If you’re deciding between baby names, you may be looking for something brand new and unique for your little one that few people have used in the past. But time has an intriguing way of making the old new again and the commonplace unique again. The vintage and antique are often more fashionable than present-day fashion itself, whether you’re talking about fabulous retro clothing or hand-sculpted Victorian armoires, and baby names are no exception. Once an era has come, gone, and passed into nostalgia, it seems that people can’t get enough of it.
While there are certainly many classic names that have never really gone out of style (perennial favorites like William, David, Sarah, and Elizabeth come to mind), there are just as many monikers that are enjoying a resurgence after being out of vogue for generations. Indeed, names that were for many years almost ubiquitously associated with olden times, have become something of a trend among celebrities and millennial parents alike.
So if you’re looking for a baby name that’s going to stand out in a crowd, you just might find it in a name that blended right into the crowd, once upon a time. Read on to find out why many of the major baby names of yesteryear are due to become the major baby names of today.
Aurelia is a beautiful, feminine baby name that has quite a lot of history behind it. It is originally from the Latin family name of Aurelius, which itself comes from the Latin word "aureus," meaning "golden." If you’re looking for a perfect baby name to describe your own little golden child, this might be a great fit.
The use of the name Aurelia goes back centuries. Aurelia was the name of Julius Caesar’s mother who was born more than 2,000 years ago. It has also been the name of the Portuguese painter Aurélia de Sousa, civil rights activist Aurelia Browder, and poet Sylvia Plath’s mother, Aurelia Plath. The name was fairly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, making it long overdue for a comeback. Perhaps the success of former Olympic hurdler Aurelia Trywianska-Kollasch will lead to a resurgence in the coming years. After all, people love the Olympics.
The name of a biblical king mentioned in the book of Proverbs, the Hebrew name Lemuel translates to "devoted to God." Although the spelling might remind you a bit of the name Samuel, and also therefore lead you want your little Lemuel to be nicknamed "Lem" for short, the name Lemuel has not been in common usage since the mid 1970s. That said, it was a popular choice through much of the 20th century, and in 1881 is was the 125th most popular name for boys!
In fiction, the name is famously used for the hero of Jonathon Swift’s novel, Gulliver’s Travels. But fiction isn’t the only place you may have heard it used. Several politicians have had the name Lemuel, including Lemuel Whitman, Lemuel Todd, and Lemuel Stetson, which means your little Lem might be destined for politics or, given the biblical king connotation, some other position of power.
While experts aren’t entirely sure where this name originated, popular theories are that it derived from the Welsh name Creiddylad or from the Latin word "cors" meaning "heart." Well-known Cordelias include writer and psychologist Cordelia Fine and philanthropist Cordelia Scaife May.
If sticking with pop culture references is more your speed, though, rest assured that not all Cordelias will suffer the tragic fate of the one seen in King Lear. Cordelia was also a character on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel, as well as a character in Brideshead Revisited. Who wouldn’t love to be named Cordelia? After all, the heroine of Anne of Green Gables said herself, "I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name."
While it was originally a last name, Lowell is also an excellent choice for a first name for your bundle of joy. As a given name, this French name means "young wolf." The name was particularly popular in the early 20th century, with peak popularity between the 1920s and 1940s when it was in the top 200 names for boys.
Although the name hasn’t been much in circulation since the 1980s, people who have had this name include investigative reporter Lowell Bergman, actor Lowell Sherman, and blues guitarist Lowell Fulson. Or, if you’re a television fan, you may remember Lowell as the name of Thomas Haden Church’s character on Wings, or Keir O’Donnell’s mechanic character in the first season of Sons of Anarchy.
Despite its traditionally masculine connotations, some people are choosing to use it for girls these days. Canadian singer-songwriter Elizabeth Lowell Boland uses her middle name, Lowell, as her artist name. So consider this a gender-neutral baby name that’s ready for a comeback!
The feminine form of Augustus (which is also a great vintage baby name choice), Augusta comes from the Latin word "august" which means "great" or "venerable." The name was also used as a title for the female rulers of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and has long been a popular given name of royal babies.
Unlike the more popular calendar-related names of June and Summer, babies named Augusta are quite rare. Popularity of the name Augusta peaked in the late 19th century, and all but faded away by the end of WWII.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you might also recognize the name as that of Neville Longbottom’s grandmother. But don’t be fooled just because literary characters named Augusta tend to be elderly relatives, as is also the case in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt. Famous people named Augusta include composers Augusta Read Thomas and Augusta Holmés.
