Unfairly Dated Names: Amy

Unfairly Dated Names are a subset of Spotlight Names most people don’t consider old-enough to recycle. Most of these names peaked around 15-60 years ago and are often typecast as parent and grandparent names. But their timeless and sometimes modern attributes make them stylish stand-outs for modern children. At one point these names were ahead of the trends, and likely will be again.

Unfairly Dated Name: Amy

Before Emily became a rediscovered classic, there was Amy. Amy shares the short, sweet, three letter-two syllables pattern of Ava, Mia and Zoe. Amy also boasts a touching meaning, “beloved.”

Amy has a meaning and sound very similar to Amable, the feminine French form of Amabilis, which means “lovable.” Amable is not popular, but has a very current style. Surprisingly, Amy and Amable don’t seem to share etymological origins.

If you are a reader from across the pond, I recognize calling Amy “unfairly dated” may seem ludicrous to you. Still in the U.K.’s top 50 as of 2010, Amy is somewhat current in the U.K., although entering down-market territory. Lou at Mer de Noms includes Amy, and the similar Aimee, as one of the U.K.’s Falling Females.

To give some context to our U.S. readers, classifying Amy as unfairly dated to a British reader is like classifying Lauren as unfairly dated to an American reader.

While U.K. trends are often precursors to U.S. trends, the opposite is also true. Amy is a perfect example of the U.S. influencing U.K. trends a decade or two later.

As American readers can attest, Amy is firmly a “Mom name” here. The 1970’s were Amy’s U.S. heyday where the name became extremely popular, second only to Jennifer.

However, Amy doesn’t feel as overexposed as Jennifer. Unlike today where only a few births separates #1 from #2, back in the 1970’s there was a big gap between #1 and #2. Nearly twice as many babies were named Jennifer as Amy:

  • 581,689 Jennifer’s vs. 268,981 Amy’s

Compare that to the gap between Emily and Madison in the 2000’s:

  • 223,420 Emily’s vs. 192,914 Madison’s

And while hard to prove because name data before 1880 is not available, back in the 1970’s Amy may have been a vintage name experiencing its 4th generation revival. While anecdotal, I know many Amy’s who say they were named after Great Grandmothers and Grandmothers. The stories seemed comparable to stories of today’s children who were named after their Great Grandma Emma or Sophia.

The data available shows that Amy may have already been trending down when it ranked at #119 in the 1880s. After the 1880’s the name declined, hitting its lowest point at #305 in the 1940s. After that, Amy hit a dramatic rise. After peaking at #2 in the 70’s Amy hit a dramatic fall, but still ranked at #135 in 2010.

Perhaps the natural laws of fashion put Amy in a rest period, and some of you may be wondering why I don’t give the name a much-needed rest. I am not suggesting Amy should revisit the #2 spot anytime soon, but what I am suggesting is that Amy is a solid classic and still very usable.

A good use for Amy may be in the family where the Dad-to-be is living in a time warp and obsessed with 70’s and 80’s names. Amy is one 70’s name that would wear well on a modern baby, more so than Jennifer or Heather.

And to all of you named Amy, your parents may have picked a popular name (if you are an American born around the 1960’s – 1980’s) but they also picked a timeless name. Celebrate your timeless name!

Readers: What do you think of Amy?

Photo credit


  1. British American says:

    Amy is the baby’s name on the parental comedy ‘Up All Night’. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1843323/) I bet that show will have caused some people to reconsider the name. Though I read someone saying that the baby’s name is actually supposed to be Amelia and Amy is just her nickname. Which makes more sense, as most ‘name nerds’ thought it strange that Reagan was the Mom’s name and Amy was the baby’s name.

    I only knew one girl named Amy when I was growing up in the UK (80s and 90s) so it doesn’t seem terribly dated or overused to me. But like you said, maybe if I’d been in the US it would.

  2. Re: Your theory on when Amy was previously popular – There may have very well been a boomlet of Amys in the 1870s or so, given that Little Women, one major historical source that probably boosted the name, was first published in 1868-69. However, given where it stood in 1880 it was probably nowhere near as big as when it hit #2 a century later (and plus back then name trends tended to cycle more slowly than they do now).

    I think a name’s “revival period” is likely to fall earlier when it wasn’t as popular the first time around – which is why Audrey is already experiencing a revival when its last peak was as recent as the 1920s or 30s, but Dorothy (another name that peaked much higher around the same time) is not yet back in the mainstream name pool for modern babies.

    I also agree that dads tend to be more likely than moms to look at names from their own generation (especially for girls) – from my second-hand experience a Susan around my age (born mid-80s) that I’ve met and a Nancy a bit older both had their names “chosen by their dads”. On one hand it’s a bit weird to see those names on someone that young and on paper people often assume they’re older, but it also means that their names are recognizable yet fairly unique among their peers (unlike the Melissas and Nicoles whose parents thought they were “unique names” when they weren’t for the child’s cohort, and now of course those names are now in the “recognizable yet fairly unique” category if you’re considering them for a 2012 girl).

    As for the name Amy itself, it’s not at the top of my list but not one that I’d object to naming a girl either (a combo I recently thought of was Amy Isabella, the middle name being frilly and current balancing out the simple and dated first name).

    • Of course – there’s the Little Women factor – good point. And your comments about Amy not being as popular the first time around remind me of some research I was doing today. I was tracking the trends of the current top 20 names, even though I know a new to 20 list is due out any minute. What I discovered is there are few names were a perfect reverse bell curve revival pattern.

