Why do names disappear?

Why don’t parents name their kids “Ethel”, or “Ester”, or “Gertrude”? The only people I know with these names are very old people.

They just go out of fashion.

This might work in MPSIMS or IMHO, but I would not be surprised to find that some sociologist or anthropologist has done research to describe just how it happens, so I’m sending this to GQ.

There really is not much of a debate, here.

[ /Moderating ]

I teach two Esthers at the moment.

Mind you, there’s differences across the water…Thora Birch was a bit of a surprise, as most people had grown up only knowing one Thora.

Working at a hospital I see a lot of names. It’s always interesting to try and guess age-range from the name alone. We don’t get many young Ebenezers, and such. There definately is a distinction through the decades of names falling in and out of fashion.

Why? I guess why everything falls in and out of fashion, that’s the nature of a society moving through time.

People associate names with age ranges. There aren’t many Ethels or Gertrudes being named at the moment because the parents associate these names with old ladies, and who wants to give a newborn baby a name which sounds like an old lady’s name?

But once the old ladies die off, a new generation grows up who don’t associate the name with anyone they know, and then the name can come back again - Charlotte, for example. This was a very common name in Victorian times, died out in the early 20th century because there were too many old ladies called Charlotte, but it is now popular again.

I used to know an “Esther” in primary (American elementary?) school.

Is it normally pronounced with a hard T? E.g., “Ester.”

Obviously names, like everything else, come in and out of fashion. Right now one of the trends seems to lean towards names traditionally regarded as surnames - Peyton, Bailey, Cooper, Mason, etc. A couple of years ago, names of Irish origin seemed to be the in thing - Caitlyn (and all it’s variations), Riley, Ewan, etc.

When a name first becomes popular, it’s common to hear people say things like “Oh, how pretty! I don’t think I’ve heard that name before” and “We chose it because we don’t know anyone else with that name and we wanted something unique/special/different”. However, there comes a point where it reaches saturation and then people start saying variations on the theme “We liked it but we already knew three other kids with that name so we chose something else” and the popularity dies off. The name then becomes irretrievably associated with that generation that it saturated and as they go through life the perception of the name changes with their age group. Eventually, it ends up the most popular name in the nursing home and the new generation of parents call it an “old lady/man name”.

I think there’s a chance of a comeback after that though. I always remember my mother screwing her face up at Emily as an old lady name, but I didn’t have that association at all - I guess all the elderly Emilys from her childhood were long gone by the time I came along. To me, it was a fresh, new name, I don’t think I knew a single Emily. I think it’s that generation that comes along next who has the chance to rescue some of the nicer names because they never actually knew elderly people who bore them. Mildred, Esther and Agnes don’t sound so good to modern ears and I’ll be surprised if they make a comeback, but Ruby, Lily, Jack and many others are being revived by a new generation.

You ask about Ethel, Esther and Gertrude, but in 20 or 30 years someone will be asking the same question about Judith, Margaret and Pamela, and 30 years on from that it will be Sharon, Michelle and Jennifer, and after another 20 years someone will ask why you never meet a young person called Peyton, Bailey, Cooper or Mason.


What do you mean by this, other than that these names are perhaps still unfashionable? And in any case, whatever they sound like to us is no indication of what they may sound like to the next generation or beyond.

Re. Esther - it’s within the top 300 current names here.

In the town where I lived in the mid-1980s, I knew three girls named Farrah, and they were all born in 1980. I have not met a Farrah since then. I have long joked that no woman named Farrah will ever be able to lie about her age.

I agree. It’s a little weird to think that eventually (unless Ray Kurzweil’s singularity comes) names like Melissa and Jennifer will be perceived the way that Thelma and Janet are right now.

I would hypothesize that the phenomenon is more acute with girls than with boys because youth is so prized among women in our culture and because parents are more inclined to give their sons classic names like David or Steven.

In fact, the well-known book “Freakonomics” has a whole chapter on the fashion trends of baby-naming.


That is exactly what I came in to say. It also talks about the democraphics of names and how names migrate from higher to lower classes. It also correlates trendy names and odd spellings with income and education.

I named my son Jack as a tribute to my dad in 1991.

My family and friends weren’t happy with the name at all - it’s still not very popular in the African American community, but I don’t care.

Of course some names disappear because they become notorious (Adolf) or share the name with an unpopular/clownish fictional character (Elmer).

It’s already there. I know scads of Jennifers in the late-20s to early-40s range but I haven’t seen a high school girl named Jennifer in years.

I don’t think Melissa and Jennifer are yet perceived as the names of an old woman.

Here’s an unscientific way to guage things: Do a google image search on the various names. You’ll definitely see a difference.

Me I’m naming my next boy Ignatious Thadeus. I just like how that sounds… Plus he’ll have to toughen up on the playground with a pompous name like that.

Of course if he’s beaten up by a Kid named Apple or Moxie I might rethink my theory.

I think this tool would be helpful for this thread.

My family follows pretty accurately. I’ve got grandparents named Janet and Thurman. My mom is Gail, and I have an aunt Jennifer. My brother is Erik, and my fiance is Farrah.