For many of us, Clarence is a decidedly royal baby name. That’s mostly because the name was used for centuries by the British royal family as a title of nobility, the Duke of Clarence. Perhaps it isn’t royalty you think of when you hear the name though, but heavenly hosts. If so, that’s likely because it’s the name of the guardian angel in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
The Jimmy Stewart classic wasn’t the first time Clarence had been used as a given name, though. Beginning in the 19th century, Clarence gained popularity as a given name. Another famous Clarence, last name Birdseye, can be credited with the invention of frozen food while more than one attorney also carries the moniker. That’s right, people with this name include Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court of the United States and lawyer Clarence Darrow, known for his role in the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial.
While the name has been on a decline since the famous 1925 trial, the children’s animated series Clarence could put this name back at the top of the list very soon.
The origins of the name Minerva are a bit fuzzy, but it gained popularity as the name of the ancient Roman goddess of war and wisdom. It’s probably no surprise then that the name’s meaning these days is all about intellect and pursuits "of the mind." The first use of Minerva as an English given name occurred after the Renaissance, and it was a top 500 name through the early 1920s, but dropped off the list of top names in the 1970s, according to Nameberry.
There are several places bearing the name of the Roman goddess, including Minerva, Ohio, and the Minerva Reefs. It isn’t limited only to geographical locations, however. Minerva is also featured in Dickens’ novel Pickwick Papers and the Artemis Fowl books. The name has become arguably most recognizable in modern times as the first name of Professor McGonagall in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. If Dame Maggie Smith can’t make Minerva have a comeback as a little girl’s baby name, nothing and no one can.
The Germanic name Arnold means "eagle power" or "strong as an eagle" and was made popular in the English-speaking world after being brought to England by the Normans. It has gone in and out of fashion through the centuries, fading into obscurity after the Middle Ages before being revived in the 19th century and losing popularity again in the late 20th century. Still, when it’s hot, it’s hot, and Arnold was in the top 100 baby names in the United States during the 1920s, so it’s high time we see its popularity return.
People named Arnold are in good company as it is the given name of golfer Arnold Palmer and actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger. Those parents who grew up in the late ’90s and early 2000s — and who are coming into their prime for having babies — are also familiar with the name thanks to one football-headed kid with the coolest bedroom around. That’s right, if you start seeing little Arnolds popping up, you may have the protagonist of Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold! to thank, at least in part.
This old-fashioned baby name has taken various forms throughout the years and has many different versions in several languages. Marjorie, itself a form of the name Margery, originally comes from the name Margaret which means "pearl." This particular variant’s spelling was influenced by the herb marjoram and was in the top 25 for baby names in the 1920s.
After not even making it to the top 1000 baby names from 1995-2012, it surged to number 799 in 2015. This is likely thanks to the phonetic similarities it shares with George R. R. Martin’s "Margaery Tyrell" in the Game of Thrones series.
Despite the limited resurgence in the United States, Marjorie did drop back to number 925 in 2016, meaning it’s still just uncommon enough to be unique, but has enough history to satisfy your vintage tastes. It’s also perfect if you’re hoping for a creative child. Famous people with this name include writer Marjorie Muir Worthington and actress Marjorie Yates.
The name Leonard is shockingly underused throughout most of the world, although it has managed to break into the top 100 baby names in Poland. The name has a long history, dating back to at least the 5th century when it was made popular by St. Leonard, who would go on to become the patron saint of horses.
Despite the equine association, the name Leonard actually means "brave lion." This noble moniker lends itself well to nicknames; if Leonard is a bit too long for your baby you can consider nicknaming him Leo or Lenny — that’s right, Lenny Kravitz’s real name is Leonard.
For science fiction and comic nerds, consider this name as a nod to legendary Spock actor Leonard Nimoy. Or, if you’re interested in giving your baby a name in honor of a fictional character instead of an actor, there’s always Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory or Leonard Snart, aka Captain Cold, most recently made famous by Wentworth Miller’s portrayal of the character on the CW’s The Flash.
