Why the sudden influx of "Granny Names" among the hipster set?

In the past few years, I’ve met more girls named Martha, Gertrude, Agnes, Bess, Agatha, Bertha, etc. than I ever expected to meet outside of a retirement home. But here’s the thing - these girls are all mid-twenties hipsters. It seems like wherever I turn, there’s another “granny named” girl born after 1980. But they all seem to specifically be hipsters; I don’t see many sorority-type chicks sporting those names. What’s the deal?

Here are my theories:

  1. There was some sort of boom of “granny names” for infants between 20 and 25 years ago.

  2. Those names have always been with us, but people have covered them up by using diminutives or going by their more modern-sounding middle names. Thus, an Agnes went by “Aggie,” etc. Hipsters, always looking for the next way to be different or unique, have reverted to using their “real” names instead of using a more popular and mainstream nickname alternative.


what is old is new and what is new is old.

a girl named bambi, who is rarely taken seriously, may name her daughter agatha so she has a “serious” name. too cutsy will go too serious, and too serious will go cutsy.

the tough ones are the boy names that have been taken over by girls. pity the poor guys who get: cristal, marion, lynn, or jocelyn. they are the real victims.

I don’t run into hipsters much, so this is just a guess (or two). They’re either going by their name which wasn’t used previously (middle if they used to go by first, and the reverse), or they just picked a[n anti-]cool sounding name from their family tree/out of a hat/from the phone book. It’s part of the whole ‘nerdy-on-purpose’ thing, I guess.

Sweetly old-fashioned names have always been popular. You just have to wait long enough for the old ladies with the names to be gone, and then they trigger images of Kate Greenaway girls. My (very long-lived) great-aunts were all named Bertha, Opal, Ruby, Mabel, Helen, and so on, so I associate those names with little old ladies, but someone not much younger than I am would think “oh, what a sweet name!” Thus the current popularity of Emma, Sophie, and other names from a couple of generations ago.

I presume the hipsters’ parents were younger than my parents, and that sorority girls prefer to be called Taylor if possible. Or the hipsters are either using middle names or changing them somehow to be what they consider to be good names. Maybe the hipster parents were hippies with interesting taste…

(But Bertha? The mind boggles. L. M. Montgomery had a character who wanted to be called Bertha, such a lovely name, but that was in 1917. I can’t see anyone wanting that name after those Big Bertha guns…)

I don’t know. My daughter is 25…born in '82…and while I gave her a kind of old-fashioned name (Molly) I don’t recall any of her classmates over the years having granny names. There were tons of Jennifers and Emilys, but not a single Agatha. Maybe these hipster are reformed Goth kids…I hear some of them like to be called by retro names, even if they are Tiffanys.

My daughter’s name is Rose. She’s named for MY granny.

There are lots of great traditional names for girls. A lot of them went out of fashion mid-century. I think the resurgence of traditional names that began in the 80’s was backlash against the trendiness of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s – it’s the same Baby Boomer back-to-roots impulse that was behind a Prairie Home Companion, the Greatful Dead, and the J. Peterman catalogs.

I would be inclined to ask if such “Granny” names are notable in popular culture at around the time the hipsters in question were born. Were there any Agathas or Berthas in popular movies or TV shows?

Girls’ names often track their appearance in TV and film. “Emma,” always popular but only 13th in 2001, jumped to 4th in 2002 - the year a baby named “Emma” was born on “Friends.” “Trinity,” very rarely used as a girl’s name, suddenly jumped into the Top 100 after the release of “The Matrix,” which has a character named Trinity. “Madison,” now very popular as a girls’ name, was almost unknown prior to its use in the movie “Splash.” The bizarre name “Mallory” enjoyed a few years of increasing popularity after “Family Ties” became a popular show.

the most extreme example, however, remains “Jennifer.” “Jennifer” was already increasing in popularity when it was used as the main character’s name in “Love Story.” The name immediately became the #1 girl’s name in the USA (and, I would assume, English Canada) for an amazing FIFTEEN STRAIGHT YEARS. And in many years “Jennifer” was chosen more than any other two girls’ names combined. For most of the 1970s, about in in every 27 female babies was named “Jennifer.” In some years it was above 1 in 25. To give you some idea of comparison, last year’s most popular girls’ name, Emily, was given to about 1 in 100 girls, and peaked at about 1 in 75.

