has, parents in the 50s were seemingly content to go with what we see today as more “bland” names. Basic spellings and pronunciations gave kids strong names they could grow with, and many are still plenty popular today.
You might think that 50s-era names were all dull and befitting a grandpa rather than a bouncing bundle of baby joy, but there are a lot of great classic names on this top 20 list. Many of these monikers are perfect for modern parents who are turning away from the trend of adding extra letters and syllables to their babies’ names. Then again, pairing an unconventional first name with a classic middle name is another smart way to take advantage of your grandpa’s hand-me-down title.
Classic and crisp in all the right ways, James became popular centuries ago in Scotland and England where many kings carried the title. There’s also the fact that the US has had six presidents who were named James. While the most recent President James (Jimmy Carter) was long enough ago that today’s parents aren’t necessarily naming their kids after him, the name James is still crazy popular as it was in the 50s.
James has held its rank over the years, staying in the top 20 list of boys’ names since society started tracking the stats. It was number one in 1950, but it stayed there from 1940 to 1952, according to Behind the Name. Matthew Broderick, Kirk Cameron, and Mick Jagger, the Duggars, and Paul McCartney were apparently all fond of James and chose it for their sons.
Another timeless name with plenty of meaning, Michael enjoyed the most popularity between 1940 and 1980, but that doesn’t mean today’s parents are passing it by. There are also creative spelling alternatives that make Michael (or Mikel, Mikael, Mychael, Mykael, just to name a few) suit modern parents’ preferences, giving this title some staying power.
Celebrities like Kelly Ripa, another Duggar, Michael Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Damon Wayans, and even Lil Wayne have named a son Michael. Although their son’s births spanned decades, their parents chose from the top of the popularity list each time- Michael has stayed in the top 20 popular names since 1939 and shows no signs of dropping off. Behind the Name also maintains a long list of celebrities, athletes, musicians, Olympic medalists, and even saints named Michael.
The nice thing about popular names from the 50s is the fact that they’re essentially timeless. Robert has been around for ages, and it’s the kind of classic name parents often choose for a middle name for their boys. There’s also the fact that it has built-in nicknames- Rob, Robbie, Bob, and even Bert. So while it may feel slightly stuffy for a newborn, giving little Robert a nickname makes it more palatable.
Well-known names like Ray Charles, Steve Irwin, Robert Kardashian, Owen Wilson, and Kid Rock have chosen Robert for their sons, although the name isn’t nearly as popular now as it was from 1920 to 1960, according to Behind the Name. Still, it’s the type of throwback that keeps working decades later, even if it is around the 60th in popularity now.
It may have been crazy popular in the 50s, but John just doesn’t get that much love anymore. It could be because parents are choosing Johnathan instead, rather than the abbreviated version. It could also be the fact that the name John is so pervasive; Behind the Name lists pages of namesakes for John, starting with four US presidents and 23 bishops. There are also at least 54 celebrities named John- and 111 saints.
Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Johnny Depp, Bono, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rob Lowe, Tom Brady, and Denzel Washington all named their sons John, short and sweet. Even Bill Gates used the shortened name as a middle name for his son Rory. That said, the celebrity set may have found a good way to avoid us laypeople imitating them- by using classic names that are no longer as ubiquitous for boys as other J names like Jayden or Jackson.
David is a name that spans multiple cultures and has seen popularity on every continent over the decades. In the US, it was most popular between 1950 and 1970, Behind the Name notes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still widely used today. It’s actually stayed in the top 20 names list since 1928, if that’s any indication of its staying power, but outside the US, it’s also popular in France and Canada.
It might have helped that Madonna chose the name for her adopted son, but Ray Charles and Jennifer Hudson also have sons named David. Many other parents choose it as a middle name, too, like Denzel Washington, Jack Black, Lance Armstrong, and David Beckham. There are also an overwhelming number of Olympic athletes named David, along with over 30 notable celebrities.
It’s a Germanic variation of a name that means both “desire” and “protection,” but William has long been a well-loved name in the United States as well as overseas. It’s been a top choice in the US since the 1800s, so it’s no surprise it kept making the list well into the 1950s. While some Hollywood stars have older kids named William, like Hugh Laurie, Kirstie Alley, and Mel Gibson, other celebs like Brad Paisley and Mary-Louise Parker chose it more recently.
Four American presidents were named William, Behind the Name notes, and it definitely has a regal sound to it. Plus there’s also the fact that today’s parents could be thought to have named their boys after Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Although at least one of its nicknames continues to make little Richards a target for bullies, the name hasn’t faded into obscurity yet. Richard is a strong name that spanned decades leading up to the 50s, although it dropped off in the 90s. Maybe it’s because the name is rather grown-up for a newborn, but parents today are leaning away from Richard- there aren’t even any celebrities who have chosen the name as their child’s first (although a few have used it as a middle name).