Louisa is the feminine form of the more well-known male baby name Louis. Popular in the late 19th century, it is perhaps best known as the name of author Louisa May Alcott who wrote Little Women. You may see this name making a comeback soon, however, as the popular book-turned-movie Me Before You features a character named Louisa "Lou" Clark played by popular Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke.
If you’re more interested in where the name comes from, it’s ultimately derived from the name Ludwig which comes from the German terms "hlud" meaning "famous," and "wig" meaning "war." Despite its fierce origins, the name Louisa sounds delightfully musical, making it a charming choice for your baby girl! Just ask Meryl Streep, who named one of her three daughters Louisa.
Your little Louisa would likely be in good company too, as this name is definitely making a comeback. It was ranked number 826 in the US in 2016, its most popular year since it was number 825 in 1965.
Though the world is full of precious gem names for girls (Ruby, Pearl, and Jewel come to mind) one doesn’t often see boys named for gems. Be that as it may, Jasper, which is a species of rich-red quartz, is arguably a more interesting, and original, name than any of the above. The name, which was popular from about 1880 to 1920, is enjoying a second life in the 21st century — it was the fifth most popular name on Nameberry in 2017, which is pretty impressive.
The name’s rise to prominence in pop culture is possibly due to its association with the Twilight series through vampire Jasper Hale. Modern artist Jasper Johns has a claim to its fame too, as does the bumbling villain Jasper, sidekick of bumbling villain Horace, in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. The name, which is Persian in origin, literally translates to "bringer of treasure."
Jasper is said to have been the name of one of the three wise men who brought the infant Jesus gifts, so it’s Christmasy, too — perhaps good for a December baby? In any case, it’s a celebrity shoo-in: actor Don Johnson and his wife Kelley Phleger chose it for their son, as did country singer Brad Paisley and actress Kimberly Williams. Even though its German version, Casper (he of friendly ghosthood), is still probably better known, a name that means both a gem and a bringer-of-gems has got to be a wonderful bet.
Emmeline is a lovely name that conjures up visions of rosy-cheeked young girls on Victorian valentines. It might also conjure up cinematic or literary heroines like Emmeline Lestrange, the island-bound girl played by Brooke Shields in 1980’s The Blue Lagoon; or the tragic, courageous, and intrepid Emmeline of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Nowadays, the moniker’s classic-but-modernized relations, like Emily and Emma, are far more widely recognized, but there’s no doubt that Emmeline has joined the 21st century. Actor Christian Bale and his spouse Sibi Blazic chose it for their daughter in 2005, and most diehard Harry Potter fans are familiar with the character of the ill-fated but powerful witch Emmeline Vance.
The name is associated with strength, appropriate since it also conjures up famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, a key figure in the British feminist movement, who developed a passion for working for the liberation women at the tender age of 14, and remained dedicated to said mission until her death at age 70.
According to Nameberry, Emmeline joined the list of the US Top 1000 names in 2014; as of 2016, it was climbing the charts at number 788, and has been on the rise ever since.
When it comes to fabulously hip retro baby names with a wonderful pop culture twist, it’s hard to beat Archie. Though it’s technically a nickname for the august, scholarly Archibald, it’s the opposite of armchair-stuffy, and its instantaneous comic book associations give it a zippy, ebullient, jaunty-little-boy flare. (Unless you’re the curmudgeonly Archie Bunker, of course, but even he has his place in the pop culture hall of fame).
Ebullient and jaunty kids are usually intrepid kids, too — and that’s why Archie’s meaning, which is "truly brave," is so apropos. Though Archie has an all-American, boy-next-door appeal to it, it’s (perhaps surprisingly) even more of a hit in the UK — to the tune of being the 18th most popular name for boys there in 2016.
However, it seems to be a huge fave in the US, as well: comedians Amy Poehler and Will Arnett chose it for their son, which somehow seems perfect (every great comedian couple ought to have a kid with a great comic book name. Even if the duo have since divorced).
A beautiful French baby name, Clementine was popularized by Kate Winslet’s iconic character in the beloved 2004 cult classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Its ubiquitous association with the iconic folk ballad "Oh My Darling, Clementine" is surely the reason it conjures up images of belles of the Old West, despite its exotic French origins — a contrast that gives it a sophisticated yet down-home crossover appeal.
