Mid-Century Modern

June 26th, 2009


There’s something in the water.  

While I’ve had my eye on Bernard and Rosemary, other unlikely candidates such as Lois, CalvinJune and Theodore are popping up on baby name message boards with some frequency.  SJP chose Marion Loretta for one of her girls, and Appellation Mountain coincidentally featured Clyde, Marjorie, and Florence in the past three days.  Fellow blogger Onomastitrix calls her daughter Bonnie, among other things.  What do all these have in common, you ask?  

They were all top picks in the 1950s.  

Most will likely find these names tired.  Mother or even grandmother names, they’ve past their prime, hit middle age, and are for all intents and purposes, not ready for a comeback just yet.  However, they do have that coveted element of surprise.  They avert current conventions of “old-lady-chic” or newly coined cutesy names.  

The boys’ list represents a kind of geek chic.  The girls have rather a kitsch quality.

Below are some possibilities from the top 200 in 1950.  Their rank then and now are follow in parenthesis.  Maybe you can just honor your mother directly without altering it from Mary to Maren.



Anne (84, 499)

Barbara (4, 758)

Belinda (174, 747)

Betty (26, NR)

Beverly (31, NR)

Bonnie (33, NR)

Carmen (186, 262)

Claudia (126, 417)

Constance (85, NR)

Dolores (139, NR)

Diana (47, 137)

Dorothy (35, NR)

Edith (150, 806)

Eileen (91, 760)

Esther (162, 274)

Florence (190, NR)

Glenda (87, NR)

Gloria (31, 431)

Gwendolyn (113, 586)

Irene (92, 636)

Jacqueline (55, 152)

June (137, 863)

Lois (83, NR)

Loretta (120, NR)

Louise (109, NR)

Lucille (180, 615)

Marianne (192, NR)

Marion (198, NR)

Marjorie (121, NR)

Martha (32, 617)

Mary (2, 97)

Nancy (6, 379)

Paula (54, 681)

Priscilla (169, 416)

Regina (143, 688)

Roberta (96, NR)

Rosemary (101, 754)

Sally (78, NR)

Shirley (19, 911)

Susan (5, 712)

Vivian (138, 207)

Yolanda (179, NR)



Albert (55, 372)

Alfred (96, 787)

Arthur (46, 363)

Bernard (109, 940)

Bruce (26, 476)

Calvin (105, 228)

Clarence (95, 938)

Claude (177, NR)

Clyde (136, NR)

Frank (29, 278)

Frederick (75, 523)

George (20, 153)

Gilbert (144, 728)

Gordon (108, 946)

Gregory (25, 236)

Guy (179, NR)

Harold (45, 737)

Harvey (147, NR)

Howard (63, 903)

Jerome (103, 616)

Johnny (50, 246)

Kenneth (15, 136)

Kent (182, NR)

Lawrence (33, 427)

Leon (119, 502)

Lloyd (107, NR)

Louis (67, 351)

Paul (18, 155)

Philip (53, 378)

Ralph (52, 868)

Randolph (162, NR)

Raymond (31, 215)

Rex (196, 799)

Roger (27, 463)

Roy (51, 497)

Theodore (99, 297)

Timothy (32, 108)

Vernon (134, NR)

Wallace (198, NR)

Walter (40, 393)


Above: The Cygnet, a children’s replica of the 1958 Swan Chair by Arne Jacobsen

22 Responses to “Mid-Century Modern”

  1. appellationmountain Says:

    I think Betty could EXPLODE, along with Betsy. And Martha? Martha could be the new Hannah.

    Whenever someone suggests one of these names, I tend to think “really? No way would I name my kid Yolanda” and then, by the time I finish a post, think I want to have another kiddo just to use the name.

    Rosemary, btw, is our just-in-case-we-have-another-girl name.

  2. Zoe Says:

    Another one for the Boys’ Names list is Stanley.
    Great lists!

  3. Paul Says:

    I enjoy a substantial amount of these names!

  4. shay120 Says:

    Some of these I find dated no matter what, but these are nice,




























  5. Polly Says:

    I agree about Martha being the new Hannah. It could happen!

  6. Polly Says:

    I’m glad that you listed Louise. I’d like to use it, but I’m told time and again that it’s too much of a ‘Mother’ name and that Louisa is so much better. :(

  7. Pam Says:

    Interesting because some of these already sound stylish again — Edith, Louise, June, Frank, Rex, even Walter. And then there are names like Barbara, Eileen, Shirley, Jerome that I just think, No way.

    Some of these names do feel midcentury to me, meaning of the 50s — Barbara again, Paula, Susan, Kenneth — but others feel more like 30s names (or even earlier) that were on their way out by the 50s. I certainly never went to school in the 50s or 60s with a Clyde, an Albert, or even a Betty, which I think of as early 20th century.

  8. youcantcallitit Says:

    Pam, of course you are right about some of these names being well on their way down by the 1950s, but they were still in use. When I initially began the post, I wanted to focus on the broad swath of time that coincides with the period that was Mid-Century Modernism in design terms, that is 1933-1965. I chose a sort of median date of 1950 to cull names from. Admittedly, I did not translate that into the post.

    Oddly enough, I did go to school with an Albert– in the 1980s!

    I’m also adamant that Barbara, Jerome, and Shirley make a comeback. Barbara and Jerome have such noble histories, and Shirley is just too quirky not to. I think Pamela will come back to, but next generation. :-D

  9. ShellyOk Says:

    Last summer, I ran into a little girl named Shirley who was 2 or 3–I was really surprised by the name choice! She was super adorable!

