The difference between a classic name that’s more popular than dirt, and a current trendy name that’s all over birth announcements and kindergartens, is in how steadily popular it’s been over time, when it first came into use, and how quickly it rose up the charts.
While we probably all know exceptions, there are certain names we associate with people of a certain generation. People generally don’t name their babies Barbara, Linda, Ronald, or Franklin anymore. Those names were generally most popular in a certain generation, often shooting up the charts suddenly, and then just as quickly plummeted down the charts. They didn’t stick around and only slowly descend the charts, nor did they gradually climb the charts.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with those types of names, but when a name is so tied to one particular age group, it quickly becomes dated. When people see or hear a name like Lisa, Tiffany, Deborah, Jason, Chad, or Liam, it’s safe to assume that person’s general age range. Yes, there are 80-year-old Jasons, 5-year-old Lisas, and 20-year-old Barbaras, but the odds are greater that that person will belong to the generation when that name was at its highest popularity.
Some of these names feel new and fresh again after a long period of disuse, and some are still considered musty and outdated. While names like Sophia, Ava, Isabella, Grace, Jack, Max, Henry, and Jude are now extremely trendy, you notice that names of equally old vintage, like Mildred, Bertha, Mabel, Dorothy, Eugene, Howard, Herbert, and Elmer, aren’t being embraced with that type of fervour. You don’t hear, “ZOMG, that was my grandma/grandpap’s name!” People wrinkle their noses and scoff, “Ew, that was my great-grandma’s name. Too ugly and musty for a cute, cuddly baby.”
Names like Elizabeth, James, Peter, Catherine, David, and Julia have been steadily popular for an extremely long time. While they certainly go up and down in popularity, they’ve never fallen off the charts or made sudden huge comebacks after languishing at the bottom of the Top 1000. Those are names that aren’t dated to any one particular generation. You can easily picture them on someone of any age, and don’t make an immediate assumption about how old the bearer must be.
If you want a vintage name that was once über-popular and now isn’t so common anymore, it’s best to pick one that doesn’t seem likely to get trendy and faddish all of a sudden, like Irene or Philip, or a name that’s been more popular in the past but not particularly tied to one generation, like Julie or Bertram. And there’s no accounting for personal taste; I’ve always loved the name Ernestine, for example, and don’t see it as some musty old lady’s name at all.
It’s also pretty indicative of the sexist society we live in when you tend to see more girls’ names that quickly date. The girls’ names on the Top 100 tend to fluctuate quicker and more wildly than those for the boys, particularly in the last few decades. Girls are viewed as cute little accessories who don’t merit serious names they’ll grow up with, while boys deserve strong, mature-sounding names because they’re boys. Although these days, even trendy boys’ names are changing, with more names like Jaden, Caden, Braden, and Hayden on the Top 100 than timeless classics like John, William, Peter, James, and Theodore.