Starting in 1970, “Jennifer” was 50% more popular than any other girls’ name and in many years well more than 100% more popular, until 1981, when it was just 30% more popular than “Jessica,” finally slipping off its perch in 1985 (to both Jessica and Ashley.) I think that’s just remarkable, that a name that doesn’t have any Biblical or important history behind just kept chugging along at #1 even after it must have been obvious to parents that there were tons of Jennifers around. Speaking as a member of that cohort (born in late 1971) I tell you, it was really sort of absurd; many of my classes had two, three, or four Jennifers.

I know an Ethel who always went by her middle name.

In her late twenties her friends started nagging her to go by Ethel, “No one is named Ethel anymore! That is so cool! Why don’t you use it? Please use it! We want you to use it!”

She finally relented. With that group of friends she’s now Ethel.

Not sure why they might be seeing a resurgence.

But I am almost 25 and have a ‘Granny’ name. Why? Because I was named after both my Grandmothers.

I go by my middle name, but that was for a more prosaic reason than not liking my first name. We lived close to the Grandma who shared my first name (which, surprisingly enough, is her middle name) and didn’t want to get confused. When visiting my Nana we often do the ‘do you want the elder or younger?’ dance.

Some people know me from my first name, but that’s very few. Mostly classmates from night classes because I didn’t want to bother correcting the teacher, a few from high school when I did the same.

Oh, and I’m not a hipster. Not even quite sure what one is…

Hipsters always claim that they don’t know what a hipster is.

I have a Granny name. I was born in the early 70s, at a time when most people with my name were in nursing homes or deceased.

Actually, looking at the Wiki on it… I just might be.

I’m shocked, shocked to learn that I might really fit in with a group and not just be a floater like I thought I was.

Maybe hipsters have hipster parents and the hipster thing to do in the early 80s was buck the trend and name your kids the opposite of the dumb names that yuppies were naming their kids. Those parents were probably trying to be unique.

I think you may be on to something here.

But there might be a factor other than the desire to sound “unique.”

Look at the current baby-name trends. For the past few years, “old-people’s names” have been quite popular. Roll call at the preschool sounds more like the bed-check list at Sunset Acres Retirement Home! (I didn’t mean to be trendy when I named him Arthur! Really!)

So, combine the desire to be unique with the fact that a lot of previously clunky and old-fashioned names are now considered cool–and yeah, Gertrude Ann might decide to stop going by “Annie” and wear her “Gertrude” with pride.

One of the news anchors on cable is named Bertha. I almost fell out of my chair.

Marion Morrison didn’t stay a victim long. Changing his name a couple of times worked wonders. He’s better known as John Wayne – “The Duke.”

I have a granny name and it’s not even one that’s making a comeback. But then, I’m a granny…(Whacks head on computer desk repeatedly.)

Tell me about it.

I’m Jennifer, born in 1980, and had to share the name with two other girls in my class all the way through elementary school. I hated it. But then, my mother was thinking of going with Yvonne, so I think I probably got off easy.

A hipster couple I know have decided to name their daughter, Ruby Magnolia. I pointed out that according to the Social Security Database the name “Ruby” is skyrocketing in popularity, so they aren’t as cool and hip as they want to be. Toby Maguire named his daughter Ruby! (so embarassed I know that).

Any chance these folks are foreign born or daughters of foreign parents? Agnes, Martha, and Agatha, at least, are pretty common Eastern European names. All the people of these names I could think of are either Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, or Central American (in the case of Martha). Being that you live in Chicago, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a Polish connection to at least some of the names.

Can’t help you on names like Ethel or Gertrude, though.

Some of them could be Hispanic, also. They give quite a few baby girls old-fashioned names- I just saw a news story about a 6-month-old named Edna.

How granny are my first and middle names? Let’s just say that I’ve got two out of the four Golden Girls covered. 24, and I was a hipster, or tried to be one at least, until I was about 20. I got a name from each of my great-grandmothers, since they both died just before I was born.

I’m wondering if maybe it isn’t a little bit that the name helps shape the personality? I know I spent a lot of time as a kid trying not to match the image that goes along with my name. I also I got the merciless crap teased out of me in school because of my first name, which helped to make me kind of a loner and a nerd and maybe even a little bit of a rebel. Does it take a little more intestinal fortitude to be a Gertrude in a world full of Brittneys? Wikipedia defines hipster as “an individual who avoids and often explicitly rejects whatever is seen as mainstream or corporate in nature, instead embracing alternative forms of expression.” Maybe us girls with the granny names kind of start out preselected to favor this, since having an unusual or old-fashioned name might push us out of the mainstream among our peers from an early age.