Baby Names: Comparing the 1890s to Today

Victorian baby

Baby Names: Comparing the 1890s to Today

The choice of baby names is vitally important to any parent.  And such a big decision it is!  The pupils taking the eighth grade exit exam in 1910 would have been born around 1896. What names would have appeared on their classrooms’ rolls, and how do those names compare to today?

Then and Now

What baby names did these parents consider?
What baby names did these parents consider?

The most popular names for girls in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration, were Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Isabella, Ava, Mia, Emily, Abigail, Madison and Charlotte.

For boys, it was Noah, Liam, Mason, Jacob, William, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, James and Daniel.

There was no Social Security Administration in 1890, but the SSA does have a record of the 200 most popular names of the 1890s, based on Social Security applications made in the 1930s.

During the 1890s, the top girls names were Mary, Anne, Margaret, Helen, Elizabeth, Ruth, Florence, Ethel, Emma and Marie.

For boys, it was John, William, James, George, Charles, Joseph, Frank, Robert, Edward and Henry.

Only Emma and James have survived the test of time.

Names that Would Make Our Ancestors Say, “HUH?”

Victorian baby
Victorian baby

Our ancestors would certainly be surprised by the top 200 names of the 2000s.

Madison, Taylor, Avery, Kennedy, Peyton, Reagan and Delaney were surnames in 1890, not girls names.

They would have been confused by the gender of girls named Mackenzie, Addison, Kimberly, Shelby, and Kelsey. Those were male names in the 1890s.

Newfangled names like Destiny, Makalya, Autumn, Neveah, Aaliyah, Sierra, Cheyenne, Summer, Rylee, Skylar, Genesis, and Alondra also would have made our ancestors shake their heads.

The boys list would not have been nearly as shocking. Although names like Jayden, Chase, Cole, Brayden, Kaden, Dakota, Gage, Brody, Colby and Bryson probably would have made our ancestors throw up their hands.

Baby Names that Make Us Say, “What Were They Thinking?”

Edwardian mother and child
Edwardian mother and child pose for a formal portrait

It works both ways. There are many names that appear in the top 200 for the 1890s that parents today would never dream of naming their children.

You might be surprised to know that Bertha was 12th most popular name for girls. The name was forever ruined by the Big Bertha gun of World War I.

Other girls’ names you rarely hear bestowed on newborns today include Minnie (probably because of Minnie Mouse), Edna, Mabel, Ida, Hazel, Gertrude, Pearl, Myrtle, Edith, Nellie, Elsie, Mildred, Gladys, Alma, Stella, Beulah, Eunice and Fern.

Names you never hear given to boys anymore include Fred, Clarence, Earl, Elmer, Floyd, Claude, Clifford, Lester, Leroy, Dewey, Archie, Horace, Milton, Percy, Marion, Grover, Rufus, Wilbur, Sylvester, Adolph, Elbert, Alonzo, Cornelius, Reuben and Moses.

Some names would cause controversy today like Mamie, Fannie and Selma.

And some names popular in the 1890s you might not have realized even existed: Effie, Lottie, Orna, Eula, Essie, Flossie, Alta, Ola, and Ina.

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Update: 14 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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