12 Surprisingly Feminist Baby Names From The 1900s

Feminist baby names? Love ‘em. Surprisingly feminist baby names? Love those, too. Surprisingly feminist baby names from the 1900s? Fun fact: Yes, they exist, and yes, they’re all kinds of awesome. I’m not a parent yet — heck, I haven’t even decided whether I’m going to be one ever — but if I do have kids, you’d better believe that these are the kinds of names I’ll be considering for them. They are both forward-thinking and delightfully old fashioned at the same time. Everybody wins.

Like a lot of eras in history, the turn of the century wasn’t exactly a great time for anyone who… basically wasn’t a wealthy, white, cis, straight dude. But depending on how you look at the inspiration, there are actually a surprising number of names that were popular during the years of 1900 to 1909 according to the Social Security Administration which we can consider feminist now. Whether it’s because they also belong to notable feminists or to beloved feminist characters, because they’re gender-neutral, or because their meaning is super badass, there are plenty of great picks for the modern feminist baby — even from well over a century ago.

So here. Have a look. See if you get inspired. And if you don’t, there’s plenty more where that came from.

1. Viola

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The draw of "Viola" is twofold: She’s one of Shakespeare’s most badass heroines, and the name itself means “conqueror.” The 45th most popular name during the first decade of the 20th century, 16,559 girls who arrived on the planet then bore the name. Also, if you want to get modern with it, Viola Davis. Enough said.

2. Willie

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“Willie” is traditionally a nickname for the boys’ name “William” — but during the 1900s, it was also a common pick for girls. 12,357 girls named Willie were born in the 1900s, while 17,746 boys also laid claim to it. Gender-neutral baby names are always cool. For the curious, it means “resolute protection.”

3. Josephine

Josephine Baker was born in 1906, which I think automatically qualifies it as being a badass feminist moniker. The feminine form of “Joseph,” “Josephine” is biblical in origin; it means “May God give increase.”

4. Jessie

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Another gender-neutral pick, “Jessie” — yes, with the –ie spelling we typically reserve for girls these days — was the 58th most popular girls’ name and the 73rd most popular boys’ name at the turn of the century. It means “rich” or “God exists.”

5. Amelia

Because, hi, Amelia Earthart. Technically the aviator pre-dates the decade in question — she was born in 1897 — but given the badass role model she would later become, I think it earns a spot here. 3,664 Amelias entered the world during the 1900s; it means “industrious” or “hard-working.”

6. Esther

Hebrew for “star,” Esther was one strong lady — a Persian queen who was also Jewish, she took a stand when the lives of all Jewish people were threatened, and subsequently established the holiday of Purim. Although the name has fallen somewhat out of favor due to its old-fashioned sound, it was the 33rd most popular name in the country between the years of 1900 and 1909, with more than 20,000 girls being granted the moniker.

7. Ollie

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I’m a big fan of gender neutral names in gender, but I love this one. It can be short for so many things — Olive, Olivia (as in Pope), Oliver — or it can be a given name all on its own. In fact, between 1900 and 1909, 4,725 girls and 952 boys were called Ollie. Yes please.

8. Beatrice

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Another one of Shakespeare’s suffer-no-BS heroines, “Beatrice” means “bringer of joy.” Bea Arthur wouldn’t be born until 1922, but she was also pretty badass, so consider this one a double whammy. It was the 47th most popular name in the 1900s.

9. Frederick

Frederick Douglass was one of the most notable male feminists in history, so… duh. Granted, yes, he was born in 1818 and died just short of the beginning of the 20th century — in 1895 — but still. A worthy name, indeed. The 67th most popular name during the 1900s, it means “peaceful ruler.” It also has all sorts of adorable nicknames; I’m fond of “Freddie” myself.

10. Lizzie

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For Lizzie Bennet, of course. “Elizabeth” is pretty much consistently on the list of the most popular names of any given era, but I like that “Lizzie” was a name in its own right in the 1900s. 4,824 Lizzies were born during the decade.

11. Charley

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“Charley” — a version of “Charles,” which means “manly” (for real. Yes, I know) — was perhaps not as common for boys as other forms of the name in the 1900s; however, it was still given to 1,633 boys during the decade. There’s no reason it can’t be a gender-neutral name, though, either as a nickname for Charlotte (of which there were 6,193 born during the 1900s) or as a name for a girl in its own right.

12. Sadie

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Although the idea Sadie Hawkins dance is somewhat troubling these days — Topanga Lawrence nailed it when she refused to participate in it because she felt that it limited girls to being able to ask out who they like on one day only — it was once actually quite revolutionary. So, for that matter, was the inspiration for it: Sadie Hawkins Day in the comic strip L’il Abner. Sadie Hawkins Day, which fell in November, signified the day the single women of Dogpath got to go after the men they wanted instead of waiting for the men to come after them. 

Yes, it's a somewhat simplistic reversal, and yes, the idea of anyone "chasing after" anyone else sounds like a troubling consent issue; at the time, though, it presented something incredibly progressive: Women not having to apologize for their sexuality, but instead being encouraged to embrace it. While it’s true that the first Sadie Hawkins Day L’il Abner strip wouldn’t run until 1937 — several decades after the opening decade of the century had drawn to a close — the association still functions retroactively.

Originally, “Sadie” was a nickname for “Sarah,” which means both names mean “princess” — but there’s no reason we can’t be talking about a Merida-style princess, as opposed to a Cinderalla-style one here.

Images: Amy Treasure/Unsplash; Giphy (8); Wikimedia Commons (1, 2)

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