Ever wonder what happened to those old-timey names you see in old movies or read about in history? Some of them have remained relevant for much longer than you might think!
If you’re searching for a unique name for your child (or, given how old-fashioned some of these names are, maybe a pet), here are seven names that reached their peak in the 1910s and 1920s.
This name was last included in the Top 1000 names in 1984, according to BehindTheName.com, a compendium of first names and their origins.
Mildred derives from the Old English “Mildþryð,” which is a compound name meaning “gentle strength.” It offers the diminutives Millie or Milly.
At the height of its popularity in 1920, there were 18,059 baby girls named Mildred in the United States.
Famous women with this classic name include Mildred Gale, the mother of George Washington, and Mildred Thompson, a prominent African-American abstract artist.
Peaking at 8,075 girls named Ethel in 1918, the name fell out of use by 1975.
An Old English diminutive of “æðele,” meaning “noble,” the name emerged in the 19th century during a resurgence of Old English Names.
The name gained popularity with the publication of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1855 novel The Newcomes, and C. M. Yonge’s 1856 novel The Daisy Chain which further contributed to its appeal.
Notable Ethels include the renowned stage and screen actress Ethel Merman, as well as Ethel Mertz, one of the four main characters of the classic TV sitcom ‘I Love Lucy.’
Yet another vintage name with significant historical popularity is Gladys. Derived from the Old Welsh name “Gwladus,” it likely means “country.” Alternatively, it may have been a Welsh adaptation of the name “Claudia.”
By 1920, there were 8,819 girls named Gladys in the United States, with the use of the name declining until 1999, when it failed to rank in the Top 1000.
One historically notable Gladys is Gladys Anslow, an American physicist who was the first woman to work with a cyclotron.
She was also the first person at Smith College to receive a grant from the Office of Naval Research, which she used to study the structure of protein molecules.
This distinguished name for boys consistently held a place in the Top 1000 rankings until 2010.
Behindthename.com states that Clarence derives from the Latin Clarensis, which was a title held by the British royal family. It reached its peak in popularity in 1921 when 7,332 boys were named Clarence.
Famous Clarences include the influential music executive and producer Clarence Avant, often referred to as the “godfather of the industry,” and US Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the second Black justice to serve on the Supreme Court.
A diminutive of Elizabeth, Bessie shares its meaning with its parent name, which is “my God is my oath.”
Elizabeth originated from the Greek form of the Hebrew name Elisheva, while Bessie has its roots in the 16th century.
Peaking in the US in 1916 at 4,122 girls named Bessie, the name fell out of favor by 1975.
Famous Bessies include Bessie Blount Griffin, an American writer, nurse, physical therapist, inventor, and forensic scientist who pioneered the first assistive feeding device for amputees.
Another renowned Bessie is Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, the second Black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York State. She was also the subject of the New York Times bestselling book Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.
Originally, Bertha was a short form of the Frankish or Saxon “berht,’ meaning “bright”.
The name waned in popularity during the Middle Ages but experienced a revival in the 19th century during the fad for Middle Ages names.
Bertha remained in use until 1985 and hit its zenith in 1918, with 5,051 girls given the name that year.
The name is often associated with large machines due to the nickname Big Bertha, given to a German siege gun used between 1914 and 1918, which was one of the largest siege guns ever built.
One famous bearer of the name was Bertha Benz, wife of automotive pioneer Carl Benz.
She was “the first person to drive an internal combustion engined automobile over a long distance,” making a journey of 65 miles in a Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Along the way, she also invented brake lining.
Another well-known Bertha was Bertha Swirles, an early researcher in quantum theory.
Originally an aristocratic title, Earl has a variety of meanings, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it denoted a “nobleman, warrior, leader.”
The name dropped out of use as recently as 2006. Like many names on this list, Earl reached its peak in 1921, with 6,754 boys being given the name that year.
Among the famous to bear the name is Earl Bakken, who invented “the first external, battery-operated, transistorized, wearable artificial pacemaker.”
Another prominent figure is Earl K. Fernandes, “the first Indian-American bishop of the Latin Church in the United States.”
He was also the first person of color to serve as the bishop of Columbus and the youngest diocesan bishop in the United States.
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This article was produced by TPR Teaching.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.