The name is derived from the male name Clement, which in turn is derived from the word clemency, which means mercy and lenience. According to the Social Security Administration database, Clementine was the 749th most popular name in the US in 2016, which is pretty high up there. It’s also a celebrity favorite: actor Ethan Hawke and his wife Ryan Shawhughes have a little Clementine, as do supermodel Claudia Schiffer and her husband, film director Michael Vaughn.
The name also describes a species of delicious mandarin sweet orange. So an adorable baby picture of your little Clementine enjoying a juicy clementine on a summer’s day might just be the perfect item for a custom designed baby calendar.
When most older people hear the name Otis, they probably think of either the kindly old gentleman from down the street or a beloved mule they once had on their childhood farm — both cozy and nostalgic associations. Or they might also think of iconic musician Otis Redding. If they’re a kid, however, they probably think of Otis the pug-pup, sidekick to the tabby cat Milo, in Milo and Otis.
In any case, this fabulous vintage name, which means "wealthy" and had its day in the sun from about 1880 to 1950, is coming back in style: Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudekis chose it for their son, as did actor Tobey Maguire and his wife Jennifer Meyer. According to Oh Baby Names, Otis is technically both a last name and a first name combined together — an interesting shortcut across the orchard that leads to the family tree, if there ever was one.
From Roald Dahl’s telekinetic Matilda to Natalie Portman’s Mathilda in The Professional, this German name is fast-becoming a household favorite baby name. Once associated with grand old ladies wearing brooches and high-buttoned collars, Matilda has been reclaimed by the young. It’s a powerful name that literally means "strength" (or, more specifically translated, "battle-mighty"), which gives it a great feminist connotation.
Matilda, from which the once-popular name Maud hails, was a huge hit in the 15th century, so it’s a choice that’s enjoyed a renaissance several times over. It peaked again in the latter half of the 18th century and the early part of the 20th, and was the 497th most popular girl’s moniker in America as of 2016. It was even more of a sensation in England, coming in at number 25, and it’s not showing signs of waning in popularity on either side of the Atlantic this year.
The past decade-plus has ushered in a veritable boom of baby Matildas among celebs. Matilda is the daughter of actress Michelle Williams and the late, great actor Heath Ledger, and also the daughter of chef Gordon Ramsay.
Whether you’re looking at it from a standpoint of 300 years ago or three minutes ago, Silas is a great name, and it has a ring to it that’s both industrious and epic (Silas Marner, anyone?). In fact, it’s such a winning moniker that it’s kind of inexplicable that it ever went out of style, but, after holding steady from the early to the mid 1900s, it dropped abruptly out of vogue from about 1970 to about 1990.
Now, however, this legendary Latin appellation is back with a bang. The name, which translates to "wood" or "forest," is a derivative of Sylvanus, Roman god of trees. And, indeed, back in the days when Grimm’s fairytales were household tales and people still lived and worked in mystical forests, it was a name that was frequently bestowed upon woodcutters (or upon babes who were expected to become woodcutters when they grew up, anyway).
The Biblical Silas was a missionary who is most widely known for being a companion of the apostle Paul. Moral of the story? Anyone called Silas is probably bound to have a life of intrigue and adventure. Just ask Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake, who chose it as a name for their son.
Tons of celebs have taken a quaint old-fashioned fancy to the quaint old-fashioned baby name Mabel, among them Russell Brand and Laura Gallacher, Bruce Willis and Emma Heming Willis, and Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey. The name Mabel evokes images of sarsaparilla sodas, whirling petticoats, country dances, handmade valentines, and, of course, cows. But it’s also something of a valentine unto itself: it means "lovable," and comes from the very old name Amabel.
According to Nameberry stats, Mabel was a staggeringly popular name throughout the late 1800s, holding the number 22 spot in 1880; by 1887, it had risen to number 18. It declined after 1960, but has been on a sharp upswing since 2016.
Famous Mabels include jazz singer Mabel Mercer and silent film star Mabel Normand. Additional celebrity baby Mabels include Mabel Painter Lowe, daughter of actor Chad Lowe and producer Kim Painter. Not to mention: there’s always Chuck Berry’s famous "Oh Maybellene/why can’t you be true."
From Basil Rathbone of Sherlock Holmes fame to basil as a seasoning, whatever your association with this intriguing name, it’s a unique and catchy winner. Although Basil is actually Greek in origin, it’s still probably most widely associated with the old-school British literati (via not only the aforementioned Rathbone, but famed UK poet Basil Bunting as well).
