The Name-Go-Round

I am slightly obsessed with names, particularly fashions in names, what's hot, what's not. This stems partly from having to choose baby names myself and also with choosing suitable names for characters. Nothing is more jarring to me than reading a contemporary book where the characters all have names that were highly fashionable in the 70s or 80s but have since fallen from favour (like Caroline and Jennifer). My current WIP, set in 1974, features Julie and Nadine, daughters of Barbara and Allan. I obsessively check the birth notices every week to see what's in and out.

I'm fascinated by the cycles that names seem to churn through. At the moment we are living through a revival of the kinds of names that were last hot at the turn of last century. One of my friends pointed out a few years ago, "Our daughters are all named after Edwardian housemaids!" -- Alice, Thea, Lucy, Evie, and Nelly (since then Freya has arrived to break the trend). All the little girls at school are called May and Amelia and Esther and Grace and Sophie. The little boys could be a roll call of WWI soldiers -- Jacks and Wills and Harrys and Stans and Henrys and Alberts.

Of course this matter becomes especially pertinent when there is a BABY on the way (not in our family, but one of our dearests!) and the name debate becomes positively fevered. We named both our girls in utero (perhaps rashly) but it wasn't until I attached a name to my unborn child that I could regard her as a real person. Before Evie was born, we often spoke of her by name to Alice -- when Evie comes, we'll do this or that -- which I think helped Alice accept her arrival quite happily; she was a proper member of the family long before she popped out.

But I digress. Penni and I were talking names this weekend and remarking on the fact that names from our grandparents' generation are back in style. Which leads me to ask: what were your grandparents' names? Are there any neglected gems lurking out there?

(For the record, mine were Matthew Irving and Doris Alice on one side, and Frederick Charles and Pamela on the other. If we'd had a boy, he would have been Charlie.)


  1. oooo it's all so exciting! New names for new people.

    Mum's side:
    Edwin Frederick (known as Ted)
    Florence Edith (known as Pat)

    Dad's side
    Anita Marie
    Elmer Wade (known as Wade)

    And I just have to go one generation further back, because Anita's parents we're Pearl and Merle.


  2. Pearl and Merle is a classic!

    There is an Edith and a Pearl at school so my theory is bearing up so far...

    I'm surprised Frederick and Florence haven't popped up again yet though.

  3. On Mum's side: Charles Nicol and Ada May -
    there is an Ada at Una's creche. I am surprised that Nicol hasn't come back, but perhaps it was never big enough to make a comeback. Even Nicholas seems to have dropped off a little, that seemed about to be huge in the 90s.

    On Dad's side: Frederick (Fred) and Marguerite (Madge). We've met a few little boy Freds/Fredericks. I think it is definitely on the verge.

    Florence was on our list for Frederique (I think Flo is a gorgeous little nickname). We discussed it again when I was pregnant with Una but it didn't pass the poodle test (ie, do your sibling names sound like what you might call twin poodle puppies).

  4. Florence will, particularly with the new popularity of Florence and the Machine.

    My mum's parents are Jack and Joan - I love Jack, but notsomuch Joan.
    Dad's parents are Jim (love) and Marjorie, which I like as a whole name but not just as "Marje" which is a little too canola-spread for my taste.

  5. Mick Wilkins
    Eila Margaret

    My son's middle name is Wilkins.

    Each generation of Punch girls seems to have a Margaret in it (my middle name, my aunt's first name, my grandmother's middle name, my great grandmother's first name).

    If we have a daughter one day, I suspect her name won't pass the poodle test when teamed with Luka. Oh well.

  6. And I'm guessing you've had a good play with this name-popularity site, Kate?


  7. My grandparents' names were:
    Doreen and Winston, and Thomas and Ethne

    My husband's grandparents were:
    William and Lillian, and Jack and.... um not sure

    Our son's name Alexander is a family name but we just recently discovered that - he is 6 and we just liked the name.
    Lillian is 2 and she's named after her great-grandmother, so definitely one of those olde names that's come back.

    Both our kids' middle names are my parents' middle names.
    Alexander Harvey
    Lillian Hermione (NOTHING to do with Harry Potter!)

    Maria x

  8. My dad's parents are Norma Betty (often Norm to her husband) and James (Jim).

    My mum's parents were Frank (and someone I can't remember, they died long before I was born, plus she's dead too so we don't talk about them at all)

    My step-mum's mum is Barbara (can't remember her husband, he died long before I was in the picture!)

  9. Derek and Alice, Peter and Doreen - nicknamed Jill, for some reason. Step-grandparents: Sheila and Jim (James).

  10. Thanks everyone! Lots of Freds and Franks and Jims. Maybe Frank is due for a comeback too.

    Anna: yes, I am very familiar with that site, I love it! (I even subscribe to their newsletter - ulp.)

  11. Maude and Monty, Mabel and Allan - I'm sure they were all very hip names in their day, but I haven't met anyone with one of my grandparents' names aged under 70. Mabel could be due for a nostalgic comeback...

  12. My 99-year-old grandmother's name is Minnie. Her husband's name was Milton. (Min and Milt.) That's my grandparents on my mother's side. On my father's side: Olive and Albert (Ol and Bert).

  13. HI Kate :)
    A friend of mine had a baby boy yesterday and named him Frank (Francis is his formal name but he will be known as Frank). My son's middle name is Franklin named after his grandfather, Frank (and because I love it).

    My Dutch grandparents were Caroline and Leonardus, my Australian grandparents Josephine and William. I was named for my grandmothers, my name is Caroline Jo.

  14. Oh and I'll add my husband's grandparents because they are fitting for this conversation also:

    William Burns and Grace Blanche (Will 'n' Grace, both super popular now)
    Franklin John and Mary Elberta (Bette), second wife Evelyn (lovely!)

  15. marie (as in MAR-ie, not ma-RIE) and francis (frank) one one side

    cecil edgar robertson (nicknamed boz) and barbara on the other.

  16. Mum's side
    Margaret Maureen (but always called Maureen)
    Irvin (no middle name, always called Titch)

    Dad's side
    Betty Lillian (Bet)
    John Edward (always called Jock)

  17. Dad's side

    Mum's side

  18. Grandparents: on my father's side, Elizabeth and Miche (pronounced 'mychee'. apparently it was someone's maiden name, his mother's? which I think is lovely)
    Also, Phyllis and Noel on my mother's side.

    A generation before that had some lovely names in my family too, including Mabel Furner and Ethel Bottle.

  19. Dear Kate,

    I find I get irritated in EXACTLY the same way! I think that that is a huge part of making a bunch of characters believable, and I love your choice of 70's characters' names -- perfect.
    My grandparents were called: Nikola, Elvira, Ivan and Lenka. Listed in order of age.
    Thank you for your beautiful post on my blog by the way. THAT made ME cry!
    Love Sandra
    P.S. We use child models at work to fit our clothes. Today we were visited by a small girl called J-Lo. Really.

  20. Oh you're joking. What were they thinking?? Poor kid!

    Ramona: I think Ethel Bottle wins so far.

    My dad's extended family includes one set of Bunns and one set of Ovenses.

  21. Bunns and Ovenses. I love it. Sounds like a riddle by Gollum about pregnancy.

  22. My grand parents were:
    Doris and Donald
    Doris and Raymond

    My husband's grand parents were:
    Milda and Arvids
    ?? and Arvids

    Our kids are Amber Rose and Jett Arvids.

    Doris isn't quite cool again yet, maybe in another few years when we have our third child we'll use it. Arvids on the other hand fitted in nicely. We wanted a middle name starting with A and thought about Arthur, Alexander and Andrew, but none really did it for us.