Names go through trends, whipsawing between practically never being used and being at the top of the charts over decades. However, some names just seem to fade out of use. Maybe the countries where they were popular lose their independence or change their state religion. Maybe their language alters. Whatever the case, the names that were popular are no longer on people’s minds. Sometimes the country and the language stay the same, but the demographics have shifted.
This does not mean that the names have lost their allure. They were always beautiful, easy on the tongue, and conveyed something that everyone wants for their children. They still work for any child.
What’s more, keeping the tradition of these names alive keeps us in contact with our past. Knowing that a great-great-grandparent carried a name or a distant ancestor might have had your given name gives you a sense of continuity with the past. It’s an heirloom that will never be thrown away, need refurbishing, or take up space in an attic. Of course, the child can eventually change their name if they feel something else fits them better, but they will still remember it. This means that your kid will appreciate you bringing these names back.
There was once a Norse maiden who was betrothed to a king named Alf. She objected to this engagement, so she disguised herself as a warrior. At least, that is how the Old Norse legend goes. Her name was Alfhild, which breaks down as ‘elf battle.’ Her story might have been based on a 9th century Viking, and her name became pretty popular a little after 1900 in Norway. It was always rare in the United States, though. Every once in a while, it would pop up in Great Britain: Roald Dahl’s older sister had this name. It’s also the name of a character in the Elder Scrolls games.
This is a fun name for girls. She can go by Al, and you can kid her about being your little elf. It’s a user-friendly name, too. It deserves to be in the top 1000, at least.
When Princess Marketa married Valdemar III in 1205, she changed her name to Dagmar because it meant ‘day maiden.’ It suggested her ownership of the whole day. That was the first time the name was mentioned in Denmark, which is where the name came from. It spread to Norway around 1750 and entered Sweden in 1845. It hit peak popularity in Sweden between 1900 and 1919, and in Denmark around the middle of the last century. Here in the United States, it entered the top 1000 between 1906 and 1915, reaching its highest level of popularity in 1907, when it was 777th on the charts.
So, a girl with this name would have a queen’s name that means she owns the day. She would also be sharing her name with a German Olympic swimmer and a cross-country skiing Silver medalist. It also just sounds dignified and beautiful. Any daughter could be proud of it.
Some names became popular in the 1940s and then never really peaked again. Sandra is a variant of Alexandra, which was a possible Mycenaean name for the goddess Hera. This might be why it was common in Europe for a time. Sandra entered the English language when George Meredith wrote a novel called Emilia in England that featured a heroine named Sandra.
With such fine literary precedents, it isn’t surprising that it has been in the top 1000 in America since 1913. However, it was always lower on the charts until 1940, when it jumped to the top 10. It was number 5 on the name charts in 1947, and it just sort of drifted down the charts after that. It is such a pretty sounding name; it really should make a comeback.
Believe it or not, Phyllis is Ancient Greek for ‘foliage’ and comes from a legend about a Thracian princess by that name who married a Greek named Demophon. Demophon has to go back to Greece, and she turns into an almond (or hazelnut) tree while waiting for him. An English poet wrote about her in 1390 and this poem became popular in England in the 1600s. That, of course, meant that it was a big hit with the first English settlers in the New World. One of our first poets had that name. It remained pretty popular in America for decades, even reaching 74th on the name charts in 1955. It then went into a steady decline, disappearing entirely from the top 1000 names by 1982.
Phyllis should never have dipped below 1000: it’s guaranteed to be some female relative’s name, it has a firm connection to the West’s literary traditions, and it is pleasing to the ear. So try it on your daughter.
I like an ‘s’ ending, personally. It has a nice sound to it. Curtis, for instance, has a pleasant ring. And it should be pleasing, because it comes from an Old French word for ‘polite or well-bred.’ The name comes from the same word as ‘court.’ You can imagine that it was a very popular name with the 11th century Normans, and they brought the name with them when they conquered England in 1066. It came to our shores when the British colonized the East Coast.
Curtis has been popular for decades, but it really got popular in the 1960’s, when it entered the top 100. It dropped in popularity, though. It is now only 563rd in popularity. It deserves to scoot up the chart again because it is one of the better classics.
Oscar has been steadily losing ground to other names over the last two centuries. In 1900, it was 47th in popularity, and it slid down from there - it is now 176th. This is too bad, as it is a classic and it has a long, honorable pedigree.