According to Nameberry, Basil was actually a pretty popular name through 1970. It was also the name of a number of Eastern Orthodox saints. In pop culture, it’s vastly and fondly associated with Disney’s "Basil of Baker Street," a character in The Great Mouse Detective. There’s also Basil Brush, the British fox glove-puppet, whose changeable character a staple of children’s daytime TV.
The name also has an exotic counterpart-variation in the form of the Russian name Vassily, but the Basil version is probably much cozier, and a much safer bet for a cuddly baby boy who just might grow up to be the kind of British (or American) intellectual that Sherlock Holmes himself would have appreciated.
From Wonderland onward, Alice has been an iconic name, symbolizing everything from psychedelic rabbit holes to key figures in contemporary literature. In addition to Lewis Carroll’s heroine, there’s novelist Alice Walker of The Color Purple fame, as well as Alice B. Toklas, partner of iconic poet Gertrude Stein. To say nothing of rocker Alice Cooper and groundbreaking grunge band Alice in Chains, if that’s more your speed.
Technically, Alice is actually a nickname in itself, and one with interestingly mixed roots. Though it hails from the German Adelaide, which also appears on this list, it’s an anglicized derivative of the French name Aalis.
Alice was the number 25 female name on the Nameberry site as of 2017. Though its own contemporary derivatives — like Alyssa and Alicia — are far more popular, Alice is rapidly coming back into the mainstream. Actress and writer Tina Fey and musician Jeff Richmond chose it as a name for their daughter, as did actor Tom Cavanagh and his wife, Sports Illustrated photo editor Maureen Grise.
The name is both a classic choice and a unique choice, and if you’re choosing it for its Lewis Carrollian associations, you can at least rest assured that there’s no chance your baby is going to turn into a pig, like the babe that the fictional Alice was tasked with caring for.
Though the baby name Phineas (or Phinnaeus, if you prefer) is mostly known nowadays as being the name of Julia Roberts’ son, it’s also a magnificent moniker in its own right. The biblical Hebrew Phineas was one of the two sons of Eli, high priest of Shiloh in the Old Testament. Literally translated, the name means "oracle." Most of today’s children, however, know the name through the Disney animated series Phineas and Ferb. That also means older siblings are liable to be excited when you tell them they’re going to have a little sibling who bears the name.
It’s a long way from Bible times to the present day, so the fact that Phineas was the 121st most popular name on Nameberry in 2017 represents a pretty epically successful trek across time. The name has a nice fringe benefit, too: Finn, a longtime Irish crowd-pleaser, is its ultra popular nickname.
If this classic baby name weren’t so widely associated with warmhearted, chain-smoking diner waitresses (who hasn’t known and loved a Flo’ ?), it might be an elegant name that was associated with exotic destinations and art history. After all, its namesake is the great city of Florence, from which painters like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci hailed.
The name’s actual meaning is "flourishing, prosperous." It also symbolizes the illustrious St. Florentina of Spain. Though the name doesn’t have the same glamour as the male name Roman, another title derived from an iconic Italian city, it’s coming back into vogue. After being through-the-roof popular circa 1880 to 1930, it’s the 117th favorite female moniker on Nameberry, as of last year. Famous Florences include Florence Nightingale, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, and, of course, Florence Henderson, otherwise known as Mrs. Brady.
If trends have their way, then, Florence will be undergoing a new life as a sophisticated young person’s name with a distinctly hip edge. Though its beloved old-school diner waitress connotation will hopefully always be here to stay.
Statistics suggest that this pretty baby name (with its meaning of "bright, clear") is coming back into the popular consciousness. As per Nameberry, it was the 99th most popular name in America circa 2016. And even before that, it skyrocketed in popularity from 1880 to 1960 — a whopping two-generation run that definitely represents no small feat.
Clara has the distinction of being associated with silent film star Clara Bow and nurse Clara Barton, as well as with famed pianist Clara Schumann, wife of equally famed composer Robert Schumann. Then there’s Princess Clara of Drawn Together, and the internationally beloved Clara of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, who witnesses, or dreams, a dance of enchantment on Christmas Eve.
The name may not be as well-known as its derivative Claire, but it’s still lovely: actress Anna Chlumsky and her husband Shaun So chose it for their daughter in 2016. And if you want to get really creative, you can give the moniker an even more old-fashioned spin, and opt for Clarabelle instead.