Baby name consultation: Traditional, vintage, old-timey name for first baby

This consultation is for a first baby! The mama writes,

My husband and I are looking for a name for our first baby. We haven’t found out the baby’s sex. If it’s a boy, his name will be John, which is a family name … For girl names we are stuck and haven’t found one that we are both in love with.

We both definitely lean towards traditional, vintage, old-timey names. I think I’m slightly more adventurous than my husband.

A saint’s name is important to us in either a first or middle name. I’d love to do Mary as a first name, but I do think it’s awfully close to my own name. I would definitely use Mary as a middle name. St. Gerard Majella has been a huge intercessor for us, although I am not sure how to best honor him (Geraldine? Which I am not crazy about.) 

Names that we have discussed:

1. Nora is a top contender for me. I love the Irish-ness of it. My husband likes it, but prefers Eleanor.

2. Cecilia is my husband’s favorite. It feels very sugary-sweet to me. I also know a lot of little Cecilias! 

3. Frances is also a favorite of my husband. I like it, and love Frannie or Frankie as nicknames. I wonder if it’s too old-fashioned?

4. I adore Beatrice as well as the nickname Bea. This is a little “out there” for my husband. 

5. Josephine is a contender. We like Joey and Josie as nicknames. 

6. I think Rose is simple and beautiful. It makes my husband think of Titanic. 

7. Esther is a name I’ve always loved, but is way too old-fashioned for my husband.

Other names that we have talked about and like: Caroline, Lucy, Isla, Leah, Alice, and Laura.”

First off, I love that they’ve chosen John if their baby is a boy. Such a strong, handsome name! You can’t go wrong with John!

Second, I love that the mama said she and her hubby “both definitely lean toward traditional, vintage, old-timey names” — what a blessing that they’re both basically on the same page!

Okay, her first question was about how best to honor St. Gerard Majella (one of my very favorites too! I even started compiling stories on the blog of babies who were the answer to prayers for St. Gerard’s intercession!). I have a few ideas!

  • Majella: She mentioned loving the Irish-ness of Nora. I discovered a while ago that Majella has a reputation for being an Irish name (according to its Behind the Name entry), and it was a top 100 name in Ireland from 1964 to 1970, remaining on the Irish name chart (though somewhat spottily later on) until 2009 (source). Given the other names on their list, I’m not sure these parents would love Majella as a first name (though its built-in nicknames Ella and Ellie can make it feel more doable), but maybe as a middle?
  • Maiella: St. Gerard’s name in his native Italian was Gerardo Maiella — I believe Maiella is said MY-ella, with MAY-ella perhaps being acceptable if they prefer. It’s so pretty! It’s very Italian, while this couple has a more English/Irish sensibility, but again, this could be a perfect middle name.
  • May, Mae: I wonder if May or Mae might feel close enough to Maiella to feel like they could honor St. Gerard? They’d pull double duty as honoring Mary as well, as May/Mae are Mary variants.
  • Margaret: I once heard of a family with a devotion to St. Margaret naming their son Garrett after her — taking the “-garet” ending of Margaret as their inspiration for Garrett, which I loved! Even more fun is that Garrett is derived from Gerard, so if they went in reverse, perhaps Margaret could honor St. Gerard! (In fact, if my last baby had been a girl, I wanted Margaret to be part of her name in honor of St. Gerard.)
  • Lucy or Josephine: According to St. Gerard’s Wikipedia page, the St. Gerard’s Chapel in St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, NJ was dedicated as a national shrine in 1977 and every year near his feast day, there is a big celebration there including a street procession. And St. Joseph’s Church in Dundalk, Ireland does the St. Gerard Majella Annual Novena every year, which is described as the “biggest festival of faith in Ireland.” So perhaps Lucy or Josephine would suit? Especially since they’ve considered them both already!

Those are my ideas for honoring St. Gerard, and I also wanted to address this mama’s hope to use Mary as a first name: I wonder if she has considered a Mary variant as a first name instead, so it didn’t feel so similar to her own name? I mentioned May or Mae above; I also particularly love Maura (or the longer Maureen) and Moira (can be said like Maura, or MOY-ra) for this family — Irish versions that are lovely! (Though they’d knock Nora out of the running for the future.) Molly is an Irish version too, which is wonderful on its own, or it can be used as a nickname for Mary (since it started as a nickname/diminutive of Mary). I have a friend whose given name is Mary, and she goes by Molly, and I know a girl named Maura who uses Molly as her everyday call name. Then there are the non-Mary Marian names — for example, Beatrice, Rose, Lucy, and Isla are all in my book of Marian names! I’ll explain why more specifically below.