Oscar dates back at least to the legend of Fionn MacCumhaill, who had a grandson named Oscar. It could be from the Gaelic words for ‘deer friend.’ It may also come from Old Norse Aesgeirr, which means ‘spear of God,’ and became Osgar when the Vikings came to Ireland and England. Of course, it could be both, too, in a case of convergent naming evolution. A Swedish king had the name and so did a descendant of Napoleon. It was always in the top 1000 in America, but it has undeservedly dipped down to 176 on charts in this century. You can bring this back up to where it deserves to be.
The 1700s saw a lot of change. We became a country, France had a revolution, and the world kicked off the Industrial Revolution. Some of the people, both men and women, participating in these events had the name Melatiah. This Biblically-inspired name means ‘Deliverance of the Lord’ in Hebrew. Melatiah the Gibeonite was supposed to be one of the people who were responsible for rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The Puritans loved this name for girls, and it pops up as the name of matriarchs in a lot of people’s families.
It fell off the name charts after the 1800’s and these days, it is 4,033rd in popularity. It hasn’t been in the top 1000 most popular names in the United States since 1900. It’s hard to imagine why: it has the prestige of coming from the Bible, it’s pronounced the way it is spelled, and it has a beat- Mel- ah- ti- ah.
Molly was a popular name in Ireland, but it is of English origin. It was the Irish pet name for Maili, which was their variant of Mary. There were a lot of diminutive variants for Mary in the Middle Ages. So, Molly ultimately means the same as Mary, which is ‘bitter.’
Molly has never been exactly rare here in the United States. It was 411 on the name charts in 1900, and it was 78 on the charts in 2011. It has been bouncing between those two numbers all through the decades. It is now 157th most popular. It really deserves to be in the top 10 - it is cute on a little girl and is easy to pronounce. It’s beautiful, too, and fits right in the trend of classic names.
If you are into Norse mythology, you have probably heard of Balder, the god of everything good and son of Odin and Frigg. His name means ‘brave army.’ The ‘bald’ here really stands for ‘bold,’ and, since he was the god of light, it can mean ‘bright’ or ‘prince,’ too. As you may recall, Frigg decided to assuage Balder’s fears by making everything on Earth promise not to hurt him. They overlooked mistletoe, and it was an arrow made from mistletoe that ultimately killed him. He is supposed to come back after Ragnarok.
It was never a very common name in the United States, but it did make a showing in Sweden and Germany. Worldwide, it is ranked 70,028th. It’s a fine name for any son that you think hangs the moon, which would be all of them.
This name was first used in the 16th century as a variant on Dorothea. As you might have guessed from the ‘thea’ ending, it has something to do with ‘Dios.’ The name translates as ‘gift of God.’ There were 2 saints with the name.
If the name sounds familiar, it is probably from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Frank L. Baum probably picked Dorothy as the name of his heroine because it was in the top 10 names between 1904 and 1940. It would have been the name of any little girl next door, and thus the perfect name for someone whisked away to the magical land of Oz to be out of her league. It fell down the charts until it was 981 on the charts in 2011. It is sneaking back up, but it deserves more. It’s a beautiful name, it can be shortened to Dot, and it is probably the name of your Grandma. Your grandma would appreciate you using the name.
Here is a name with an interesting pedigree: Degory. The first time anything like the name appears is in a 14th century English romance ‘Sir Degare,’ and it seems to have caught on in a variety of spellings as a first name in Medieval England. It was common enough that one of the men on the Mayflower had the name. His name was Degory Priest, and we know he signed the Mayflower Compact. He died January 1st, 1621, though.
Degory may come from the French word d’Esgare, which means ‘astray, lost.’ Nonetheless, it is a really cute name for little boys. There was a character with the name in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’ and you can always point to that one as being the namesake. It is another really user-friendly name that deserves to be a classic.
Few masculine names sing quite like Myles. It sounds like ‘mild’ and ‘miles,’ so you have positive associations that. There is the melodious mixture of ‘m’ and ‘s’ sounds and the single syllable, making it fitting in any poetic meter. And Myles has great namesakes. There is Myles Standish, of Jamestown fame. There was Miles Davis, the Jazz trumpet virtuoso. There was a Laconian king in Greek mythology with the name. The Greek meaning is ‘mill,’ and the Norman version was connected to the Slavic word for ‘gracious.’
So, why is it only 198th on the name charts here in America? It was one of the top 100 in the 1600s and it has never really dropped out of the top 1000. It has the historical juice to fit any son, and it is familiar enough to win over even the most persnickety among namers.
