If you've studied American history (or if you've seen The Great Gatsby and Chicago), you know that the '20s were an exciting era for the country. Cars replaced horse-drawn carriages. Newfangled chain stores and electric appliances made home life easier. Women traded corsets and pompadours for liberating short skirts and bobbed hair as they claimed the right to vote and entered the workplace. Folks turned on their new radios, danced the Charleston and cakewalk, and went to clubs to hear the hottest jazz bands. Even the most popular baby names of the '20s had a certain flair to them.
And while we can't overlook the less-savory aspects of the decade — the stock market crash, Prohibition, racial issues, immigration quotas, and the unrest in Europe — the '20s still retain enough of their glamour to intrigue those of us who wonder what it was like to live in the Jazz Age.
Now that vintage baby names are making a comeback, it's time to take another look at some of the classic-and-cool names from nearly a century ago. Some names that were hot back then are classics that will endure another 100 years (Andrew, Thomas, John, Anne, Katherine). Others probably will stay out of fashion (sorry about that, Cecil and Myrtle). But these 25 names that were of the most popular of the decade, according to the Social Security Administration, are definitely worth putting on your list.
I picked (ha!) this floral name for the top of the list because it was my grandmother's (and because I was named for her). Rose was the 24th most popular name of the '20s, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), and no wonder: Like the flower, it's beautiful and sweet.
I don't know why this name ever fell out of favor to begin with. This Scottish/Irish name means "born of fire" and "handsome," according to Nameberry, and was the 19th most popular name of the decade — but only the 218th last year. You might shorten the name to Ken, if you have fond memories of your Barbie Dream House, but the full version has a nobility that's hard to beat.
Although this name has been out of vogue for a while, it was hotter than a jazz session all through the '20s, holding on to the #2 position and staying in the top 10 right through the '30s, per the SSA. I'd say a revival is long past due. Dorothy, meaning "gift of God," comes from the Greek name Dorothea, which is a beautiful alternative.
Frank-ly, my dear, I think this is another highly underrated name. While it was the 12th most-popular name of the Roaring '20s, it only came in at #373 last year, Nameberry reported. Short for Francis or Franklin, it's a German name meaning "Frenchman" or "free man." Not sold yet? Mr. Sinatra might convince you otherwise.
This Latin name meaning "she who brings happiness" was the moniker of nearly 50,000 girls in the '20s. Soft-sounding without being cutesy, it's been used by everyone from Shakespeare in As You Like It to Beverly Cleary in her Ramona series (remember - Beezus was Ramona's way of pronouncing her sister Beatrice's name!). It's high time it came back in vogue.
No doubt building on the popularity of President Roosevelt, Theodore took the #64 spot during the '20s. It later became more associated with a certain chubby animated chipmunk, but it's time to bring this name back to the front of the baby-name line. The name, which is Greek for "gift of God," can be shortened to Teddy or Ted for a newborn, and Theo is an adorable variation for a young boy.
This regal French name came to England courtesy of 12th-century Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was named after her mother Aenor. It's seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years — it was #29 in the twenties and #37 in Nameberry's ranking — but it still doesn't seem to be dominating the pre-K classroom lists. You can shorten it to Ellie or Nell, which are equally adorable.
Does auburn hair run in your family? If you're expecting a boy, this French name is right up your alley; Russell means "red-headed" or "fox-colored." Classic without being stuffy, the name can be shortened to Russ - but your little guy might just insist on sticking with the full version.
Another name as pretty as the object it describes. Ruby is gaining in popularity, with Nameberry listing it as #79 in 2017. Like most good vintage names, it sounds as nice for a newborn as it does for a teen or young woman.
I don't know why this wonderful and oh-so-strong name (it means "dominant ruler") ever became unpopular. It held the #8 spot in the '20s, but it's not even among the top 100 today; are parents still associating it with Richard Nixon? Whatever the reason, it's due for a comeback. Nameberry predicted that when Richard does become popular again, parents won't use nicknames. Probably just as well. You don't want your kid hating you for naming him Dick.
Elegant and vintage without sounding too dated, this popular '20s name runs in both sides of my husband's family, so I have a special fondness for it. According to Nameberry, Genevieve is French and means "tribe woman." It's also the name of the patron saint of Paris, who defended the city against Attila the Hun through the power of prayer - so your little Genny might just inherit the courage and faith of her namesake!
Although Charles was the 5th most popular name of the '20s, more than 25,000 additional Charlies were born that decade — perhaps as a tribute to beloved screen star Charlie Chaplin. It's also happens to be gaining popularity as a girl's name, either alone or as a nickname for Charlotte.