So here are my thoughts on the names these parents have discussed, in case they’re helpful:

  • Nora: I love Nora too! Eleanor with Nora as a nickname isn’t a terrible compromise, if Mama can get on board with it. Another is Honora, which is described as an Irish name on Behind the Name (and related names Annora and Onóra, which seem a little too offbeat for this couple). Also, I think it’s always helpful to share a name’s popularity, especially for first-time parents, just so they can place the names they like in 2020 context: Nora was no. 29 in 2019 according to the SSA data, Eleanor was no. 27, and neither Honora, Annora, nor Onóra were in the top 1000.
  • Cecilia: Cecilia is also lovely! I wonder if the medieval English variant Cecily might be a better option here — it seems a little less frilly than Cecilia, so maybe a little less overly sweet? I like that they could consider using Lia as a nickname for Cecilia — since they’ve considered Leah, Cecilia nicknamed Lia could be a nice two-for-one option. Cecilia is no. 153, Cecily is not in the top 1000. It’s funny that this mama said she knows a lot of little Cecilias, when, at no. 153, it’s less popular than several other names on their list. It’s definitely important for parents to be aware of any “name pockets” they might be in, whether geographically or faith-wise, because that will definitely color how they see a name, no matter what the stats say.
  • Frances: Frances sounds like a homerun for this family, since both Mom and Dad like it and Mom loves the nicknames Frannie and Frankie! So many “old” names are roaring back into fashion right now, so I wouldn’t let any worries about a name being too “old-fashioned” bother them! Frances was no. 438 in 2019, up from no. 828 in 2007 (its most recent low ranking) — in fact, it’s always been a top 1000 name and was a top 100 name until 1956. When I think “old fashioned,” I don’t think 1956! It’s true that it was at its most popular from 1911 to 1926, when it was a top 10 name, but a name that’s always been in the top 1000 (and most of that time in the top 500) isn’t a name that is irretrievably tied to one time period. And even the most difficult of given names can be salvaged with a great nickname, and they have two that the mama loves — Frannie and Frankie are spunky and sweet and perfect!
  • Beatrice: I mentioned earlier that Beatrice is an entry in my book of Marian names, and it’s for this reason: “As the word beatrix in Latin means ‘she who blesses, makes happy, delights,’ the name Beatrix [of which Beatrice is a variant] can easily refer to Our Lady, who blesses us all and is the Cause of Our Joy (Causa Nostrae Laetitiae).” I love it as a Marian name! And Bea is a darling nickname. Beatrice actually has a similar popularity arc as Frances: it was more popular earlier in the 20th century, then fell in popularity — dropping out of the top 1000 altogether in 1997, 1999, and 2002-2005 — and is on its way back up (no. 562 in 2019).
  • Josephine: Wonderful name, and I too love Joey and Josie. Josephine is no. 89.
  • Rose: Rose is simple and beautiful! And Marian! (Our Lady’s titles Mystical Rose, Golden Rose of Ireland; the roses at Guadalupe and on her feet at Lourdes; the rosary — just to name a few connections.) If Mama loves Rose but Papa’s stuck on Titanic, maybe a longer Rose name? Like Rosemary, Rosemarie (I had a friend a long time ago from Ireland named Rosemarie), Rosalie, or I’ve even seen Rosary as a given name? Rose is no. 115, Rosemary is 409, Rosemarie is not in the top 1000, Rosalie is no. 208, and Rosary is not in the top 1000. Since they like spunky and sometimes tomboyish nicknames, I’ve seen both Rory and Romy as nicknames for Rosemary! Something else to consider is that Josephine nicknamed Josie, and Rose or a Rose name as a given name (with or without Rosie as a nickname) might be too rhymey for sisters going forward.
  • Esther: It’s so funny to see that Mama worries that Frances is too old-fashioned, and Papa worries that Esther is too old-fashioned! All of the names on their list fit neatly into the “traditional, vintage, old-timey names” that the mama said they both like, so I would encourage them both not to worry too much about any name being too old-fashioned! Esther is another one that I see coming back, and nicknames like Essie and Etty are so appealing. Esther is actually more popular (and has almost always been more popular, and more steadily so) than Frances and Beatrice — it was no. 167 in 2019.
  • Caroline: Caroline is a huge hit among the families I do consultations for, usually in honor of St. John Paul II, whose birth name was Karol. I love it! It’s no. 61.
  • Lucy: Lucy’s another name in my book of Marian names, for Our Lady of Light and also Lux Veritas (“Light of Truth”), the name of the 1931 papal encyclical that celebrated the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus, during which Mary’s title as Mother of God was declared (Lucy comes from the Latin lux, meaning “light”). Such a sweet name. Lucy is no. 48.
  • Isla: Isla, too, is in my book of Marian names, for Mary’s title Our Lady of the Isles, referring to a statue of Our Lady on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland as well as many churches and institutions in the U.S. and Canada devoted to Our Lady of the Island or Our Lady of the Isle. (While I do see Isla as a little bit of an outlier for this family style-wise, I also find myself swoony over sisters Nora, Lucy, and Isla — I love that they’re all four letters and can have an Irishy/British Isles feel.) Isla is no. 57, after having been out of the top 1000 for over 100 years! It entered the top 1000 again (since 1908) in 2008 at no. 623 and rose quickly, so it does have a trendy feel right now, even though it has a long history of usage.
  • Leah: Leah’s one of my favorite of the Old Testament girl names — I love how short and sweet it is. I mentioned earlier that I thought it (along with Isla) is maybe out of sync with the style of the other names this couple is considering — it’s funny that other biblical names like Esther and the more familiar ones like Elizabeth, Sarah, and Anna feel more similar to this couple’s other names but have a different feel than Leah. I wonder why? Anyway, I do like Leah! It’s no. 44.
  • Alice: I actually had Alice as one of my top suggestions for this family until I re-read the mama’s email and realized they’d already considered it! It feels great as a sister to almost all of the other names on their list, and is actually a great example of the “old” and “old-fashioned” names that are coming back: it wasn’t that long ago that Alice was totally a grandmother name to me, but it was no. 73 in 2019, up from no. 328 in 2008 — it’s jumped quite a bit in the last ten years!
  • Laura: Funny enough, while most of the names on this couple’s list are on the rise after having fallen a bit out of fashion, Laura’s actually on the way down. It’s been a strong (top 100) name for all of the twentieth century until it started declining for good in 2002 when it dropped from 86 to 105, and in 2019 it was no. 337. Isla, Leah, and Laura all sound similar enough to me that I think it’s the kind of thing where if they use one of them, the others are probably off the table moving forward. I wonder if any of those three rise to the top as their favorite of them?

