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Popular & Dated vs Popular & Timeless

We're all familiar with names that are dated. For some, it might be Tammy, Donna and Lynn. For others, Tiffany, Kim or Tracy. But how popular were those names, are how did they become "dated?" My theory is that the names with the least amount of historical background, meaning and legitimacy, which rushed to the top of the charts, were the ones now considered dated. (Although sometimes pop culture ruins a popular name, and some just fall out of favor because they're tired.) On the other hand, those which are deemed traditional, with a long history of use and a rich background, might have been at the top of the charts for a long time without ever being considered dated - the "timeless classics." Here's five of each...

Timeless Classics

Catherine & Katherine - This Greek name is backed by saints, queens, royalty and literary figures up the wazoo and has been popular since the Dark Ages. The spelling with a C is currently resting at #161 and has never fallen below its 2010 ranking of #193. Catherine's highest ranking was #18 in both 1917 and 1914. Katherine with a K is currently at #61, never falling below #105, and its highest spot being #25 in 1991. Being a modest name, it didn't rush its way to the top, nor will it rush down.

Maria, Marie & Mary - These names are used in so many languages, across so many cultures and time periods, its impossible to be dated. From Biblical Mary to Marie Antoinette, this name has been popular for so long and has so many namesakes. Maria has only been used as a spoken given name since the 18th century, Mary since the 12th century, Marie before that, and Miriam/Miryam as the original. Maria ranked at #92 in 2011, Marie at #599 and Mary at #112. They've always ranked, and always ranked high. Mary was even #1 from 1880 to 1946, and then again from 1953 to 1961. I believe that was the longest run in the #1 spot ever.

Isabella & Isabelle - Isabella ranked from 1880 to 1894 in the 200s, into the 300s from 1896 to 1915, then the 400s from 1916 to 1925, working its way down to #996 in 1948, only reappearing in 1990 at #892, coming back with a vengeance until landing at #1 in 2010. The name has several queens, princesses and literary characters to back it up. I think it will stay at the top for quite a while to make up for all those years missing from the charts, and will always be viewed as a timeless classic, unlike Madison, a name traditionally used for boys that had a female takeover due to the movie "Splash." Eventually (say, ten years from now) Madison will be considered dated.

Elizabeth - This Hebrew name derived from Elisheva, meaning "my God is a vow," also has many namesakes, including Queen Elizabeth, and many international variants adding to its historical legitimacy. It can be found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, a 12th century saint and an empress of Russia. Currently at #11, it's been hovering around that spot since the 70s. It has always ranked, starting at #4, never falling below #26.

Anna & Anne - Anne is currently at #953, Anna at #38. From ancient Roman times and the goddess Anna Perenna, to the more modern Anne Frank, this name has a long history. You can find Anna as a prophetess in the Bible and possibly the mother of the Virgin Mary, two queens, and on today's A-list actresses. Anna has never fallen below #106 (it was #2 from 1880 to 1899), and Anne reached its lowest position ever in 2010 at #608. Other variants have also been very popular.

Unfashionable and Out of Date

Donna - Known for being a 60s and 70s name, that is when it was most popular. Donna was born into the world as a title, not a name, from domina, meaning "lady" (in the context of "master"). From Roman domina, the hereditary title, it transferred to the Donna of the 60s, an iconic woman. Donna dropped of the charts last year, last ranking at #984 in 2010, but it had been dying down from #6 in 1963. Before that, it quickly rose to the top of the charts from #403 in 1880 (and I can only assume it had been rising before that). My guess is that Donna didn't have as much substance as names like Katherine and Mary to continue being popular, and so much use in the 60s deemed it "dated."

Tracy - If you were looking at a chart of Mary and Tracy side-by-side, you'd see that Mary has a constant line shooting across the top, while Tracy jetted all the way up and then right back down. Tracy, Gaelic meaning "warlike" and a personal name derived from the place name Thracius, was originally used for boys. It was a blip on the charts for girls in 1884 & 1885, 1889 and 1890, 1896 and 1898. It didn't reappear for girls until 1942 after a Katherine Hepburn movie, when it went from #924 up to #10 in 1970. It proceeded to fall straight down until #974 in 2004, never to be seen again. It was the same story for the boys.

Tammy - Tammy has a similar story to Tracy, showing the same up-down pattern. As a nickname for Tamsin, meaning "twin," and Tamara, meaning "palm tree," it appeared low in 1947 at #957, then shot up to #8 from 1966 to 1970, then it shot back down to #840 in 1998, never to be seen again. Had it been Tamsin or Tamara and not a nickname, I think it would have had better luck. Tamara has a much, much slower up-down pattern, slowly rising from #878 in 1939 (possibly due to the Polish art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka) to #63 in 1974, then slowly falling to #908 in 2009, leaving room for a comeback.

Lisa - the Simpsons character probably affected Lisa a little bit, but I have a feeling that, like Tammy, its fall had more to do with being a short form of the timeless classic Elizabeth. Although Lisa shot up the charts, it took more time to fall down. It started at #957 in 1937, appearing suddenly for the first time, reached #1 from 1962 to 1969, then worked its way down to #703 in 2011. While it is still on the charts, it will continue to drop, albeit slowly.

Dawn - This name also shot straight up and straight down. It has a simple meaning, "sunrise," but no well known namesakes, no literary usage, no historical use. It appeared in 1915 at #855, went up to #14 in 1971 (being labeled a "hippy" name), and fell back down to #913 in 2000 just as quickly as it came. Its popularity could have been influenced by opera singer Dawn Upshaw, and its also possible that with no continuing namesakes the name fell out of favor. Aurora, on the other hand, which means "dawn," dates back at least 1500 years, was the name of a goddess, was used by famous 19th century poets, and has a Disney princess to boot. Aurora has always been on the charts and steadily climbing. It reached #183 last year, its highest place yet, but the recent shootings in Aurora, CO may determine if it continues its path.


I hope you enjoyed my research into the world of dated vs classic names, and I'd love to hear more nominations for both categories.

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