You’ve probably heard the saying “Everything old is new again” — and that holds especially true for baby names. These “grandma names” for girls are vintage gems that were all the rage in the first half of the 20th century, fell out of favor for a few decades, and are now experiencing a resurgence in popularity. This is thanks to what’s known as the 100-Year Rule, a surprisingly accurate theory which says that names go out of fashion, then resurface in about 100 years. (We’re predicting it now: the 2080s will see a lot of Jasons and Jessicas.)
We need only look to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) baby name database for proof of this phenomenon. This database lists the top 1000 most popular names for both girls and boys (there are separate lists), and has data compiled as far back as 1900. If we look in the 1910s and 1920s, we’ll see plenty of names that are very on-trend today: Hazel. Ruby. Grace. Evelyn. Are these the most popular girl names from the turn of the century or a roster of the class of 2040? The answer is yes and yes!
One of the best things about these “grandma names” — names from the early 1900s — is that many of them have potential for at least one, if not many, adorable nicknames. Giving your daughter a longer, more formal name lets her have the option of using it for professional or serious occasions, and a nickname gives a more casual, everyday feel (and plenty of personality to boot). So these names are perfect: full of old-timey charm, yet easily able to be modernized with a fresh-sounding diminutive.
Derived from an Old French name that means “star”, Estella was within the top 200 most popular girl names in 1900, making it a true vintage classic. It’s a pretty name that can be modernized with cute nicknames like Stella, Essie, Stellie, or Esti.
Lenora is actually a variant of Eleanor, meaning “shining light”. At the turn of the 20th century, it was just outside the top 200 most popular girl names. But what we love most about it are the nicknames: Leni and Nora!
In 1923 — exactly 100 years ago — Maxine was at its peak popularity, coming in at #76 out of the top 1000. The name is derived from the Latin maximus, meaning “the greatest” … but what’s the greatest about it are the nicknames Max and Maxie.
It isn’t hard to guess the meaning of Frances if you think about it: “from France”. But Frances is solid proof that a name doesn’t need a profound meaning to be wildly popular. It was in the top 10 most-used girl names from 1912-1921, and has experienced a remarkable rebound from its lowest point in 2007 at #828 to its current position in the low 400s. Nicknames for Frances include the equally old-fashioned Fran or Frannie … but we love the more on-trend option of Frankie.
Meaning “blessed” or “happy”, Beatrice enjoyed flourishing popularity in 1910, when it stood at #36 on the list of most popular girl names. Give it a modern update by using the nicknames Bea or Bebe.
Dorothy has experienced a major comeback in the last few years, jumping from the 900s back in 2012 to the top 500 currently. From 1920-1927, though, Dorothy was a real shining star, close to reigning the charts at #2. Meaning “gift of God”, it also bears the gift of adorable nicknames Dot and Dottie. And if you go with its alternate form Dorothea, you can add Thea to the list of diminutives.
Edith ranked #28 out of the top 1000 most popular girl names in 1916 and 1917. This demure grandma name comes from the Old English name Eadgyð, and actually has a fierce meaning: “fortunate in battle”. Know what else is fortunate? The nickname Edie!
In its heyday, Margaret — meaning “pearl” — was one of the darlings of the popularity chart, peaking at #3 from 1905-1911. But what’s impressive is the name’s longevity; it has never ranked under #200, and is in fact currently still in the 120s. Possibly even more impressive is that Margaret has a plethora of nicknames … Meg, Peggy, and Margie, to name a few. But Maggie and Greta are our favorites.
When it comes to the 100-Year Rule, we’re a bit ahead of the curve with Arlene; it was most popular in the 1930s, reaching the top 60. Its origins are unclear, but most sources agree that it’s a variation of names like Darlene and Marlene — much in the way that Emily became super popular, so people started using Emma instead. Whatever its roots, Arlene has some very cute nickname possibilities: Lena, Leni, or Arlie.
Comprised of two Old German elements, the name Bernadette roughly translates into “brave as a bear” — and we can’t decide whether that’s adorable or fearsome. This one isn’t exactly experiencing a resurgence in popularity just yet; as with Arlene, we’re a little early for the 100-Year Rule, since Bernadette reached its peak in the top 200 in the mid-1940s. As of right now, it’s actually out of the top 1000 most popular girl names altogether, making it a rare choice. But we couldn’t help but include it because of its perfect nicknames: Ettie or Bernie.
Matilda means “strong in battle” — and it’s currently fighting its way up the ranks of the popularity chart! In 1900, it ranked #161 out of the top 1000 most popular names. By 1964, it had fallen completely off the charts, and stayed there until 2008. Since then, it has experienced a steady rise toward the top, and at last count was nearly up to the 300s! It helps that Matilda has such cute nicknames: Mattie, Tillie, or — like Kaley Cuoco and Tom Pelphrey’s baby daughter — Tildy.
Derived from the Latin vivus, which means alive — and in terms of popularity, Vivian is not only alive, but thriving again! It follows the 100-Year Rule almost exactly; in 1923 it was the 69th most popular girl’s name. By 1977 it had fallen to the bottom half of the chart, but at last count, it was just a smidge under top 100 status! Viv, Vivi, Vi, and Via are all nickname potentials.
At the turn of the century, Mabel (which has the sweetest meaning ever: “lovable”) was in the top 25 most popular names for girls — but when it fell, it fell hard, and by 1964 was completely out of the top 1000. Fast-forward to 2013 when it reappeared at #711, and it has risen exponentially in popularity since then. At last count, it was hovering right around the top 300. Nickname possibilities for this vintage gem include Mae, Maeby, and Belle.
Edwina is, of course, the female form of Edwin, and it has an interesting meaning: “rich friend”. It hasn’t been within the top 1000 since falling off the chart in 1969, but during its heyday in the 1930s and 40s, it was within the top 400. Which means it’s a little ahead of the 100-Year Rule … but its time is coming. Last year, 9 baby girls were given the name Edwina, as opposed to zero the year before. And with nicknames as adorable as Edie, Eddi, and Winnie, why shouldn’t it be poised for a comeback?
Just over a hundred years ago, Louise was in the top 20 — a darling in the baby. naming world. It came dangerously close to falling off the charts completely in 1990, when it squeaked by at #1000. But since 2016, it has made a slow and steady rise to its current position in the 600s. Its fierce meaning — “famous in battle” — seems almost at odds with its vintage charm. Speaking of charming, though, it has a few great nickname options such as Louie, Lulu, Lou, and Lula.
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