    I like the boys list better than the girls. Many of the girls names still feel dated or boring to me. The only ones I would consider using are Irene, June, or Vivian. There are others I find appealing, but would not use.

    I like a lotof the names on the boys list. Names on my short list were Calvin, Gilbert, and Walter. Have been pondering Franklin lately. But lots on the boys list are great…and ripe for the picking..


  10. Christina Fonseca Says:

    I’ve always been partial to Diana, Gloria and Irene because they’re the same in English and Spanish. Their mythological and spiritual background make them practically international.

    Had I somehow ended up with 4+ girls Carmen would have been the middle name for one of them – it’s a good Catholic name mixed with operatic drama!

    Although several girls names mean “pretty” or “beautiful” Bonnie is my favorite of the bunch. I love the classic Anne with the final E, as well as Susan and most of her variants.

    Growing up I was not thrilled that my name was Nancy, but I never hated it either. I spent one semester in high school spelling it Nanci and got that out of my system. So why do I use Christina Fonseca? It was to be the name of the protagonist in the novel I was going to write someday. The novel became posts in baby name blogs. :-)

  11. Jane Says:

    A friend who is always waaaay ahead of name trends has been singing the praises of Martha for some time. I thought she was crazy, but maybe not… (She also rated the names Tabitha and Violet a long time before celebs used them.)

  12. Sarah (nfate) Says:

    Its my Dorothy and Theodore are tops for me!

  13. Patricia Says:

    I read June and thought, why not Jane? I looked for Jane’s popularity stats: peaked at 35 in 1946 and was 39 in 1950, with a current rank of 390. I love Jane! Such a classic and with spunk too. I’m always surprised that Jane isn’t being used more.

  14. youcantcallitit Says:

    Love Jane. Jane, Alice, and Edward were among some classics that fit here statistically, but that I prefer to group on other lists. Mostly just because I had to figure some way to cut down 400 names. Of course Anne, Mary, Paul, and Frederick are all equally eternal but somehow they made my arbitrary cut.

  15. Lola Says:

    Claudia’s the newest kiddo on my block, but of the girls, Edith & Florence are long time loves, Betty charms me (But I prefer Bess). From the boys, Arthur, Bruce, Clarence (nn Clancy), Frank (as a nickname for Francis), George, Louis ( I love Lou!)and Rex are all favorites in play for another boy. But I also love these:
    Claude – He’s grown on me a ton lately.
    Clyde – Seems pretty hip to me.
    Harold (Ah, Hal!)
    Johnny (as a nickname for stalwart John)
    Kenneth (beloved, yes, but aging beautifully!)
    Leon (I almost wish my Leo were in fact Leon)
    Philip – long my favorite classic
    Raymond – watching Ghostbusters again, realised how cool Ray is.

    So I’ll second whomever said the boys list feels more current than the girls. :)

  16. Olive Says:

    A few of these feel like classics to me (Anne, Claudia, Diana, Vivian). But many of the others have been on my radar lately, even though a couple of years ago I would have said no way. I love Dorothy, June, Lucille, Sally, Shirley–when you imagine these on little girls they transform into real possibilities. I would even add Betty and Judy to the list! For boys, I’ve always loved Gilbert, Leon and Theodore. Clarence, Ralph, Lois, Beverly and Roberta are forever banished from my radar however :)

  17. blissfully caffeinated Says:

    Where’s Stanley? :)

    I think the boy’s names have more potential than the girl’s names. I like Martha and Vivian, though. Cute and fun.

  18. youcantcallitit Says:

    Stanley’s on the as-yet-to-be-written “Wait Another Generation” post. ;-)

  19. Mookie ~Naming By Numbers~ Says:

    This is wonderful! In my class in high school, I actually have a classmate named Constance. She’s called Connie, and she has a twin named Sienna. At first I thought, “That’s a really rare name!” And now I like it more and more!

    A few months ago, I actually met twin girls named Gloria and June — I just HAD to compliment the mother on her naming skills! The girls also had an older sister named Sylvia, and I just about fainted. I love traditional names, and it flabberghasted me to see these little girls under the age of 7 with these “old” names on them! It was certainly a breath of fresh air.

    At this moment, I love Priscilla and Gregory. They’re almost on my name list, if only I could find some other names to throw out! My list also includes Caroline, Isadora, Romilly, Adriana, Evangeline, Shelby, and Hazel, among others, for my girls, with James, Bennett, Nicholas, Joel, Percival, Harrison, Tiernan, Ciaran, Sullivan, Dennis, Mitchell, and Levi for my boys.

  20. Taz Says:

    Does Annette fit into this list somehow? It’s on my list and has a 50′s feel. I love it, but it seems to remind everyone of that generation of the Mickey Mouse Club/beach party films, both references that don’t bother me- I find them kind of cute plus it’s not like they would come up on the playground!

  21. Ophelia Says:

    Ironically, Lois and Vernon are the names of my grandparents on my mom’s side of the family. I have always thought about using these to honor my grandparents-though I would use Lois in the middle, as a sibset of Lois and Vernon would be a little weird.

  22. Jane Says:

    I just met a little boy named Fred – LOVE it! So unexpected on a child. Even better, I told my husband and he liked it too – one of the few names that we have been able to agree on :)

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