At the beginning of the year, we like to flip back the calendar a hundred years to see what the baby name landscape looked like a century ago. 1914 was a year in which World War I was in full dudgeon, the year that President Wilson officially established Mother’s Day, Charlie Chaplin and Babe Ruth made their debuts, and saw the births of Dylan Thomas, Jonas Salk and Joe DiMaggio.
But the babyname universe was relatively calm, as we can see by looking at the stable top dozen girls’ names. Here, they are, in order of their 1914 popularity, and what their status is today:
In 1914, the New Testament Mary was in no danger of giving up her top spot, which she had held for hundreds of years and would continue to occupy for another 36. There were 45,000 little Marys born that year -- 5.6% of all girls --whereas though Mary is now at a still respectable Number 123, it was given to just over 2,500 girls in the last year counted.
Helen was a typical name of her day, quiet and reserved, associated with beauty in ancient times as ‘the face that launched a thousand ships.’ In 1914, Helen was put on birth certificates more than 23,000 times; today Helen ranks at Number 402, as many parents see Helena or Elena as more stylish alternatives.
Dorothy, currently near the bottom of the list at Number 922, was the third most popular name in the country in 1914, with close to 19,000 girls given that name, while currently a mere 275 Dorothys were registered. But with the name having reentered the Top 1000 in 2011, there might be signs of a revival
The classic, regal, saintly, Margaret has hardly ever been out of the Top 100, ranking now at Number 178. And when we looked recently at all her fabulous nicknames and variations, from Daisy to Maisie to Margot, we saw that she is still a name of infinite possibilities.
Ruth was the top Old Testament name of 1914, above such later favorites as Sarah,Rachel and Rebecca. Now, at Number 344, she’s at her lowest point ever, associated with the generation of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg and Dr. Ruth. But some of these less popular OT names like Ruth, Esther, Miriam and Naomi are showing signs of stirring.
A multi-cultural favorite over the generations, Anna has just recently slipped off the Top 25, and is now at #35. Several younger actresses like Anna Paquin, Anna Gunn and Anna Kendrick have given it a shot of youthful energy.
Mildred is definitely the wallflower of the group, having been off the charts since 1984, though nickname Milly survives via Millicent. Sorry, but there’s just something about that dred second syllable.
Elizabeth is the sole survivor of the Top 10, without too much inconsistency over time: there were 11,000+ born in 1919, and 9,500+ in 2012 -- plus, of course, several of her nickname names that have popularity on their own.
The soft-spoken classic Frances was Number 9 in 1914 (coincidentally in the same place as was Frank), and now, though having dropped now to Number 764, seems to be on the brink of a revival, (she’s Number 79 on Nameberry), thanks partly to the influence of Pope Francis.
Though she hasn’t sunk as low as Dorothy or Frances, at Number 576 Marie sounds more dated than either of them, these days tending to be used mostly as a family namesake. It’s still hanging in as a middle though: Jessica Alba used it as such for daughter Honor, and Giada DeLaurentiis for her girl Jade.
Alice, with her gentle Alice-in-Wonderland aura, has been climbing back up the ladder since Tina Fey chose it for her daughter in 2005, and is now at Number 127. Associated with an extraordinary number of noted women writers, Alice is one of the strongest and sweetest of the classic girls’ names.