Old-Fashioned Names Making a Comeback

July 20, 2018 by Steven M. Peters

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Names wax and wane in popularity and it isn’t always obvious why. Sometimes they suffer from negative associations with unpopular people or unfortunate events. Sometimes they get a boost from real-life heroes or even fictional characters.

Using data going back more than a century, 24/7 Wall St. set out to identify once-popular names that had previously fallen out of favor but are now making a comeback.

Some of the names on our list are thousands of years old and are associated with biblical prophets and priests. As the Bible itself says, “What has been will be again … there is nothing new under the sun.” Others are truncated versions of familiar names that have become newly popular in their own right.

Our list may also highlight how popular culture influences the popularity of names. It may not be a coincidence that two of the entries, Emmett and Jasper, are also the names of characters in the phenomenally successful Twilight novels and movies. The first novel in the series was released in 2005, and our list incorporates data up to 2017.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the name Eli may have been boosted by New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who won the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award in 2007 and in 2011.

To determine the old-fashioned names making a comeback, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 200 most popular boy and girl names in each year between 1880 and 2017 from the Social Security Administration. To be considered, names needed to have appeared in the top 200 between 1880 and 1930, be completely absent from the top 200 lists between 1931 and 1999, and back on the top 200 at some point after 2000. The names on our list, ordered alphabetically, are the only names in the SSA database that meet this criteria. The SSA only collects data on names with at least five birth certificates. Alternate spellings of similar names were treated as discrete names.

Click here to see the old fashioned names making a comeback.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1. Abraham
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1915
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 184

Perhaps it is not surprising that Abraham is making a big comeback. It is an ancient name — the biblical patriarch holds such an important place in Judaism, Christianity and Islam that they are known as the Abrahamic religions. The name also has a special place in American history. Abraham Lincoln is often ranked as the greatest U.S. president for his leadership during the Civil War.

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Source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

2. Adeline
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1918
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 87

Adeline is of French origin, meaning “noble” or “nobility,” and is a diminutive of Adele. There have been a number of famous Adelines over the course of history. In fact, Virginia Woolf was originally known as Adeline Virginia. The modernist writer was named after an aunt who died young and was thereafter known simply as Virginia. The average rank of the name Adeline between 2000 and 2017 was 87, leaping from 1,405 between 1930 and 1999.

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3. Allie
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1905
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 196

Allie is of Celtic origin and was originally a saint’s name. It has gone through a number of revivals over the course of history. It was popular at the turn of the 20th century and is once more climbing the ranks. Country singer Garth Brooks’ youngest daughter is named Allie. The average rank of the name Allie between 2000 and 2017 was 196, climbing from 1,424 between 1930 and 1999.

Source: Sotheby's / Wikimedia Commons

4. August
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1915
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 193

August is derived from the Latin honorific Augustus, which means great and was a title given to Roman emperors. Originally a boy’s name, it is now increasingly popular for girls also. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan named their second daughter August (not surprisingly, she was born in that summer month), as did country singer Garth Brooks and his wife Sandy Mahl (though their daughter was born in May).

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Source: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

5. Callie
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1900
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 189

If Allie is becoming increasingly popular, then perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Callie is also. This name of Greek origin means “beautiful.” In 1992, Callie Khouri won an Academy Award for best screenplay for the movie “Thelma & Louise.” (Incidentally, the name Thelma made 24/7 Wall St.’s list of names heading toward extinction.)

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6. Cecilia
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1904
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 175

Cecilia is derived from the Latin word for blind, but that hasn’t prevented this name from making a comeback. Cecilia is also the patron saint of music, and one of the most famous holders of the name today is Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. That bears out the Latin expression “nomen est omen,” which means your name is your destiny.

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7. Eli
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1881
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 98

Eli is of Hebrew origin and was the name of a high priest in the Books of Samuel.

There have been many famous Elis in different fields, including Eli Lilly, who founded the pharmaceutical company of the same name; Eli Wallach, the actor who starred in several classic westerns; Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin; and most recently Eli Manning, the New York Giants quarterback.

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8. Elias
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1880
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 134

Elias is the Greek form of the biblical name Elijah. While it peaked in the U.S. more than a century ago, it has remained popular in Greece and other non-English speaking countries. Prominent Eliases have included Elias Canetti, the Nobel Prize-winning author; Elias Koteas, the actor; and the fictional character Elias, played by Willem Dafoe, in the movie “Platoon.”

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9. Eliza
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1888
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 172

Eliza is a short form of the name Elizabeth, but it is becoming increasingly popular in its own right. Some of the best-known Elizas in history have been fictional. Eliza Doolittle is the central character in George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” which was adapted as the musical “My Fair Lady.” Eliza Harris is a key character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

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10. Emmett
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1919
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 153

Emmett is derived from the Hebrew word for “truth.” It’s a surname as well as an increasingly popular first name. It may have been given a boost in recent years by the popularity of the “Twilight” novels and movie adaptations. One of the major characters is Emmett Cullen, a vampire played by Kellan Lutz in the movies.

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11. Iris
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1927
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 168

Iris derives from the Greek word for “rainbow” and is also the name of a popular flower. There have been many accomplished Irises, including fashion designer Iris Apfel, historian Iris Chang and novelist Iris Murdoch.

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12. Jasper
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1880
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 185

Jasper is the English version of Caspar, which was the name of one of the Magi of biblical lore and is itself of Persian origin. Art lovers will associate the name with the abstract expressionist painter and sculptor Jasper Johns. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the second entry on our list to have featured in the “Twilight” novels and movies. Jasper Hale is also a vampire and is played by Jackson Rathbone in the movies.

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13. Lilly
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1882
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 132

Lilly (along with the variation Lily) has experienced a worldwide resurgence in popularity. Famous Lillies have included women’s rights activist Lilly Ledbetter and fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer. The average rank of the name Lilly between 2000 and 2017 was 132, climbing from an average of 1,040 between 1930 and 1999.

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14. Sadie
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1916
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 112

Sadie, which has often been used as a diminutive form of Sarah, is becoming more and more popular as a name in its own right. Although usually considered a female name, there were at least two men called Sadie who played professional baseball: Sadie Houck and Sadie McMahon. The Beatles, the Supremes, and Bob Dylan all have performed songs with the name Sadie.

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Source: Keystone / Getty Images

15. Silas
> Year of peak popularity between 1880 and 1930: 1880
> Avg. rank between 2000 and 2017: 138

Silas has Latin roots and was the name of an early Christian disciple. It was also the name of one of the early supporters of American independence, Silas Deane, who served as a delegate from Connecticut to the Continental Congress and was the first U.S. diplomat sent abroad.

Perhaps the most famous Silas of all is Silas Marner, the central character in the George Eliot novel of the same name. There have been several movie and television adaptations of this perennially popular book.