Vintage Baby Names

I was asked by a magazine interviewer recently why I thought some vintage names come back and others don’t. Why Cora and Flora and not Dora? Why Edward and not Edwin? All of which got me thinking about the influences that do propel names out of the attic and into the spotlight.

The most obvious and evident of these is the celebrity factor in all its manifestations. Stars’ names, stars’ baby names and the names of characters they play:

Some examples:

ScarlettYes, the name of Miss Scarlett was used by a handful of parents following the publication of Gone With the Wind, but it wasn’t until Ms. Johansson burst on the scene that it really took off, bringing it now into the Top 50.

Isla –This old Scottish name was barely heard of or even pronounceable in this country before the emergence of the rising redheaded star Isla Fisher. Now it’s one of the fastest rising girls’ names—it entered the list in 2008 and is now at Number 167, with almost 2000 little American Islas born last year.

SiennaSiena was a picturesque town in Tuscany until English actress Miller publicized the Sienna spelling and was instrumental in advancing her name into the Top 300 in the US, the Top 40 in England and Wales, and Australia.

AvaAnd yes, stars of the past can also continue to exert an influence far beyond their own era. The sultry Ava Gardner was in her prime in the 1950s, yet became a 21st century hit, in the Top 10 for the last decade.

It’s also celebrity parents who have revitalized a whole raft of neglected names of the past, as in:

AgnesJennifer Connelly & Paul Bettany

Alice— Tina Fey

BirdieBusy PhillipsMaura West

Clara— Ewan McGregor

Cyrus— Claire Danes & Hugh Dancy

Elsie–    James MorrisonIoan Gruffudd

Ethel—   Lily Allen

Hattie— Tori Spelling

Hazel— Julia RobertsEmily Blunt & John Krasinski

Olive—   Isla Fisher & Sacha Baron CohenDrew Barrymore

Otis—     Tobey MaguireOlivia Wilde & Jason Sudeikis

Pearl— Maya RudolphJack Osbourne

Silas—   Jessica Biel & Justin Timberlake

Violet— Jennifer Garner & Ben Affleck + several others

Winnie– Jimmy Fallon

Indelible characters in blockbuster books and movies and TV shows have spawned a large share of the vintage name renaissance, particularly from franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight . Here are just a few:


Downton AbbeyCoraEdithMarySybilElsie


Harry PotterArabellaMinervaLavenderLunaPoppy


Sex and the City-CharlotteMiranda

The Fault in Our Stars—Hazel

To Kill a Mockingbird—AtticusScoutHarper


And then there are less concrete factors.

The British Influence—Let’s face the fact that our cousins across the pond have been way ahead of us in certain significant trends. The vintage Amelia is their #1 name and Poppy is Number 7. It was the Brits who started the whole vintage nickname revival trend, with EvieMillieRosieMaisieEllieElsieTillyAlfieArchieFreddieCharlieTheoFrankieLouieOllieTeddyRonnie and Sonnyall on their Top 100. As are Mad Men-era names that have yet to make it back big time in the US: ArthurHarveyStanleyLeon—though there are signs that may be coming.

Sight & Sound—Both visual and aural pattern trends can lead to the advancement of some vintage names as well. A couple current ones:

S-ending boysOtisAtticusAugustusRufusLinusLucasSilas

Ella girlsBella/Isabella have led to StellaArabellaMirabellaAnabella

Ett boys—EverettEmmettBeckettBennett

The X-factor—Dexter/DexFelixAxelKnoxMaximusMaxineBeatrixXavier

One thing leads to another: Emily to Emma to Ella to Elsa to Elsie

So what could bring back Dora or Edwin? It might just take one cool character or one cute starbaby.

[Originally published on Nameberry – the expert baby name resource. Search thousands of baby names by letter, ethnicity, gender, and more!]

Image(s): CSA Images/iStock

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