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French pet form of Anne. It was in common use by the 18th century, not only in France and French-speaking countries, but in the English-speaking world, Central Europe, and Scandinavia. Annette sprang straight into the Top 100 in the 1930s; a famous namesake from this era was singer Annette Hanshaw, one of the most popular radio stars of the decade. The name peaked in the 1950s and ’60s at #41, perhaps inspired by 1950s Mousketeer Annette Funicello, who starred in teen beach movies in the 1960s. Two famous Australian namesakes are feminist and political activist Annette Cameron, and early 20th century swimming star Annette Kellermann. It would be easy to dismiss Annette as a tired 1950s name, but there’s still something sweet and elegant about it, and it doesn’t seem strange next to popular names like Annabelle, especially as French names like Estelle are gaining in favour. Annie and Nettie are the standard nicknames.
English surname from the town of Beverley in Yorkshire; in the Middle Ages one of the wealthiest towns in England, and a centre for pilgrimage with its own patron saint, John of Beverley. The town’s name is from the Old English for “beaver lake” or “beaver clearing”, as there were once beaver colonies in the nearby River Hull. Beverley has been used as a personal name since at least the 18th century, and from the beginning was given to both sexes, but mostly to boys. One of the reasons it became more common for girls in the 20th century could be silent film star Beverly Bayne (born Pearl, she used her middle name). Beverley has charted in Australia since the 1910s, the beginning of Beverly Bayne’s career, debuting at #321. It rocketed into the Top 100 in the 1930s, peaking in the 1940s at #13. By the 1950s it was #56, and it left the Top 100 in the 1960s, falling off the charts in the 1980s. Unisex-style surname names for girls are on trend, and Beverley is just Everley with a B, yet a comeback seems unlikely.
The common name for the widespread hardy shrubs; the plant name was later influenced by the word heath, as they grow on heathlands and moors. Heather is one of the symbols of Scotland, as it grows abundantly in the Highland hills. White heather is supposed to lucky, probably because it’s rare. Heather has been used as a girl’s name since at least the 17th century, but did not come into common use until the 19th, when flower names became fashionable. Heather was #128 in the 1900s and joined the Top 100 in the 1910s, peaking in the 1930s at #30. By the 1950s it was #47, and it left the Top 100 in the 1970s, leaving the charts altogether in 2010. The film Heathers gives it a dark edge, but the lovely Heather Jelly, played by Kerry Armstrong in SeaChange, brings a touch of suburban fantasy to it. It’s a flower name that’s strong and sensible rather than feminine and frilly, and might well appeal to a future generation.
Variant of Gill, short for Gillian, an English feminine form of Julian which dates to the Middle Ages. It’s perhaps most famous as the heroine of the old nursery rhyme, the girl who comes tumbling down the hill after Jack. At one time, Jill was used to mean any young girl or sweetheart (just as Jack meant any lad). It didn’t become common as an independent name until the 19th century – I wonder if that’s because it’s when Jack and Jill became widely published? Attractive fictional Jills include brave Jill Pole in the Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis, and P.G. Wodehouse’s flapper-era Jill the Reckless. A more modern example is tough heroine Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil game franchise. Jill entered the charts in the 1920s at #171, and was in the Top 100 by the 1930s at #45, which was also its peak. It was #73 by the 1950s, and left the Top 100 in the 1960s, leaving the charts in the 1990s. Vintage short forms like Tess, Nell and Mae are in vogue, and there seems no convincing reason why spunky Jill could not be used.
In the Old Testament, Judith is a beautiful widow who saved her people by seducing an enemy general of the Assyrians and decapitating him while he was drunk. The Book of Judith doesn’t fit any historical facts, and so is accepted as a parable or religious fiction; however, it has been a popular subject in literature, art, and music. There’s another Judith in the Bible – one of the wives of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Judith is the feminine form of the Hebrew name Judah, meaning “praise”. It has been in use since the Middle Ages and was traditional among European nobility and royalty. An early celebrity baby was Judith Shakespeare, the Bard’s daughter, and twin sister of Hamnet. Famous Australian namesakes include actress Dame Judith Anderson, poet Judith Wright, singer Judith Durham, and comedian Judith Lucy. Judith entered the charts in the 1910s at #248, and was in the Top 100 by the 1920s. It peaked in the 1940s at #3, and by the 1950s was #8; it left the Top 100 in the 1970s, and the charts in the 1990s. Mature and substantial, Judith seems almost ready for a comeback, and the nickname Jude is positively cool.
From the French name Léonie, feminine form of the Latin name Leonius. It can be seen as a feminine form of Leo, with the same meaning of “lion”. In use since at least the 18th century, it soon spread to the English-speaking world as well as Central Europe; it is still popular in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Famous Australian namesakes include distinguished academic Dame Leonie Kramer, senior journalist Leonie Wood, and actress Leonie “Noni” Hazlehurst; it’s also the name of Chris Hemsworth’s mother. Leonie entered the charts in the 1910s at #338 and was in the Top 100 by the 1940s. It peaked in the 1950s at #55, left the Top 100 in the 1970s, and was off the charts by the early 2000s. This is a 1950s name that still sounds pretty and elegant, fits in with the trend for animal names, and has the advantage of never being highly popular.