If you are looking for a simple unisex name with the prestige of historical blessing, a pleasant ring to it, but a simplified spelling, Damarus may be your best bet. Damarus was one of the converts of St. Paul, so you have the Biblical nod of approval. It’s also a Greek name that probably derives from ‘damalis,’ which literally means ‘girl or calf.’ Damarus has been used for boys, too. It is a fantastic name for anyone who likes Greek names. It will give a kid a handle people can remember and isn’t the same as a bunch of other people’s. It is currently only 7020 in the popularity charts, so your baby will definitely be the only one with it in his or her class. And it does sound right for either gender, so you can use it if you decided to skip the sonogram.
Did you always want to call your little boy ‘Tad’ or ‘Tadpole?’ Do you love classic names or obscure Biblical names? Thaddeus fits these criteria like a glove. Thaddeus is a nicknamer’s playground, giving you 3 whole syllables and sounds to mess with. And Thaddeus has always been in the top 1000 of American preferred names. It never became super popular, but it has never been in the top 100. In fact, it is now 899th on the name charts. But our Puritan forebears were fonder of it, which probably stems from its use in the Bible. Thaddeus was one of the 12 apostles in the Book of Matthew (though he was swapped out with Jude in the other New Testament books. Scholars think the two men might have been the same person.)
It is possibly an Aramaic version of Theodore, which means ‘Gift from God,’ but it could also derive from the Aramaic word for ‘heart.’ I honestly like the ‘heart’ meaning better: he’s your heart’s own, and you are calling him by an endearment even when you are yelling at him to come to dinner.
Girl names can sometimes feel like the leftovers: “We wanted a boy, and we were going to name him Paul. Then we discovered we’re having a girl, and we’re too lazy to think up a new name. Meet Paula.” But there are some girl names which are clearly boy names with an ‘a’ stuck at the end that wind up more empowering. Augusta is one of them. It comes from Augustus, which means ‘great’ or ‘venerable.’ This is probably what King George III was thinking when he named his second daughter Augusta in the 1700s. With such an alluring sound and meaning, it was natural that English speakers picked it up as a name. However, people seemed to feel it belonged in the Victorian or Edwardian Era. In 1900, it was 200th on the name popularity, but it dropped steadily as the century went on. By 1944, it was out of the top 1000. Now it is barely hanging in at 5,639 on lists of names. But we are now all about giving our girls a leg-up, so surely calling her ‘great’ right from the start should be making a comeback.
Names can create continuity with the past. Some namesakes are so famous that invoking the name conjures up virtues separate from any meaning that its literal translation carries. ‘Leif’ is one of those names. It is an Old Norse name that means ‘descendant or heir.’ Of course, all children are descendants of somebody, so your little boy will automatically fit this name. But everyone knows Leif Erickson. He hopped on a Viking ship and sailed all the way to Newfoundland, becoming the first European in our hemisphere. It’s a little disappointing to find that this embodiment of courage and sturdiness has a name that translates as ‘inherited some stuff from a guy named Eric.’ It ought to be a favorite, both for its historical connotations and its ease on the ear. It is currently 3,377th in popularity in the United States, but single syllable names with fine ‘l’ sounds can make a good, strong name for boys.
In Colonial times, many parents named their little girls Aurinda. It comes from the Latin word for gold. Naturally, everybody wants to name their little girls after something precious, and Colonial parents thought adding the ‘inda’ ending made gold a solid name for daughters. How did it fair once America was an independent nation? Not well. Between 1880 and 2016, less than 5 girls have been given that name per year. There is one actress and model by that name, but it doesn’t even show up on many naming sites.
But we should bring this name back because it rolls off the tongue and sounds as sweet as cotton candy. Also, it is genuinely a creation of Colonial America. It was when it first appeared as a name and it was the only time that it was popular.
For some reason, this beautiful name was only popular in the 1600s and 1700s. In fact, the most popular Aphra is Aphra Ben, who was the favorite poet in the 1650s. She was also a spy for Charles II in Antwerp. It continued as a popular name in the colonies, and it showed up in many rosters from that time. It is possibly a variant on Aphrah, a place name from the Bible that means ‘dust.’ It could also be from Latin from a word that means 'a person from Africa'. That might have been where the two saints from the 4th century got the name. Early saints were fond of using their hometowns in their name.
Modern folks should bring it back because it is easy for listeners and writers, and wouldn’t you want your daughter to be inspired by famous playwright and spy?
Latin family names make very cool as given names. Billionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt, alchemist Cornelius Agrippa, and Pope Cornelius certainly thought so. Chevy Chase didn’t think so, but his mother thought so because that was original name. It was fairly common before 1932, and it was still in the top 1000 until 2008.
