The 100-Year Rule: Top Baby Names from 100 Years Ago

In the baby-naming world, there’s a traditional 100-Year Rule that says a name takes 100 years to cycle from trendy to overused to old-fashioned to cool again. (So maybe Jessica will be back in style in 2093?)

The rule isn’t an exact science, of course, but it’s undeniable that “old-fashioned” grandma and grandpa names are now considered “hipster” — or at least “hip.” Names like Henry, Grace, Lillian, and Max are climbing toward the top of today’s charts.

But are there any names we’re overlooking? Are there some 100-year-old names worthy of a comeback?

Take a look at the most popular names from 100 years ago…

  • Top Baby Names from 100 Years Ago

    Top Baby Names from 100 Years Ago

    Here are the top baby names from 1913, as collected by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

  • Girls

    Girls

    Let’s start with the little ladies, shall we? Here you’ll find some current trendy favorites (like Alice and Ruby) and others that still have a dusty image.

  • #1: Mary

    #1: Mary

    Current Ranking: #123

    Still hanging around in the Top 150, Mary was the #1 baby name for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. Including the year 1913.

  • #2: Helen

    #2: Helen

    Current Ranking: #402

    Although Helen dropped out of the Top 100 in the 1950s, it’s one of those old-lady names that’s starting to make a comeback. It has a classic appeal, an ancient history, and a lovely meaning: “bright, shining one.”

  • #3: Dorothy

    #3: Dorothy

    Current Ranking: #922

    Dorothy was a turn-of-the-century Darling — claiming a Top 10 spot for 35 years. And we’ve clearly seen the evolution of the name: first as the fresh-faced icon of a 1930s generation in The Wizard of Oz, which eventually led to a Golden Girl image 50 years later. But Dorothy is finally back in the Top 1,000, which begs: Is Dorothy ready for a revival?

  • #4: Margaret

    #4: Margaret

    Current Ranking: #178

    Margaret was a Top 25 baby name from 1880 (when the SSA first started collecting name data) to 1957, when it was replaced with trendier names like Linda, Susan, and Debra. It’s spawned countless offspring — Meg, Maggie, Megan, Madge, Rita, etc. — but a new wave of baby namers are reconsidering the original strong and classic Margaret.

  • #5: Ruth

    #5: Ruth

    Current Ranking: #344

    Finally ready to shake its candy bar association?

  • #6: Mildred

    #6: Mildred

    Current Ranking: (not currently ranking)

    As much as old-fashioned grannie names are making a comeback, and as cute as the nickname “Millie” is, Mildred somehow developed an air of sarcasm. “Oh Mildred!”, you can hear in a mocking way. Maybe this one needs another 50 years.

  • #7: Anna

    #7: Anna

    Current Ranking: #35

    Anna has been a dominating name for, clearly, over 100 years. It was #2 back in 1880, and still held strong at #22 120 years later. It slipped out of the Top 25 in 2008, but it’s still a classic, feminine choice that is truly timeless.

  • #8: Elizabeth

    #8: Elizabeth

    Current Ranking: #10

    Elizabeth might be the most classically popular baby name in U.S. history — ranking in the Top 25 EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 1880 except for one: 1945. (But in 1945, Betty was #11, which is a diminutive of Elizabeth.)

  • #9: Frances

    #9: Frances

    Current Ranking: #764

    Here’s a true 100-year cycle contender, considering Frances was very popular in the first half of the 1900s and then dropped out of fashion in the 1940s. Kate Spade has a little Frances, and actress Amanda Peet chose the nickname “Frankie” for her daughter Frances. It has all the makings for a revival.

  • #10: Marie

    #10: Marie

    Current Ranking: #576

    And here’s a perfect example of the 100-Year Rule not working, considering Marie is still in that “overused” phase of the cycle. Probably because Marie moved from a popular first name to a very popular middle name for 70s/80s/90s babies.