Originally a Latinised short form of medieval Germanic names such as Sieglinde, or short for names such as Irmilinda; in these cases, the -linde or -linda meant “soft, tender”. However in the modern era, Linda is given because of the Spanish word linda, meaning “pretty”. Linda has been used as a personal name in Spain since perhaps the 17th century, and spread to other countries. The 19th century opera Linda di Chamounix by Donizetti helped popularise it in the English-speaking world, and Nancy Mitford’s novel The Pursuit of Love, with beautiful Linda Radlett as its focus, has some plot elements in common with the romantic opera. Linda was #53 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1920, sinking to #189 in the 1930s. It returned in the 1940s and was #24 in the 1950s, peaking at #12 in 1963. Linda left the Top 100 in the early 1980s, falling after Alice Lynn “Lindy” Chamberlain was falsely convicted of her daughter’s death, and hasn’t charted since 2009. Linda is a classic with a lovely sound and meaning which now feels dated, along with its ‘sixties sisters Melinda and Belinda. Although it does not sound that odd next to today’s Lilys and Laylas, most will probably believe it needs a rest before rediscovery.
Anglicised form of the Irish name Máirín, a pet form of Máire, the Irish form of Mary. A modern name, Maureen came into common use in the 19th century, with significant use in Ireland. Maureen joined the charts in the 1910s at #271, and was in the Top 100 by the 1930s, when Irish-American film star Maureen O’Sullivan, who played Jane in several Tarzan films, married Australian-born film director John Farrow. The name peaked in the 1940s at #18, when gorgeous Irish-American actress Maureen O’Hara was starring in such films as How Green Was My Valley and Miracle on 34th Street. By the 1950s it was #42, and by the 1960s had left the Top 100; it hasn’t charted since the 1980s. It may not be currently fashionable, but Maureen does not seem horribly old-fashioned, as there are so many contemporary and even rather hip namesakes. Who could forget Maureen “Mo” Tucker from The Velvet Underground, or writer and activist Maureen Duffy? Bisexual performance artist Maureen Robinson from the musical Rent shares her name with a time-evading mama in the sci-fi Future History series by Robert Heinlein. Another generation might find Maureen strong and attractive, and even now it could appear clunky and cool.
English form of the Hebrew name Susanna, meaning “lily”; it has been in use since the Middle Ages. Famous Australian namesakes include Justice of the High Court Susan Kiefer; socialite Lady Susan Renouf; long distance swimmer Susan “Susie” Maroney; and Susan Cullen-Ward, who became Queen Susan of Albania. Susan was #149 in the 1900s, and was in the Top 100 by the 1940s, peaking as the #1 name of the 1950s; the name’s popularity was influenced by Hollywood star Susan Hayward. It left the Top 100 in the 1980s, and last charted in 2010. Susan was a favourite name in children’s fiction, so you might have grown up with Susan Pevensie in the Chronicles of Narnia, Susan Walker in Swallows and Amazons, Susan Garland from The Country Child, Little Friend Susan from Milly-Molly-Mandy, Susan from The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, or Susan from Worzel Gummidge. This is a charming classic which has suffered from being a mid-century #1 now at the ebb of its cycle, leading to much hand-wringing. Depending on your point of view, you will either think it’s too dated and needs more time before it feels fresh again, or can see that choosing Susan will put you way ahead of the curve when ‘fifties names make a comeback.
Ultimately the feminine form of the medieval Germanic name Ivo, thought to be a short form of names beginning with Iv-, meaning “yew”. Because yew wood is used to make bows, the name can be glossed as “bowman, archer”. In French, the name became Yves, hence Yvonne. Although introduced to England by the Normans, the name died out and only became common again in the 19th century. Famous Australian namesakes include opera singers Yvonne Minton and Yvonne Kenny, and rugby league commentator Yvonne Sampson, but the most famous is tennis champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley, one of the great players of the 1970s and ’80s. Yvonne joined the charts in the 1910s at #165 and was in the Top 100 by the following decade. It peaked in the 1930s at #26 and by the 1950s by #68. It left the Top 100 in the 1970s and hasn’t charted since the early 2000s. Yvonne seems dated, except that the strong V sound is still on trend, and popular Evie could be used as the nickname. I see baby girls with names like Evanne, Yvanna and Yvaine, so it feels more like a name that has evolved rather than simply gone out of use.
The public’s favourite 1950s names were Leonie, Annette and Heather, and their least favourites were Linda, Maureen and Beverley.
(Picture of 1950s model from an exhibition of Melbourne fashion photography by Athol Shmith held at the National Gallery of Victoria).