- Family and Parenting
Old-Fashioned Baby Names
Old-Fashioned Baby Names
Are you looking for an unusual name for a baby, but don't want to follow the current trends? Why not look to the past for names? Some of the names listed below are classic names, commonly used once upon a time, but which have fallen out of fashion. Others are misspellings or mispronunciations of more common names. And some may have even been one-of-a-kind creations.
While I have occasionally had to guess at the gender of a person based solely on their name, in most cases I did know the gender of the original owner; you may therefore be surprised to see that some boys' names are now girls' names, and vice versa. Where it's uncommon to see a name used to its original gender (such as "Leslie" for a boy), I have included it, even if, on the surface, it is a common modern name.
A growing modern trend is to give children last names as first names. While some people frown on this, people are actually (in most cases, unknowingly) reaching very far back into history, when last names were often first names. For instance, the Irish last name "O'Reilly" literally means "descendent of Reilly"--which means Reilly was once a first name-just as MacDonalds are all supposedly descended from a man named "Donald," and "Thompson" is a mispronunciation of, literally, "Thomas's son." Not all last names were first names, however: Tidwell, for instance, is a place in England (Tideswell), while Smith was an occupation. Still, there are many last names which can legitimately be reverted back to use as a first name.
It must also be remembered that the original purpose of a middle name was to preserve a woman's maiden name, and there used to be social conventions about who got whose maiden name. The mother's maiden name was used as the first child's middle name, with little regard to whether it was a girl or boy (it being a last name, it was pretty gender-neutral anyway). Next came the father's mother's name, followed by the mother's mother's name and further back, if you cared to.
You'll also note that a few names are historically famous, but not as first names to common people. Ulysses, which is the Latinization of the Greek name of Odysseus, was not an uncommon name during the Civil War period, although it's hard to say if General Grant started the trend or was just one of many unrelated Ulysseses. Roosevelt, however, is a case of a last name being converted into a first name, no doubt to honor one (or both) former presidents.
I gleaned these names from medieval history, early American history, American Civil War history, the "Foxfire" book series (late 19th-early 20th century rural Appalachia), my own genealogical records, gravestones, and other sources as I encounter them.
P.S. These names are not terribly common in America; they may, however, be extremely popular in other countries.
Alan (alt. Allen)
Archibald (Archy or Archie)
Blake (or Blakely)
Canute (pronounced Cuh-noot)
Devereaux (pronounced "Dev-uh-roe")
Dugall (or Dougal)
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Frances (or Francis)
Geoffery (pronounced "joff-free"; "Jeffery" evolved from this older form)
Herschel (or Hershel)
Jesse (or Jessie)
Kenny (sometimes short for Kenneth)
Louis (alt pronunciation "Louie")
Myles (or Miles)
Nate (sometimes short for Nathan)
Nigel (popular in the British Isles and Australia, but very rare in the U.S.)
Orlando (yes, this name dates back to the middle ages)
Owen (or Owain in Welsh or Eoin in Gaelic)
Philip (alt. Philippe)
Rhett (no, Margaret Mitchell didn't make it up)
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Terrance or Terrence (Terry)
Wartlaw (or Wardlaw)
Betty (or Bettie)
Blanch (or Blanche)
Bonne (or Bonnie)
Christina (or Cristina)
Deborah (Deb or Debbie for short)
Delia (I believe this is pronounced Deal-yuh)
Diane (or Diana)
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Elyn (a spelling variation of Ellen)
Emma Jean (meant to be used as a conjunction name)
Eula (or Eulah)
Fanny (or Fannie)
Fay (or Faye)
Gay (or Gaye)
Guinevere (several alternate spellings and pronunciations; nickname "Gwen")
Gwyndolyn (or Gwendolyn)
Gylda (or Gilda)
Heloise (or Helewise)
Ione (I believe this is pronounced I-own-e)
Isabeau (pronounced "ease-a-bow")
Isabel (alt. Isabella)
Iseult (this has a WIDE variety of spellings and similar pronunciations)
Jo (usually used as a middle name or as a nickname)
Joanna (or Johanna)
Lettice (alt. Leticia; pronounced "lettuce" and "let-tuh-see-uh" respectively)
Lillie (or Lily)
Lizzie (sometimes short for Elizabeth)
Lou (usually used as a middle name)
Lucy (Latin: Lucia)
Marian (this is a variant of Mary, and can be an alternate to Mary-Ann)
Matild (or Matilda)
Maud (or Maude)
May (or Mae)
Nannie (yes, this used to be a name it its own right)
Ragnild (pronounced "Ruh-kneeled")
Rosanna (or Rosannah)
Rose (or Rosa)
Sibilla (alt. Sibyl)
Sue (sometimes short for Susan; sometimes used as a conjunction name, such as Brenda Sue)
Thomazin (or Thomasine)
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Still undecided? Try a baby name book for even more naming options.
Links of Interest
- Medieval Name List
Some of the medieval names I have listed here come from this list, although I have only tapped the English names. There are names from multiple other medieval countries that I have not featured.