  • #11: Alice

    #11: Alice

    Current Ranking: #127

    Alice has been quickly climbing the charts lately (possibly in part to Tina Fey’s first daughter?), and it’s not just here in the U.S. Alice is the most popular name in Sweden, it’s in the Top 10 in Italy, and the Top 50 in England, France, Australia, and Belgium.

  • #12: Evelyn

    #12: Evelyn

    Current Ranking: #27

    Another perfect hundred-year example, Evelyn sounds modern (following the Eva/Avery trend, as well as trendy -lyn names), but it’s definitely a revived classic.

  • #13: Florence

    #13: Florence

    Current Ranking: (not currently ranked)

    Florence was in the Top 10 from 1886 to 1906, but fell out of the Top 1,000 in the 80s. Yet it’s quietly making a comeback, especially in the “hip” neighborhoods, and the popular UK group “Florence + The Machine” might be helping. In fact, the name Florence is hanging outside the Top 50 in the UK right now.

  • #14: Rose

    #14: Rose

    Current Ranking: #261

    Yet if we were ranking middle names, Rose would have to be in the Top 10.

  • #15: Virginia

    #15: Virginia

    Current Ranking: #579

    Considering place names are currently trendy — as are old-fashioned granny names — it seems like the long-neglected Virginia could be due for a comeback. What do you think?

  • #16: Lillian

    #16: Lillian

    Current Ranking: #25

    Lillian — a classic 1900s name that was actually the name of my Nana — is now at its highest ranking since the 1920s. If that’s not a 100-year revival, I don’t know what is.

  • #17: Louise

    #17: Louise

    Current Ranking: (not ranking)

    Although Louisa might have more modern potential, Louise has a chic image that’s currently stylish in Paris.

  • #18: Edna

    #18: Edna

    Current Ranking: (not currently ranking)

    Is there any reason why Emma, Ella, and Etta are more attractive than Edna? Probably not, but it somehow fell through the cracks throughout these last 100 years — and might stay down there for another 100 years.

  • #19: Gladys

    #19: Gladys

    Current Ranking: (not currently ranking)

    Another 100-year-old name that just isn’t revival ready.

  • #20: Ethel

    #20: Ethel

    Current Ranking: (not currently ranking)

    Although Ethel had a distinguished height in the early 1900s — ranking in the Top 100 until 1939 — it still carries a bit of an Ethel Mertz image. But with I Love Lucy fading into TV history, and with Lily Allen’s recent baby Ethel, maybe the soft-sounding name (meaning “noble maiden) will be revived after all.

  • More Top 50 Girl Names from 1913

    More Top 50 Girl Names from 1913

    Here are more modernly attractive baby names from 100 years ago: Grace, Josephine, Catherine, Hazel, Eleanor, Clara, Beatrice, Emma, Elsie, Bessie, and Eva.

  • Boys

    Boys

    And next up, the little gentlemen…

  • #1: John

    #1: John

    Current Ranking: #28

    A timeless name steeped in history, this is actually the lowest the name John has ranked ever. And it’s still in the Top 30.

  • #2: William

    #2: William

    Current Ranking: #5

    According to Nameberry.com, William has been second only to John as the most popular name in the English-speaking world for the last 400 years. And it’s still holding strong at an impressive #5. Like a few other names on this list, it can’t be revived because it never died off.

  • #3: James

    #3: James

    Current Ranking: #14

    James has been around forever, and yet it’s still as fashionable as ever — maybe more so. It’s historic, biblical, presidential, and still very much “in”.

  • #4: Robert

    #4: Robert

    Current Ranking: #61

    Robert enjoyed such a long run in the Top 25 spotlight (a full century), so it might need more time to get fashionable again. Even though it’s still pretty popular at #61, it’s used more for family reasons than style.

  • #5: Joseph

    #5: Joseph

    Current Ranking: #20

    And yet another name that’s so classic that it doesn’t require much of a revival.