Alrighty, so those are my thoughts on the names these parents are considering — now on to my new ideas! You all know that I always start a consultation by looking up the names the parents like and are considering in the Baby Name Wizard as it lists, for each entry, boy and girl names that are similar in terms of style/feel/popularity. I did so for this couple, and was intrigued by my findings — some of the names were ones I expected, and others were a surprise! I also used different combinations of the names they like (Nora, Cecilia, Beatrice; Josephine, Rose, Esther; Frances, Isla, Lucy) in babynamewizard.com’s Name Matchmaker tool, and was delighted to see confirmation of the names I’d already started scribbling down for them. Based on all that, these are my ideas:

(1) Claire/Clare or Clara

The Claire names fit in so nicely with their “traditional, vintage, old-timey names” — they’re sweet and saintly, and the spelling Clare can loop in an Irish feel too. Claire is no. 55, Clare is no. 800 (amazing what difference spelling can make!), and Clara is no. 95.

(2) Julia

I like how Julia has the same -lia ending as Cecilia, but I don’t think anyone would think of Julia as “sugary-sweet” (lovely and feminine, yes, but also maybe a bit more serious?). Like with Cecilia, they could consider Lia as a nickname, or Julie, Jules, and Jude, and even Juliet, as Juliet started as a diminutive of Julia. Julia is no. 99.

(3) Violet

I expected Violet to be a style match for Rose (being that they’re both flower names), but it was also fun to see that it’s a match for Beatrice, Josephine, and Cecily (which I looked up in addition to Cecilia, just to see how they differ stylistically). V or Vee can be a fun, spunky nickname, or Vi (rhymes with “eye”) or even Lettie. Violet is no. 36.

(4) Gemma or Genevieve

I’m including Gemma and Genevieve together because of their nearly identical first-two-syllable sounds. I do love Genevieve, and I think it fits their “old/traditional/vintage” vibe, but something kept me from enthusiastically recommending it — maybe because it’s so French? Gemma has more of that British Isles feel, and is more consistent with the length of name they seem to prefer (ten of their thirteen names are one or two syllables only. Though I’m not disregarding Cecilia, Josephine, and Caroline!). They’re both saintly and lovely! Gemma is no. 198 (after not having ever been in the top 1000 until 2008, so rising fairly quickly) and Genevieve is no. 168 (while almost always being a top 500 name). Genevieve can also take a lot of nicknames, like Genna, Vieve, Vivi, Vee, and Evie.

(5) Ruby or Ruth

I was actually amazed at how well Ruby did here! Between my research in both the BNW book and the web site, it showed up as a style match for basically all of the names on their list! It’s a sweet, vintage-y name that’s actually always been in the top 400 and is currently no. 66. If they don’t like it as a given name, maybe they’d like to consider it as a nickname? I saw it as a nickname for a little girl named Rebecca years ago, and thought that was amazing! I did a spotlight post on Ruby a while ago, and offered some other ideas of given names to get to Ruby as a nickname, like Rosa Beatrice (such a great match for their list!), Ruth Abigail, Roma Benedicta, and Regina Kolbe — combos that have an R first name and a strong B sound in the middle. But let’s go back to Ruth for a minute — it’s a match for Leah and Esther, being an Old Testament name like them, and such a great character in the bible, as well as having the amazing meaning of “friend.” I adore the nickname Ruthie. Ruth is no. 231.

