Highly Sought Names: Underused Classics

Underused classics are ideal names for many parents. They are familiar, yet they are not heard everywhere. They are stylish, yet ageless. They seem to fit several golden means.

As I have said before, few names are what I consider authentic classics. Authentic classics are names that have been consistently popular for decades or centuries, that have stayed in the top 50 (or close to it) since 1880 the earliest year baby name rankings are available from U.S. Social Security Administration. The advantage of authentic classics is that they are never dated. The disadvantage is they hardly seem original.

Underused classics share an advantage with authentic classics, that they age well. They also share the same easy-wear quality and cross-cultural appeal, yet they stand out more. It’s no wonder many current top 20 names were underused classics 20-30 years ago.

There are two types of underused classics:

  • Steady Underused Classics have consistently stayed at a respectable rank, but never became extremely popular. (Since 1880 these names ranked between 100 – 400, but never reached the top 100.) Example: Felix.
  • Retired Authentic Classics are experiencing their first period of real decline after decades (or possibly centuries) of high use. Example: Mary.

The only downside to these names is that they are so appealing, they will probably not stay underused for long. But even if these names become more popular, they won’t likely become date-stamped fad names. These are the names that could gradually become the next modern classics or revival names within the next few decades.

If these names appeal to you, here are some lists. Boys are color coded blue, girls are pink and unisex names are green.

Steady Underused Classics
Carmen (on girls)
Cecilia
Dallas (on boys)
Felix
Jay
Lorenzo
Malcolm
Marcus
Miriam
Naomi
Nina
Oscar
Wesley

Retired Authentic Classics
Aliceis not back in the top 100 yet, but appears to be headed there.
Helen
Jane
Jesse (on boys)
Laura
Lawrence
Louis
Margaret
Mary
Patrick
Paul
Peter
Rose
Ruth

As Usual, Some Names Barely Made The Statistical Cut

These names on the steady underused classic list didn’t perfectly fit the statistical criteria but were close enough:

  • Carmen (on girls) ranked outside the top 400 in the 1880s-1890s, but hasn’t ranked lower than 400 since 1899.
  • Dallas (on boys) fits the criteria pretty closely, believe it or not. This seemingly modern, and uniquely American name has mostly stayed between the 300-400 rank from 1880 to 2011. It did spend some time outside the top 400 in the 1960s, and dipped to its lowest point at #456 in 1967.
  • Malcolm has been outside the top 400 since 2000, but had never ranked below 400 before 2000 and appears to be on the rebound. It reached #498 in 2011 (an almost 100 place increase since 2009).
  • Marcus could almost be a retired modern classic, except it hasn’t spent enough time in the top 50.
  • Naomi is an example of an underused classic that is on its way up. The name was at its lowest rank slightly below the top 400 in the late 1960s. After reaching its low point, Naomi began its gradual climb. It entered the top 100 for the first time in 2010 and ranked at #93 in 2011.
  • Wesley has consistently ranked between 100-200, except for some peak years in the 1970s and 1980s when it ranked between 60-100. The name has never hit the top 50; it reached its peak at #66 in 1977.

As always, fitting names into strict categories based on trends proved challenging.

Honorable Mentions

There were even more names that seem worthy of mention that fell too far outside the consistent top 100-400 requirement for steady underused classics and top 1-400 requirement for retired authentic classics.

Underused classics on their way down.

Anne left the top 400 for the first time in 2005, around the same time Anna was climbing. The alternative Ann ranks even lower than Anne and could soon leave the top 1000 (it was #995 in 2011).

Surprisingly Anne never reached the top 50; it just missed it, peaking at #52 in 1915. Even more surprising is that Ann was once the higher ranking name, peaking at #28 in 1936. Perhaps the combined popularity of the two spellings is what makes Ann(e) seem like a retired authentic classic.

Claudia left the top 400 for the first time five years ago in 2007. In 2011 it ranked at #609. Before then it ranked between 100-400, reaching its peak at #111 in 1952. Claudia appears as though it is about to begin its first real decline, but still feels like a good underused choice for 2012.

Marie, the default middle name, had been an authentic classic at one time, residing in the top 50 from 1884 to 1945. It left the top 400 over a decade ago in 2001, and has been steadily falling ever since. In 2011 it ranked at #598. Currently Marie in the first slot manages to seem respectable, and at the same time, elicits surprise.

Names that technically never fit the criteria, but still feel like underused classics.

There are names with historical trend patterns that don’t officially qualify them as underused classics. They have always (or almost always) been in the top 1000, and have spent a bit of time in the top 400 in recent decades.

They feel like they have been around awhile and have a timeless sound, yet based on statistics these names don’t fit the definitions of other classics either. They aren’t authentic classics because they have never reached anywhere near the top 50 since 1880. They aren’t modern classics, because they would have had to reach the top 50 within the past two to three decades.

  • Bridget peaked at #112 in 1974, and hit its lowest point at #957 in 1930.
  • Daphne peaked at #266 in 1962, and hit its lowest point outside the top 1000 for most of the 1880s, and dipped below the top 1000 for a few scattered years here and there until 1939.
  • Hope didn’t reach the top 400 until the 1950s, but has been in the top 1000 all but one year (1888), and has been in the top 300 for almost 20 years, never falling below #310 since 1992. It has yet to climb into the top 100. It peaked at #143 in 1999.

Underused Classics are some of my personal favorites. They fall under the “different but not too different” category perfectly. No wonder these names often graduate into hot revival names, meaning any names on these lists could become the next Elijah, Emma or Sophia.

Readers: Which of these names do you consider underused classics? (multiple selections are allowed)

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Comments

  1. I think Frances is an underused classic.

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  1. […] never dipped below the top 300. (This is the same criteria I used to decide what I consider an underused classic name.) Fad names, however, come and go. Fad names were obscure, most likely outside the top 1000, […]

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