Classic baby names are a perpetual subject for discussion. This week Abby Sandel wondered in her Nameberry Nine column what makes a classic name, and Laura Wattenberg at The Baby Name Wizard shared her “magic formula” for turning classic names into pure gold (unfortunately her mathematical formula doesn’t work in Australia – either we don’t have a big enough population, or enough data, or both).
“Classic baby names” are a popular search term too, but it didn’t seem helpful to just write down a list of classic names. I sorted them into categories, so you can see what kind of classic each classic name is.
I counted as a classic any name which had charted in Australia for a century, never disappeared from the charts for more than a decade at a time, and never did so more than twice. After some experimentation, I found this was the most generous definition I could work with that didn’t become meaningless.
These classics have a very modern feel to them, because they are more popular now than they were a century ago, and didn’t experience a peak of popularity in the middle. Choose one of these, and you get a name that feels both traditional and up to date.
Up and Coming Classics
These classics are currently rising in popularity. It’s hard for a classic name to seem surprising or original, but these mostly manage to feel quite fresh. I think these classic names would make stylish choices – they’re names that we’re subconsciously primed to want more of.
- Lewis and Louis
Ready Steady Classics
Name nerds often talk about “timeless classics”, and these classic names are truly timeless. Their position has remained relatively stable, and over the course of the last century, they haven’t risen or fallen more than 250 places. I call them the Ready Steady Classics because they are maintaining a steady course, and ready to be used at any time. You can’t go wrong with a Ready Steady – they’re a very safe choice.
- Catherine and Katherine
These classic names have remained in use, yet haven’t become popular during the past century (the highest any has been is the very bottom of the Top 100). Choose one of these and you get a name which seems “normal”, but also slightly “unusual”. It’s a very attractive quality.
- Teresa and Theresa
- Vivian and Vivienne
- Lewis and Louis
The Faded Classics have fallen more than 250 places since they peaked in popularity, and are currently at their lowest ebb. Is that any reason to reject these names? Definitely not! A classic never goes out of style, and as many of these names have hit the bottom of their cycle, they may be about to turn things around, and begin climbing in popularity in a decade or two. Some of these classics manage to have a funky vintage feel.
- Geoffrey and Jeffrey
- Philip and Phillip
Under the Radar Classics
These classic names are not peaking, or rising, or fading, or maintaining a steady course. As a result, they may have escaped your attention. You may even be surprised to find some of these are classics. Don’t overlook them – these are all good names, and one of them may be perfect for you.
- Alan and Allan
- The most contemporary of the Contemporary Classics are Sophia and Lachlan, who have the largest gap between their current position and their position in the 1910s. Sophia is 315 places higher, while Lachlan has gained 188 places.
- The most up and coming of the Up and Coming Classics are Rosalie and Frank, who have risen highest in the last few years. Rosalie has risen 638 places since the mid-2000s, while Frank has risen 170 places.
- The steadiest of the Ready Steady Classics are Elizabeth and James. Elizabeth has remained within 32 places throughout the past century, while James has remained within just 15 places.
- The most underused of the Underused Classics are Estelle and Wesley. The highest Estelle has ever been is #222, and the highest Wesley has ever been is #165 – both in the 1920s.
- The most faded of the Faded Classics are Susan and Keith, who have fallen the most from their peak. Susan went from #1 in the 1950s to its current position of 0, while Keith went from #8 in the 1920s to its present position of 0.
NOTE: I can’t guarantee I have included every classic name. If you believe one is missing, let me know.
Question: What type of classic name do you like best?
Underused classic – 31%
Up and coming classic – 18%
Under the radar classic – 13%
Contemporary classic – 5%
Ready steady classic – 5%
Faded classics – 3%
None (classics are boring) – 3%
I can’t decide (I love so many) – 22%
(Painting shown is Springtime by the Australian artist Charles Conder – 1888)