(6) Sadie (or Sarah with the nickname Sadie)

Sadie is a traditional nickname for Sarah, and it feels similar to Ruby to me. And it was a big match for this couple’s style! It definitely has that sweet old-fashioned feel, while also having current appeal: it’s no. 87. They can certainly use Sadie on its own, but I also quite like the idea of using Sarah as the given name and Sadie as a nickname. Sarah is like Esther and Leah (and Ruth above) with being an Old Testament name, but I think it fits more with their other names than Leah does, for example. It reminds me quite a bit of Laura (for which Sarah is also a style match). Sarah was a top ten name from the late 70s until 2002, but like Laura is on its way down (it’s no. 81). However, a friend of mine named her baby girl Sarah two years ago, and I was so pleasantly surprised!

(7) Emilia

Emily popped up a couple times here and there in my research for this family, but it just didn’t feel quite right, I’m not sure why. But I wondered what they’d think of Emilia? It’s St. John Paul’s mother’s name — her cause for canonization is open! Emilia’s on the rise — it’s currently no. 42 after having hung out between 500 and 1000 previous to 2004, and it’s almost identical in sound to Amelia, which is no. 7, but I love that connection to St. JP!

(8) Adelaide

Finally, like Ruby, Adelaide showed up for almost all their names once I finished my research in both the book and the web site! In the book it’s in the category “Elegant Antiques,” which I think it such a great way to describe this couple’s style. Adelaide is actually related to Alice — they’re derived from the same name! And it’s got fun nicknames, like Addie, Ada, and Laidy/Lady. Adelaide’s no. 305.

And those are all my ideas! What do you all think? What names would you suggest for this first baby, if a girl?


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady!

10 thoughts on “Baby name consultation: Traditional, vintage, old-timey name for first baby

  1. I think that even sweet-sounding names can also be very strong names, especially when they are names of martyrs, such as Cecelia and Julia. Cecelia is even one of the female martyrs invoked in the Roman Canon of the traditional Mass (Eucharistic Prayer I in the Novus Ordo).

    Just a thought.

    Like

  2. Anne is a simple, classic and beautiful name. Like John and Mary, it’s hardly dated but would be refreshingly surprising on a little one.

    I’ve also had many years experience with the name Frances and can highly recommend it 🙂

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  3. I am the mother of a four-year-old Frances–definitely not too old fashioned! She doesn’t “officially” have a nickname, but we call her Francie at home and she gets called Franny at school. I worried that it might be too serious for a little girl, but she is sweet and silly and it suits her just fine.

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  4. Oh, I think Mary Geraldine would be so awesomely Catholic! 😍 I just adore Geraldine. If Mary rhymes with mother’s name maybe a pet name like Margie at home would be fun, it has a nice midcentury vibe, but she could be Mary at school.

    Of the other names suggested I think Genevieve and Adelaide are lovely options for them.

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  5. Ooh I am totally on board with this couple’s style! You suggested my one year old’s name for them (Cecily) and her “god sister” (her godparents’ daughter who was baptized the same day lol!), Cecilia (nicked Cici) also just turned one. Both names are wearing beautifully on the babies and I know they will grow up great with them! Adelaide has also been on our short list the past couple of babies. Love it! And I am so swoony over Isla. I don’t think my hubby would get on board but I’m all heart eyes 😍😍 I also agree that neither Frances nor Esther is “too” old fashioned for today’s naming climate! They are certainly *ready for a comeback* if mom and dad don’t feel like they’ve come back already. I promise for any name you give your child…your child will become your primary association with that name! I mean maybe don’t name twins Rose and Jack if you don’t want to call Titanic to mind, but one by itself will become “my lovely babe” instead of “a movie character” quickly. Can’t wait to see what this couple settles on!

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  6. When considering Gerard Majella as an honor name, I first thought of Marjorie Ella. It has the Jo sound of Josephine. Marjorie is a variation on Margaret, so it honors Mary.

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  7. I think the name Clara is ideal here! It’s vintage and it’s the perfect balance between Nora and Cecilia, without being too different from any of those. And with a possible future sibling named John, I think it makes for a very strong and saintly sibset, while being sweet and simple.
    If you don’t want Mary, another idea is Marie or Maria. Also vintage but in a very simple and saintly way. Or Mariella for a nod to both St. Mary and St. Gerard?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like Abigail Ruth.

    Other names that might warrant consideration:
    Lydia
    Mariel or Marielle — although might be too close to mom’s name
    Miriam

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