      Isabella, your suggested middle name, is a perfect example. Before its recent boom, Isabella’s highest rank was at 215 in 1880. Its revival pattern is more like a makeshift letter J. This seems to be the pattern with Sophia as well, which incidentally, ranked at 118 in 1880, right above Amy!

      BTW, a name with an almost perfect reverse bell curve pattern is Emma. It ranked at 3 in both 2010 and 1880.

      • It may also be possible for a name’s revival to produce a “reverse J” pattern. A name that I think may follow this trajectory is Mabel: After its peak around 1890, it has yet to re-enter the top 1,000 but looking at the extended stats it’s showing signs of returning. I don’t think this name will get as popular as it did before, but there will likely be several times more Mabels born in the upcoming decade or two than in the preceding generation. I think the “reverse J” pattern is more likely with names, like Mabel, which were long relegated to “hard core old lady” status, with some daring name enthusiasts going after it while many in the general population will still have “old lady” in their minds even once the name’s peak generation is virtually all gone. On the other hand, names like Amelia and Isabella were never high enough on the charts to be an “everywoman” name of a particular generation, and thus have more of a vintage appeal not clouded by personal associations. Emma is an example of a name that was classic enough to not dip too far down even at its lowest point (and thus even though it did feel a bit “old lady” during the Boomer/Xer childhood period it was no Agnes or Bertha), and that gives it a semi-symmetrical popularity curve (lower now due to to the top names representing a lower percentage of births).

        Amy will likely IMO take an Emma-like trajectory: For the next several decades it will be much lower than it was at its peak, but will retain enough use to keep it on the mainstream name radar. Jennifer is a name I feel will take the “long and reverse J” path; since it was so ubiquitous for a particular generation it will probably be at least around 2100 before I could see it re-gaining mass appeal. A future candidate I thought of for a “J” pattern is one that fits today’s latinate-multi-syllabic-ending-in-a trend and was bestowed on a recent celebrity baby: Gloria (which many people say sounds a bit “old lady” but was not as popular as some of its other era peers like Barbara).

        • That’s interesting about Mabel and Gloria having a reverse J pattern. I can see Gladys also having that same pattern. Even as a name-nerd, I’m shocked at the positive reactions Gladys has received from some people I know. I would rather see Mabel come back.

          • A bit of clarification: Don’t confuse the “J” and “reverse J” patterns; Mabel is a likely example of the latter (its first time around bigger than the second one) while Gloria may be a future example of the former (second time around bigger, much like Isabella and Sophia now). Emma would be a “U” pattern (both times around fairly big).

  3. megalady says:

    I knew one or two Amys growing up (born in the ’80s) and I’d never been particularly fond of the name. Oddly enough, spelling matters though; Amy turns me off, but I dig Aimee. I also love Amata and Amity, which offer up the nickname Amy. And since the DH had a Amy ancestor and I’ve reconsidered it as a name for a future child; but I think if we were to go that route I’d choose Amata over Amy/Aimee.

    • I know what you mean about Amy and Aimee being completely different names. They may sound alike, but on paper the impression is very different. I can see why more parents might go with Aimee today.

      I love Amity too, but would have never considered Amy as a nickname for it.

  4. lottie says:

    I love the name Esme as an alternative to Amy. It sounds similar and has the same meaning.

  5. Katybug says:

    You’re so right about this being a “Dad” name it’s the only name my husband ever volunteered.

  6. As a former Amy – strictly speaking, it is still my first name – I was curious to read the comments. I never objected to my name as much as I objected to how many of us there were. I’m not sure if it was coincidence or if the stats bear it out, but in eastern Pennsylvania, Amy easily rivaled Jennifer for the top spot. In seventh grade, there were more Amys than Jens.

    Then again, I did object to how very short my name was. After all, even if you’re one of four Isabellas, you have some space to reinvent yourself as Bella or Izzy or Ibby or Bess. But Amy – three letters, no room to change things up.

    Overall, though, I agree – Amy falls into that category of names that were incredibly popular in a specific decade, but aren’t tied to it in the same way that Madison or Jennifer are.

    • If you take a look at the SSA’s stats for Pennsylvania for the years around when you were born, they still show the general nationwide pattern of there being at least twice as many Jennifers as Amys. Then again results often vary within local groups. You can look at the state-by-state statistics (Top 100 for each state) for years since 1960 at the link below.

    • It seems there are little mini-trends within each and every town. I was also born in PA in the 70’s. I swear I discovered my name-nerd side when I moved from a large Western PA town to a small Eastern MA town in high school. I moved from a class with expected names: Jennifer, Amy, Melissa, Kelly, etc. to a class with a female Avery (her parents were 30 years ahead of their time!) a female Arwin, a female Gavin, a Felicity (with a sister named the more expected Amanda) and a TON of Susan’s (usually called Susie) and a TON of Katherine’s (usually called Kate or Katie), and only ONE JENNIFER! (Out of like 120.) This floored me.

  7. My name is Amy and I was born in 1969. My baby book lists Jennifer and Christine being close seconds to my chosen name. Like another Amy mentions, it’s so short there isn’t much you can do with it. It’s like your name is a nickname too. It’s short and kinda cutsy, I wish I was a Catherine….

Speak Your Mind