  • #6: George

    #6: George

    Current Ranking: #166

    Now here’s a better example of the 100-year rule, probably because George started to fall out of fashion in the 50s — unlike the other classic boy names that have stayed in the Top 50 right up to present day. George has strength, character, and an undeniable friendliness. Ready for a comeback.

  • #7: Charles

    #7: Charles

    Current ranking: #62

    After dipping from the Top 10 ranks in the 1960s, Charles is starting to be brought back to life — from trendy TV characters (Gossip Girl) to celebrity babies (Jodie Foster, Russell Crowe). Friendly “Charlie” is an appealing draw for modern parents looking for both style and substance.

  • #8: Edward

    #8: Edward

    Current Ranking: #157

    Sometimes it takes 100 years, and other times it takes a mega cult-following trilogy like Twilight. Either way, Edward is modernly stylish once again.

  • #9: Frank

    #9: Frank

    Current ranking: #319

    On the surface, Frank has an old-timey grandpa feel. (It dropped in popularity shortly after 1913.) And yet it’s experiencing the beginning of a hipster revival — maybe because of Sinatra or Zappa? Elvis Costello has a little Frank.

  • #10: Thomas

    #10: Thomas

    Current Ranking: #63

    Thomas — like John and William — is a classic name that’s proven itself to be timeless.

  • #11: Walter

    #11: Walter

    Current Ranking: #376

    If you would have suggested the name Walter 10 years ago, you most certainly would have gotten the side eye. Yet it’s kind of fallen into that ready-for-a-revival camp, where it can either linger (i.e. Felix) or flourish (i.e. Henry).

  • #12: Henry

    #12: Henry

    Current ranking: #43

    Speaking of Henry, this is the highest ranking this old-timey name has seen since 1956. Henry is the epitome of a vintage revival — and in some neighborhoods, baby Henrys are everywhere.

  • #13: Harold

    #13: Harold

    Current Ranking: #836

    You don’t immediately picture a baby with the name Harold, but there’s no reason this name shouldn’t come back into fashion (Harold’s Purple Crayon, anyone?). Will Harold see a comeback?

  • #14: Paul

    #14: Paul

    Current Ranking: #193

    While Paul isn’t exactly fashionable right now, it’s holding pretty strong in the Top 200.

  • #15: Harry

    #15: Harry

    Current Ranking: #718

    It took a little less than 100 years for Harry to transform back into a little kid name, after the birth of Prince Harry and then the birth of Harry Potter. Of course the name is much more popular in England/Ireland/Scotland than the U.S., but it could easily be the next Henry-like sensation on this side of the pond.

  • #16: Albert

    #16: Albert

    Current Ranking: #401

    Albert is an interesting name to me — maybe because it’s my Dad’s name. But there isn’t any reason why George or Henry should be fashionable hipster picks, but Albert isn’t. Albert was stylish for over 80 years and has some pretty high-profile examples (i.e. Einstein) — yet despite this, and despite the Al and Bert nickname choices, it’s more “out” than “in”.

  • #17: Arthur

    #17: Arthur

    Current ranking: #355

    Arthur is much more likely to catch on than Albert, considering it’s already popping up in a new generation of babies. It dropped out of the Top 20 in 1927, so its return might not be too far in the future.

  • #18: Raymond

    #18: Raymond

    Current Ranking: #249

    I wouldn’t say that Raymond is on the upswing just yet, but it’s starting to peek back into the baby name world — mostly because of the cool-kid nickname “Ray”.

  • #19: Richard

    #19: Richard

    Current Ranking: #124

    Like Raymond, Richard isn’t back in style just yet (the nicknames for Richard don’t help), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a popularity surge in the next decade or so.

  • #20: Louis

    #20: Louis

    Current Ranking: #312

    Here’s another one that could easily be due for a comeback.

  • More Top 50 Boy Names from 1913

    More Top 50 Boy Names from 1913

    Here are more modernly attractive baby names from 100 years ago: Clarence, Ralph, Fred, Jack, Samuel, Alfred, Leo, and Frederick.

All baby name info. from Social Security Online and Nameberry.com.

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