However, there are a few famous Richards to imitate, if you decide to title your boy as such. President Richard Nixon is one, but there are also Nobel prize winners and Olympic athletes who carry the name proudly. Plus, parents today would be hard pressed to find another Richard in their tot’s preschool class, making a sole Richie quite unique.
Thomas, or Tomas in Swedish, Norwegian, and Spanish, is traditionally the name of an apostle. It’s also the Greek form of a name that means “twin.” Meanings aside, it’s a versatile first name that has longevity when it comes to spanning generations. It may have peaked in 1950, but Thomas still ranks within the top 50 boys’ names in the US.
Plenty of celebs have chosen Thomas for their boys, including Jack Black, Luke Bryan, Mel Gibson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dennis Quaid. It’s also a robust middle name that parents like Tommy Hilfiger (figures), Kirk Cameron, Alyssa Milano, Pierce Brosnan, and Pamela Anderson have picked. Other famous namesakes include two US presidents and plenty of Olympic medalists, but don’t let that intimidate you. There’s always the nickname Tommy, too, which works for tots on up.
This one is a little surprising because it seems less traditional than the longer Marcus. However, Mark reached peak popularity in the 60s, so it was on the rise in the 50s. It’s since dropped off into the top 200 ranks, but we still have celebs like Mark Consuelos and Mark Wahlberg to think about, and of course, literary legend Mark Twain. That means naming a boy Mark doesn’t necessarily peg him into a single category.
Oddly enough, it seems no celebrity parents have chosen Mark in recent years, which means it’s not an insanely popular name in current times. That means it could be a smart choice for new parents who are looking for something modern yet timeless, and short enough to still be hip. There’s also the alternative of Marcus, which has fallen off the popularity charts as well.
Charles is another classic and timeless name with endless options for nicknames to suit even the tiniest of boys. Whether he goes by Charlie, Chuck, Chuckie, Chaz, or Chip, he can make the name his own. There’s speculation that the name comes from a Germanic word that means “man,” but a more romantic theory has it originating from a Germanic name that means “army, warrior.”
Although you’d be hard pressed to find a warrior named Charles today, it’s still a popular choice among celebrities. Ray Charles’ son Charles Wayne Charles carries the family name twice, but there’s also Russell Crowe’s son, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ son, a boy born to Hugh Laurie, and tons of boys who carry the middle name Charles. And if you opt for Charles in current times, there’s a relatively low chance your boy will have classmates with the name.
Steven, or Stephen, has never quite lost its appeal for Americans. It peaked in the mid-1950s, and it was even favorable as a girls’ name in the late 60s and early 70s. Steve Jobs was named in 1955, if that’s any indicator of how popular the name was then, but there’s also Steven Spielberg, born in 1946. Steven Tyler was born in 1948, but in current times, it seems no celebs are naming their babies after any of these icons. They’re not choosing a variation on the spelling either, after Stephen King or Stephen Hawking.
Sheryl Crow chose Steven for her son Wyatt’s middle name, and Melissa Etheredge did the same for her son Miller. The spelling Steven is actually a variant of the English Stephen, which means “crown,” or “that which surrounds.”
While it’s short and not necessarily sweet, the name Gary has some interesting origins. Behind the Name notes that it comes from a Germanic element that means “spear.” It’s an English name that became hugely popular in the 1950s but fizzled out thereafter. There were even years when Gary ranked as a girls’ name, albeit in the 900s as far as popularity goes.
It’s not as widely used anymore, and no celebrities have picked Gary for their boys (or girls) in recent years. However, actors like Gary Busey, Gary Sinise, and Gary Oldman, who were all born in the 40s and 50s, may prove an indication of the popularity at the time. That said, we’re pretty sure that somewhere, some parents decided on the name purely because of Spongebob Squarepants.
Another timeless name that has survived over centuries, Joseph offers parents versatility with a few nickname options like Joe and Joey. Since the 1880s, Joseph has been an American staple, staying in the top 20 all through history, and it hasn’t seemed to slow down yet. It’s also popular overseas, with kings, prime ministers, presidents, and more carrying the title.
Although it has strong Biblical roots, if the Duggars’ use of it is any indication, plenty of celebrities have chosen it, too, arguably for reasons other than its original meaning. Billie Joe Armstrong, David Hunt, Kerri Lee Walsh-Jennings, Lara Logan, and even Ivanka Trump have sons named Joseph. Jenny McCarthy, Victoria Beckham, Sharon Stone, and Kelly Ripa all have boys with the middle name Joseph. Suffice it to say, it won’t be waning in popularity any time soon.
If you’re a President Trump fan, Donald may rank highly on your list of possible baby names. But otherwise, it’s a rather unpopular name for our time. It peaked around 1930, but by 1960 was on the decline. In recent times, it seems no celebrity is too keen on the title, with the last celeb babies being Donald Trump III (born to Donald Trump Jr.) and Donny Osmond’s son back in 1979.
