One of my favorite pastimes, other than baby names of course, is researching our family tree. The partners of BabyNames.com, all four sisters (myself included) have been fascinated by names since childhood. The trends of first names throughout the many branches of our family tree are culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse.
As I work backward (or up) on the family tree, it is not surprising that the names become more traditional and old-fashioned. However, some of these names are now spiking in popularity. For instance, according to the baby names pages of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website, the name Hazel, our maternal grandmother, has risen from rank 893 (year 2000) to rank 63 (year 2015). The name of Hazel’s husband, Henry, similarly rose from rank 126 to 29 in the same 15 years.
Other popular but old-fashioned names on our tree include Leo and Eleanor. Leo (of Italian origin, meaning “lion”) has skyrocketed from SSA rank 389 in the year 2000 to rank 91 in 2015, perhaps due to the ongoing popularity of Leonardo DiCaprio. Eleanor (of French origin) outdid Leo by going from rank 375 to rank 60. Grandma Eleanor’s sister, Alice, also had a name with a resurgence in the last decade and a half, from the year 2000’s rank 422 to rank 87 in 2015.
According to Dr. Cleveland Evans of Bellevue University, former president of the American Name Society, every generation has its revivals of names used in previous generations. Said Dr. Evans, “Of course the next generation doesn’t realize which of the names common in their own or their parents’ generation were ‘revivals’ because they just seem ‘normal’ to them instead of ‘old-fashioned.’” Dr. Evans adds, “there are also names like Jennifer, Jessica, and Olivia which seem ‘old-fashioned’ but which actually were never hugely common before their supposed ‘revival.’” Of note, the name Olivia was ranked #2 on the Social Security Administration’s Top 10 Baby Names of 2015.
Interestingly, there are some unusual names on our tree that have maintained consistency throughout the last 20 years. Boy names Hugo and Moses ranked mostly in the 400s and the name Simon remained in the 200s. One name that has surprisingly increased significantly is the name August, which rose from rank 613 to 195 between 2000 and 2015. Although I have yet to meet a young boy with the name August, they must be around somewhere!
Some of our ancestors’ names have decreased in popularity. The name Emilie decreased from rank 483 to 867, although it experienced a spike in 2013. Even though it is still in the SSA top 100, the name Anna decreased by double from rank 22 to 44. The name Joseph decreased nearly by triple, from rank 8 to 21, whereas the female counterpart, Josephine, rose from rank 288 to 131. Both names mean “God will increase” and, yes, in our family tree we did have a Grandpa Joseph and Grandma Josephine, just like in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The most unique names on our family tree do not appear on the SSA’s top 1,000 names at any time between the years 2000 and 2015. These names include the boy names Fritz and Ignatz. My favorite of the unusual girl names on our tree is Gisella. Although I don’t see Ignatz rising on the charts anytime soon, I can easily see the names Gisella break through into the top 1000.
Naming trends on our tree, particularly naming a child after a parent or grandparent, differentiated based on culture and religion of that side of the family. Our Irish Catholic ancestors had children named after parents in the 1800s but then in about the 1920s, after they moved to the United States, using the same name started skipping a generation. In contrast, our German and Hungarian Jewish roots reflected the tradition of naming children after uncles, aunts, and grandparents, especially through the use of middle names.
Whether traditional and old-fashioned, like Henry and Hazel, or cool and unusual, like Fritz and Hugo, one of the best naming resources for parents-to-be is easily reflected in the branches above them on their family tree.