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Once-popular baby names that you never see anymore

Much like fashion, the cyclical nature of baby names is influenced not only by cultural shifts, but also by historical events and popular media. For instance, in 1931, the name Bella was ranked No. 985 in the top 1,000 female names by the Social Security Administration, which uses Social Security card application data to determine the popularity of names, before falling off the list entirely for 69 years. We can’t be sure why the name made the list again in the year 2000, coming in at No. 749, but its rapid rise in popularity from there can be attributed to Bella Swan, the central character in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, published between 2005 and 2008. Bella jumped in popularity to No. 122 in 2008, then to No. 58 the following year and No. 48 in 2010. The name remained on the list of the top 100 most popular female names through 2022, a trend bolstered by the film adaptations of the Twilight books.

While some popular names fade away only to come surging back many years later, others are perennial favorites decade after decade. Michael has been the No. 1 most popular male name for 44 of the past 100 years. On the female names list, Mary has taken the top spot 32 times and ranks as the overall most popular name of the past 100 years, despite falling as low as No. 135 over the years. The name James maintains the top spot for the most popular male name of the past century, though it has ranked as low as No. 19. Old-fashioned names such as Harriet and Amos may make us think of our grandparents and a bygone era, but there is always a chance they’ll make a trendy comeback alongside more contemporary names such as Onyx, Anakin, and Nova (some of the top baby names in 2024). Here is a nostalgic look at eight vintage baby names that were once widely popular but have faded in use — at least for now.

Doris

Doris just squeaks onto the list of the 100 most popular names of the past 100 years at No. 98, despite the fact that it never cracked the top five in any year of the past century. Peaking at No. 6 in 1929, Doris didn’t even make the top 1,000 names in 2023. Doris Day, born Doris Kappelhoff in 1922, is arguably the most famous Doris of the past century. A popular singer and actress in the 1950s and ’60s, her wholesome girl-next-door image contrasted with the cultural shifts of the 1960s, which may account for the name’s decreasing popularity in the decades since.

Albert

Albert is an example of a male name that seems old-fashioned and outdated in the U.S., but is still going strong in the U.K. This might have something to do with the number of royals who have had the name — in the past 200 years, there have been 12 members of the British royal family named Albert. The popularity of Albert peaked in the U.S. in 1910, when it was the 14th most popular male name. It ranked at No. 590 in 2023 in the U.S., while in the U.K., Albert ranked 76th on the list of the top 100 names for boys in 2024.

Judith

Some old-fashioned names have never scored high on the popularity lists, but still consistently ranked in the top 50 or top 100 names for several decades. In a list of the top five female names in each year of the last century, Judith appears only once, as the fourth most popular name in 1940. Yet it was one of the top 50 most popular female names between 1936 and 1956. In overall rankings, Judith comes in at No. 62 in a list of the 100 top female names of the past century, but most of that popularity came in the first half of the century; the name hasn’t cracked the top 100 since the 1960s.

Ernest

The name Ernest has had a long and popular history in the U.S., peaking at No. 21 on the list of the 1,000 most popular male names in 1885. It stayed in the top 100 until 1957 before a slow but steady drop saw it falling off the top 1,000 list entirely by 2019. Despite the name’s literary connections, including Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the decline of Ernest might have been due to its association with the fictional character Ernest P. Worrell, played by actor Jim Varney. Varney’s bumbling slapstick humor in television commercials, a TV series, and several feature films made the character a household name — though not one that parents wanted to give their babies.

Mildred

In 1920, Mildred was the sixth most popular female name in the United States, but by 1985 it wasn’t even in the top 1,000. Mildred Pierce, a 1941 novel by James M. Cain that was adapted for film in 1945, may have helped sustain the name’s popularity well into the 1950s before it began a steady downward trend. While this old-fashioned name doesn’t seem poised for a comeback, the diminutive Millie ranked as the 102nd most popular female name in 2023 — its highest rank ever, thanks to the popularity of British actress Millie Bobby Brown.

Ralph

From 1900 to 1963, Ralph consistently remained on the list of the top 100 most popular male names, peaking at No. 21 in 1917. From there, it drifted further and further down the list before making its final appearance in 2018 at No. 950. The decline in the name’s popularity likely had something to do with the unfortunate fact that the word “ralph” became a U.S. slang term for vomit in the mid-1960s.

Gertrude

Despite being the 23rd most popular female name in 1900 and staying in the top 100 until 1930, the name Gertrude completely vanished from the top 1,000 names after 1965. The sharp decline of this old-fashioned name likely followed the same trajectory of Doris, falling out of favor as the cultural revolution swept the country, and names such as Lisa, Kimberly, and Michelle rose in popularity.

Virgil

The name Virgil is best known as the English name of Publius Vergilius Maro, the influential first-century Roman poet who penned the epic Aeneid. While the name has never been high on the list of the most popular male names, it cracked the top 100 names five times in the early 1900s and stayed in the top 500 until the mid-1970s. Virgil made its final appearance on the list of the top 1,000 male names in 1991 at No. 861, and some trend-watchers suggest it’s due for a comeback.   


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