Hazel, Josephine, and Clara: members of your great-grandma’s knitting club, or of the graduating class of 2036?
According to the “Hundred Year Rule,” the answer is … both!
Naming trends are absolutely fascinating, and they’ve been documented as far back as medieval times. They’re heavily shaped by cultural influences, but as we’re about to show you, the simple passage of time plays a factor, too.
You see, the Hundred Year Rule states that popular names go out of fashion — sometimes sliding waaaay off the popularity charts for decades — and then come back into style approximately 100 years from their peak.
To give credence to this theory, we need look no further than these vintage names that were all the rage 100 years ago, and are now experiencing a “second wind” of popularity.
We used girls’ names, since boys’ names tend to be much less variable: there are outliers like Noah and Elijah, of course, but names like Robert, William, John, and James have been in the top ten pretty much consistently for the last hundred years.
We may not have a ton in common with our counterparts from a century ago (indoor plumbing everywhere, for starters), but here are a few of the names that parents of both yesteryear and today have found worthy of their little bundles of joy.
In 1919, it was #9; today, it’s at #438, rebounding from a low of #828 in 2007.
The birth name of actress Judy Garland, who was born in 1922, this name has the potential for cute nicknames, such as Frannie and Frankie.
In 1919, it was #11; today, it’s at #9, rebounding from a low of #288 in 1980.
Believe it or not, this was once a boy’s name (like so many other names we typically see as female). The French Aveline and the Irish Eibhlín are beautiful variations.
In 1919, it was #35; today, it’s at #297, rebounding from a low of #441 in 1970.
It’s actually a diminutive of the name Anne, but Annie is a popular name in its own right, thanks to badass Annies like sharpshooter Annie Oakley, singer Annie Lennox, photographer Annie Leibovitz, and computer scientist Annie Easley.
In 1919, it was #26; today it’s at #107, rebounding from a low of #498 in 1970.
This name encompasses the best of both worlds: the full version calls to mind the 1920s glam of actress Josephine Baker, while nicknames like Jo, Joey, and Josie give it a unisex appeal.
In 1919, it was #43; today, it’s at #96, rebounding from a low of #593 in 1978.
Clara’s popularity a century ago may have much to do with silent film actress Clara Bow, who skyrocketed to global fame, earning herself the nickname “The ‘It’ Girl.”
In 1919, it was #47; today, it’s at #301, rebounding from a low of #944 in 1972.
It’s hard to imagine how this name could possibly be derived from Elizabeth — until you consider that the Scottish version of Elizabeth was Elspeth. So basically, Elsie is an adorable nickname for Elspeth.
In 1919, it was #72; today, it’s at #97, rebounding from a low of #536 in 1981.
This is another that used to be used for boys, as odd as that sounds, considering that its most famous association is actress Vivien Leigh (same sound, slightly different spelling), who played vain Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
In 1919, it was #32; today it’s at #43, rebounding from a low of #943 in 1998.
This name first became popular at a time when it was fashionable to name little girls after plants and flowers (Rose and Lily, anyone?), and of course refers to the hazel tree, which according to legend symbolizes knowledge and creativity. Plus we wouldn’t have Nutella if it weren’t for hazelnuts, so, extra awesome.
In 1919, it was #24; today, it’s at #79, rebounding from a low of #401 in 1986.
This name can be classified as both a color name and a gemstone name, and is again a product of a time when naming your daughter after gemstones was the thing to do (we’re looking at you, Opal and Pearl).
In 1919, it was #3; today, it’s at #601, rebounding from a low of 982 in 2006.
Pop culture is full of recognizable Dorothys, from Dorothy Gale in the The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy Zbornak on the “The Golden Girls” to actress Dorothy Dandridge. And if the full name is too long for your liking, it can be shortened to Dot, Dottie, or Dolly.
So, following this pattern, what are the up-and-coming names we’ll start seeing more of in the near future?
If the Hundred Year Rule proves correct, as it usually does, the following — all within the top 100 girls’ names in 1925 — should be “in vogue” within the next five to ten years.
It was #3 in 1925, but dropped off the chart after 1996.
Two words: BETTY WHITE (born in 1922, so her name was right in style). Can you think of any reason why you shouldn’t give your daughter the same name as this nonagenarian powerhouse? We can’t.
It was #4 in 1925; now it’s #418.
Helen is still well within the top 1,000 most popular girls’ names — and has been, consistently, since 1900 (sometimes as high as #2). But according to the Hundred Year Rule, it’s almost due for another stint in the tip-top spotlight.
It was #9 in 1925, but dropped off the chart after 1984.
Granted, it’s one of the older-sounding names, but it’s got the potential for the cute, more modern-sounding nickname Millie, and a beautiful meaning to boot: “gentle strength.”
It was #24 in 1925, and remains on the popularity chart, but is hovering near the bottom at #980.
Apparently the U.K. got the hundred-year memo before we did, because this name has been on a serious upswing across the pond, and now Florence is now among the most popular girls’ names in Britain. It has been as high as #7 on the popularity chart here in the U.S., so we’re just waiting for it to resurface.
It was #33 in 1925, but dropped off the chart after 1999.
This name originated as Gwladus, derived from the Welsh word “gwlad,” meaning “country.” It looks a lot less clunky in its modern, not-so-modern form … and we can expect people to start polishing off this vintage gem within the next few years.
It was #38 in 1925, but dropped off the chart after 1997.
Modern times aren’t the only times when pop culture has had an influence on baby names; this one got a boost from a series of short damsel-in-distress films called The Perils of Pauline, first released in 1914.
It was #35 in 1925, but dropped off the chart after 1982.
The meaning of this name is unclear — and it may not even have a meaning, because it’s widely thought to have been a literary invention, used for author Marie Corelli’s 1887 novel Thelma.
(Coincidentally, Louise is also on its way up, per the Hundred Year Rule.)
It was #46 in 1925, but dropped off the chart after 1984.
When you hear Bernice, ancient Egypt doesn’t exactly come to mind, but its root name — Berenice-with-an-extra-E — was the name of an Egyptian queen during the Ptolemaic dynasty.
It was #54 in 1925, but dropped off after 2012.
Geraldine experienced a teeny-tiny revival in the mid-1980s, jumping several hundred spots, thanks to the first female Vice Presidential hopeful Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
It was #94 in 1925, and is still on the charts, currently in position #643.
Alma is literally the Spanish word for “soul,” and comes from a Latin root word meaning “nurturing” or “nourishing” in Latin. Doesn’t this just sound like a future spa owner waiting to happen?
Though these might have sounded like “grandma names” a decade ago, much like fashions, these old names come back in style in a big way. It may be hard to believe that Mildred and Geraldine could ever be trendy again, but did you ever think you’d see bodysuits outside of the ’90s?
We rest our case.
For baby names from classic to contemporary, plus inspirational lists, check out the Scary Mommy baby name database.