Made famous a century ago by the actress Irene Dunne, this name stayed in the top 20 throughout the decade, and according to Nameberry, remained in the top 100 until 1945. It's fallen way out of favor since then, which makes it ripe for a return. Irene means "peace," which is reason enough to choose it. You can also use the original Greek spelling - Eirene - which looks totally 21st-century.
Another super-strong name (it comes from the German for "famous warrior"), Roger stayed in the top 100 in the '20s, but has dropped to #625 today. With namesakes like Roger Federer and Roger Moore, why not put this on your baby name list?
I love Lucy — and a growing number of parents do, too. After a serious slump from the '60s to the early 2000s, Lucy is actually more popular now than it was back in the Twenties. Nameberry reported that it held the #52 spot in 2017, and it's even trendier in the U.K. Meaning "light," Lucy is associated with strong personalities like Lucy Liu and the Peanuts character, as well as with the iconic wacky redhead. You could also go with Lucille, which was the #38 choice of Jazz Age parents.
Meaning "peaceful ruler" (a much-needed ideal right now, isn't it?) Frederick ranked a solid #63 in the '20s. It's in a popularity abyss right now, according to Nameberry, but parents are beginning to list it as "a strong classic." If, like me, you're a theatre buff, you might choose it as an homage to characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It or Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance.
Too sweet — and definitely not an old-lady name any more. The Greek name was #153 in the '20s, but, according to Nameberry, it's zoomed its way up to the #83 spot. Looking for a longer version? Cora can also be used as a nickname for both Coraline and Cordelia.
Another noble-warrior name, Gerald comes from the English/Irish word for "ruler with the spear." It was solidly in the top 50 back in the '20s, but now you have to search hard to find a Gerald in an American nursery. It ranked just #824 last year, according to Nameberry. I think it's time to give this one a new life. Besides, "Ger" is a cute nickname for a toddler.
Ruth was a red-hot #6 in the '20s, but it's not quite as trendy today; last year, it ranked #276, according to Nameberry. With the resurgence of Biblical names, Ruth is one that deserves to take its place alongside all the Rachels and Sarahs. If you recall from Sunday school, Ruth was the kind woman who chose to leave her people and stay with her elderly mother-in-law (the name in Hebrew means "compassionate friend"). It's also the name of accomplished Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This top 100 name from the '20s is, surprisingly, holding its own today. Last year, Calvin ranked #127 in popularity, according to Nameberry. You might not want to choose it for its meaning (it comes from the Latin for...um..."bald"), but for its cool associations: Calvin Klein, Calvin O'Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time, Snoop Dogg (nee Calvin Broadus, Jr.), and my personal favorite: the precocious hero of Calvin & Hobbes.
Nearly 40,000 girls owned this name (from the Greek for "pure") a century ago, but you don't find it much in baby announcements today, which is a shame. Still, Nameberry has said that it could be time for an Agnes revival, thanks to the adorable orphan Agnes in Despicable Me. The nickname, Aggie, sounds current enough not to be out of place in a playground today.
Do you love horseback riding and rereading your copy of Black Beauty? Then you'll be interested to know that this French name - ranked #178 in the '20s - means "one who looks after horses." You might also choose it if you live for reruns of How I Met Your Mother, or if you're a fan of Eminem (real name: Marshall Mathers).
Giving girls a traditionally boy's name is nothing new - the SSA list of top names of the '20s includes not only Billie (#139 for the decade), but also Willie and Johnnie! Back in the 1880s, according to Nameberry, Billie was exclusively a boy's name, but within 10 years, more than half of new Billies were girls — and the trend continued to grow over the years. Feminine and boyish at the same time, it's a great choice if you're not into overly flowery names.
Want to give your son the 135th most popular name of the 20's? Wesley, meaning "western meadow," has a cool cowboy-esque vibe. It's not as popular now as it was in the '70s, Nameberry reported, so there's no fear that your child will suffer the "Everyone in School Has My Name" fate. Better still, give a nod to The Princess Bride and spell it Westley — as you wish!
Bessie, a variation of the more traditional Elizabeth, was solidly in the top 100 back in the '20s. Alas, times do change, and as the name became associated with farm animals, Bessie's popularity plummeted to an abysmal low by 1970. Unlike some unfashionable names of the era, however, this one seems like it has potential for new life. It's vintage-sounding and sweet without being pretentious. Or take off the last syllable, and Bess is even more charming!