Cornelius comes from the Latin word for ‘horn-colored,’ and it came to the West because there is a centurion named Cornelius who converted to Christianity in Acts in the New Testament. He is considered the first Gentile to become a Christian, so he has a bit of historical power. At least, the Dutch liked it, and the English picked it up in the 16th century. They may have liked it because it has two great nicknames: ‘Connie’ and ‘Neely.’ If you love nicknames, this one is good for your family.
Devon has become a very popular name for both sexes in the past couple of decades. It appeared in 1960 as a boy’s name and is now 572nd in popularity. So is Bevan just an attempt to create a cooler sounding version of something that is already known? No, actually, it is a name with its own history. It is a Welsh name that means ‘son of Evan.’ Yes, it is another culture that is constantly naming their kids ‘my son or daughter.’ Evan is the anglicized version of the Welsh name Iefan, which is supposed to be the Welsh John. They started using the name quite a bit in Wales by the 19th century. While Evan has been in the top 50 names for quite a long while, Bevan has never even been in the top 1000 names in the United States.
If you have a literary bent and love Welsh history, you might like Aneirin. Aneirin, also called Neiran, was a poet in Wales in the 6th century, and his works were recorded in the Book of Aneirin. He appears to have written mostly epics about powerful warlords. Aneiran didn’t only stay on after his death because of his fine poems, but because of his name. It became somewhat popular in the 1700’s, though many people spelled it Aneurin. The name was reinforced by its great meaning, which is ‘noble or very golden.’ It was a popular name meaning at the time. These days, it is pretty much just a name for a character in Dragon Age. It really should become more popular, though, as it lets you nickname your son Nye or Neery, and you may just inspire him to become a great writer. The world could always use a few more talented writers.
Wales produces a lot of beautiful names. Their blend of soft vowels and lack of consonants makes it a fount of fine-sounding syllables that become fanciful monikers. Caerwyn, pronounces Ki-win, is another example of this. It breaks down into ‘caer,’ the Welsh word for ‘fort, and the ‘gwyn,’ which is the Welsh word for ‘white.’ So, Caerwyn means ‘white fort,’ which suggests strength. This makes it a great name for any little boy. You also get to nickname your boy Car, Wyn, Wynie, or Carry, if you like nicknames. It would also give your son a namesake in a Labour Party politician and a famous tennis player. People in Gaelic countries are passably fond of the name, but it is 7020 on the chart of popular name charts. I am personally very fond of it, too, and think it would make a great name for a protagonist in a fantasy novel.
Taliesin was a famous Welsh poet who wrote moving odes to various people. He was also a companion of King Arthur, possibly as a wizard or prophet. The name is a fitting one for a literal knight in shining armor and talented poet because it means ‘shining brow.’ Few things say artistic bent and grand chivalry like a shiny forehead. The namesakes and great meaning makes it wonderful for a little boy. It is pronounced tal-ee-es-in, which makes the name pretty easy to spell by ear. Your son will appreciate that in the early school years. It also gives you many syllables to make some inspired nicknames. Tally, Son, Tal, and Essy are fine choices. If there were ever a time to bring back this classic, it is now, when King Arthur’s legend’s copyright has expired.
If you want to encourage your son to be peaceful, you could try the Welsh boy’s name, Heddwyn. It means ‘blessed and fair peace.’ It can also be translated as ‘holy peace.’ It is not particularly popular here in the United States: it is only 108,230th on the name list. There are a few business people with the name, though. You may notice that it sounds like Caerwyn, and it does indeed share a name element. There is also a very similar sounding name from Germany for girls which became a very common moniker in Medieval Germany. That name means ‘battle bliss.’ It is yet another example of naming convergence. If you like the sound of the name but are having a girl, you can just change the spelling of the name and you get to keep the name.
Sometimes simple names are the best. Whether it is short and easy to spell, or sounds like a familiar flower, simple names can pack a punch. Idris is a great example of this. There are two sources for the name. The first is Arabic, and possibly means ‘interpreter.’ The first famous Idris in this tradition is an ancient prophet from the Qur’an. As a boy’s name, it conveys high hopes.
The other source is Wales. It comes from two elements, ‘udd’ and ‘ris,’ which means ‘enthusiastic lord.’ This also suggests high hopes for your son. We all want our children to have enthusiasm for life and to be a great leader. Not surprisingly, England and France both have quite a few Idrises. It was 227 on the name charts in England and 399 on the name charts in France. Here, in the United States, Idris is 840th in popularity. Whether you like the association with being a prophet, or you like the idea of your son having great enthusiasm, Idris is a great name for your son.
References: babynames.com, allparenting.com, nameberry.com, thinkbabynames.com, behindthename.com