Records on baby names only started to be tabulated in the U.S. in 1880, and so getting an accurate read on what babies were named before that has been difficult at best. But now a researcher named Douglas Galbi has compiled lists of baby names drawn from census records of the early 19th century. Nameberry combed through Galbi's data on baby names from 1800 to 1850 in search of trends, patterns, and vintage baby names that go way beyond the expected John, Mary, Elizabeth and James.
Religious names, particularly from the Bible, were prominent in the early 19th century. Girls’ names most frequently found are Mary, used more than twice as often as the number two name, Elizabeth (until 1840, when it became Sarah). Other popular Biblical names for girls were Martha, Ann, Hannah, Rebecca, Rachel and Lydia. More unusual religious names for girls include Christia, Dinah, Dorcas, Electa (which relates to Freemasonry), Kesiah, Jemima, Mahala and Tabitha.
But along with common names like John, James, and Joseph were more unusual Biblical names for boys like Abner, Amos, Asa, Ebenezer, Hezekiah, Hiram, Job, Lemuel, Luther, Moses, Obadiah, Reuben and Thaddeus.
Names From Mythology Or History
Early 19th century Americans revered the classics, with names from mythology or ancient history widely used. These include Cyrus, Erasmus, Homer, Horace, Leonidas and Newton for boys. For girls, the popular classical names include Fidelia, Hulda, Leta, Minerva, Narcissa, Parthena and Sophrona.
In the century after the birth of the United States, names that honored American places and heroes were popular. For girls, these included America, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. Americana names for boys included Columbus, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Washington.
Names in common use for boys from 1800 to 1850 include several choices now found more often for girls. These include Addison, Elisha, Ellis, Emery, Loren, Madison and Marion.
Among the old-school Lavinias and Hezekiahs are several names that feel more like modern inventions. For girls, these include Angel, Keri, Lee, Lou, Marci and Rox. Boys’ names with a modern feel include August, Jesse, Miles, Perry, Riley, Taylor and Wesley. Other names with a contemporary style include such nature- and word-inspired names like Dahlia, Easter and Olive for girls and Almond, Green and Pleasant for boys.
Of course there are many names on the rolls for 1800-1850 that are rarely found today. Some names were spelled differently then than they are now, for instance: Malinda, Malissa, Phebe. In addition, names such as Permilia, thought to be an antiquated form of Pamela, as well as Electa, Fidelia, Hulda, Narcissa, Parthena and Sophrona do not appear at all on the 2014 U.S. baby name records.
Boys names found in the records for the first half of the 19th century that do not appear at all on the complete baby names list for 2014 include Adalbert, Erasmus and Lafayette. A number of others hang on with just a handful of modern bearers. These include Chauncy, Elbert, Enos, Granville and Lyman.
While Mary and John held tight to the number one spots through the first half of the 19th century, many of the most popular names of the era are popular and stylish again today, some of them after a long decline (or two) and rebirth. These include Alice, Charlotte, Clara, Emily, Isabella, Julia, Laura and Sophia for girls and Benjamin, Charles, Daniel, Henry Jacob, James, Samuel, and William for boys.