Apparently, in the early 1900s, Donald was also a contender for baby girls, albeit ranking beyond the 500s in popularity. Today kids probably recognize it more as the first name of everyone’s favorite Disney duck, but it comes from a Gaelic name which means “ruler of the world.” It was a traditional name in Scotland before it made its way to the US, spurring countless Dons and Donnies.
It was originally Scottish, but Ronald made it to America and climbed popularity charts starting in the early 20s. Although it waned in popularity through the 60s, it wouldn’t be surprising if Ronald made a comeback, particularly given that the original fans of Harry Potter are now adults starting their own families. Apart from Ron Weasley, President Reagan was also named Ronald, but that’s where the celebrity ends.
Even if you’re not a fan of past presidents or mythical wizards, Ronald comes from a combination of Old Norse words that mean “advice, counsel” and “power, ruler.” Besides the typical spelling, other cultures also adapted Reinhold, Reinald, Reinoud, and Ronaldo, all formidable options for today’s adventurous and creative parents. Whatever your heritage, there’s a version of Ronald that suits, meaning this name doesn’t have to stay in the past.
Another name that stems from Scottish history, Kenneth is an anglicized form of Scottish names Coinneach and Cinaed. It became popular outside of Scotland thanks to the titular character in a novel by Sir Walter Scott, according to Behind the Name. Despite its romantic origins, however, today’s parents don’t seem to choose it much anymore.
No celebrity parents have picked the moniker in recent times, and the name hasn’t made it into the top 20 list since the 60s. The list of namesakes is also relatively short, including a handful of Olympic athletes and a few Scottish kings. Although Kenny Chesney is missing from Behind the Name’s list, as are Kenny Rogers and Kenny Loggins, so there may be more famous Kens out there than we realize. Plus, there’s also Barbie’s main squeeze, perhaps the most iconic Ken of them all.
An icon in the Christian church, Paul is the name of over 40 saints and plenty of bishops and popes. But beyond its biblical origins, Paul is from the Roman family name Paulus, according to Behind the Name, and it means “small” or “humble” in Latin. It’s easily switched to a girls name by adding an a, and although its spelling is quite simple, there are variations across multiple cultures that include some interesting letters.
Today it hangs in the lower 200s as far as popularity, but in the 50s, it was in the top 20s. There wasn’t a serious drop in the use of Paul until the 70s, after Paul Hewson aka Bono and Paul McCartney were both teens. There hasn’t been a resurgence either- few celebrities choose the name even as a middle name, and most parents overlook this timeless choice for newborn boys.
While Lawrence is the more formal version, the name Larry held its own for a time back in the 50s. There is a short list of semi-obscure Larrys on Behind the Name’s namesake list, so undoubtedly Lawrence is more common. Larry currently ranks in the 600s for popularity, while Lawrence is just over one hundred spots ahead.
With many variations that suit both boys and girls, Larry becomes Larrie, Laurie, Lawrie, Loren, Lorin, and Lorrin, but diminutives like Laz or Lars make it fun, too. And there’s no denying that naming your child after Larry the Cable Guy or Larry the cucumber from the Veggie Tales might be kind of fun. Apparently, some fun-loving parents also chose the name for their daughters, but that was mostly back in the 40s.
Daniel is another practically timeless name that spans centuries and cultures worldwide. Originally it came from a Hebrew name that translated to “God is my judge,” and its biblical roots helped make it popular in England during the middle ages, according to Behind the Name. It was most popular in the 80s, but its upward tick within the top 20 started around 1950. It’s also easy to transition into a girls’ name with an extra “a” or an “le,” but apparently, some parents in the 70s and 80s chose it as-is for their daughters.
Patricia Heaton and David hunt have a son named Daniel, as does Ziggy Marley, Liam Neeson, Anna Nicole Smith, Solange Knowles, and Donatella Versace. Other celebrities gave their kiddos Daniel as a middle name, like Danny DeVito, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Hudson, and Henry Winkler.
We already know Steven was topping the popularity charts back in the 50s, but Stephen with a “ph” made the cutoff, too. This spelling is more easily adaptable into Stephanie for a girl, too. But for boys, you don’t have to stop at switching the v for ph. Other variants include Stepan, Stefan, Stevan, or Stefano, all coming from different global cultures.
While it came in at number 265 for popularity in 2016, it was still within the top 100 in the late 90s, according to Behind the Name. Despite the masses of moms and dads who named their boys Stephen in the 50s, it hasn’t seen that massive of a resurgence since, although quite a few Olympic athletes have the name, which is a shame since it’s yet another timeless name that works across diverse cultures.
Sources: Baby2see.com, Behindthename.com