Slick, modern names are all well and good, but I still think there’s something to said for old fashioned-sounding monikers — which is why I’d like to propose a list of vintage baby names from the 1940s worth bringing back today. In a world full of Braydens and Kimanthas, it’s refreshing to encounter something a little old-timey. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Brayden or a Kimantha, of course; sometimes, though, it’s just nice to have a change of pace.
The ‘40s, of course, are notable for more on the child-rearing front than just a plethora of awesome names; the latter half of the decade is also when the boom years — as in, the Baby Boomer generation — began. Following the Second World War and the terrible and extraordinary loss of life that occurred during it, U.S. veterans returned home, got married, and started families like whoa. The G.I. Bill of Rights, now known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, helped out here; passed in 1944, it provided benefits to veterans that hadn’t previously been readily available, such as access to higher education and low-cost mortgages. The baby boom that came along with all this also triggered a housing boom, a consumption boom, and a labor force boom, all of which led to a great deal of prosperity throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. Think of it like a domino effect, except that instead of dominos, we're looking at economic awesomeness.
And all those kids born during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s had some pretty fantastic names — ones which are long overdue for a reappearance, I feel. Here are 13 of my favorite vintage baby names from the 1940s according to the Social Security Administration’s always useful baby name data. How’s that for some inspiration?
There have been so many fantastic Dorothys (Dorothies?) throughout history: writer Dorothy L. Sayers, civil rights activist and politician Dorothy Mae Taylor, screenwriter D.C. (Dorothy Catherine) Fontana, figure skater Dorothy Hamill… the list goes on. And, of course, there’s always Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It means “a vision” or “gift of God” — and as a bonus, “Dot," "Dotty," and "Dottie" are all adorable nicknames. 132,237 baby girls were named Dorothy in the 1940s, making it the 20th most popular name of the decade.
Brenda Starr, Reporter — Dalia “Dale” Messick’s comic strip about a badass woman reporter that would run for more than 70 years — debuted on June 30, 1940. Although Brenda Starr would, over time, lose some of her feminist edge, when she first arrived on the scene, she was unlike any other character we had seen in comic strips up ‘til that point. It’s little wonder, therefore, that the name “Brenda” would become the 26th most popular moniker for girls during the ‘40s, with parents giving the name to 112,406 kids between 1940 and 1949. The feminine form of “Brendan,” it means “little raven” or “sword.” (How’s that for badass?)
“Arthur” has a long and storied history in fictional and mythological characters, from the legend of King Arthur (which might actually be based in truth, although we still don't know for sure) up through Arthur the Aardvark and Arthur Weasley. During the ‘40s, it ranked 34th in popularity; 73,961 boys born throughout the decade bore the moniker. There are rather a lot of different meanings pegged to it; some believe it to mean “noble” or “courageous,” while others trace it back to Irish and Gaelic words meaning “bear” and “stone.” And hey, if you want a musically-inspired nickname, you could go with “Art” (as in Tatum) or “Artie” (as in Shaw).
Gary Cooper was at the height of his career during the ‘30s and ‘40s, so it’s a great name for a little old fashioned Hollywood charm — or at least, that’s what the parents of 217,712 Garys born in the ‘40s thought, making it the 14th most popular boy’s name of the time. It means “spearman,” although it’s also apparently a gender neutral pick.
Kind of like the sound of Lily or Lillian, but not wild about the spelling? “Lillie” is a beautiful alternative. My favorite Lillie in history wasn’t actually around during the ‘40s — Lillie Langtry (seen here) died in 1929 — but screenwriter Lillie Hayward certainly was, penning some of the major big screen literary adaptations of the time (My Friend Flicka in 1943 and Black Beauty in 1946). More than 15,000 Lilllies were born between 1940 and 1949; the name’s meaning is pretty self-explanatory, but for the curious, the lily flower can symbolize innocence, purity, and beauty.
Or, alternatively, Theodora, although the feminine version didn’t crack the top 200 during the ‘40s. “Theodore,” however, was given to 26,242 boys at the time; Greek in origin, it means “righteousness.” “Ted,” “Teddy,” and “Theo” are all terrific shortened versions.
Here’s a solid gender neutral pick: 16,197 Bobbies, 58,871 Bobbys, and 21,372 Bobs were born in the 1940s. It can be short for “Robert,” “Roberta,” or “Barbara,” or it can be a name all on its own; either way, I kind of love it. The exact meaning can change depending on what your derivation is — “Roberta” means “bright fame,” for example, while “Barbara” means “foreign woman” — but eh, meanings aren’t everything. I have hopes that the popularity of Agents of SHIELD and the character Bobbi Morse might bring this one back into vogue.
While we’re on the subject…
I am so angry that Agent Carter got cancelled, you guys. So very, very angry. I am going to miss seeing Peggy Carter on my television screen so very much. The 42nd most popular name in the United States in the ‘40s, “Peggy” was given to 72,113 baby girls then; a form of “Margaret” (also popular in the ‘40s, to the tune of 173,012 babies), it means “pearl.”
A huge number of creative people throughout history have been named “Clifford,” from Clifford Brown to Clifford Harper (and also a big, red dog). To be fair, it wasn’t the most popular name in the ‘40s — it only ranks 101, with 25,819 Cliffords being born then — but it’s still a pretty fantastic name. English in origin, it means — unsurprisingly — “lives near the ford by the cliff.” (Get it?)
A variant of “Helen” (which was also popular during the ‘40s, ranking at number 34), “Eileen” means “bright, shining one.” While not quite as popular as its more common cousin — "Eileen" came in at number 89 in comparison — it’s a classy alternative, although odds are that any Eileens who enter the world now are going to spend their lives fielding “Come On, Eileen” jokes. Consider yourselves warned. But hey, at least you've got Eileen Brennan on your side, too, right?
OK, so admittedly, one of the most well-known Stanleys of the ‘40s isn’t exactly a shining example worthy of being a namesake; Stanley Kowalski of A Streetcar Named Desire, which made its Broadway premiere on Dec. 3, 1947, is pretty much the definition of toxic masculinity. But maybe it’s time to reclaim the name. Coming in at number 61in terms of popularity, “Stanley” was given to 46,262 baby boys during the 1940s; it means “from near the stony meadow.”
Tired of “Laura?” Give “Loretta” a shot. It wasn’t wildly popular in the ‘40s; like “Clifford,” it hovers around the 100 mark (with a precise ranking of 105 and 30,119 babies). Still, though — it’s lovely and old-fashioned, and “Etta” makes a great nickname. It means “little laurel.”
“Freddie” was firmly perceived as a boy’s name during the 1940s, coming in at number 149 in popularity with 15,372 babies. It’s a terrific gender neutral pick, though, either on its own or as a shortened version of something else (Frederick? Francesca? Winifred?) As a variant of “Frederick,” it means “peaceful ruler,” although that meaning might change depending on your full-length inspiration. (“Winifred,” for example, means “peaceful friend.”)
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