11 Surprisingly Feminist Baby Names From The 1950s

When you think of the '50s, visages of the suburban boom and housewives ironing or cleaning the oven wearing pearls and pumps may spring to mind. In short, it likely isn't the decade that you'd pick if you were thinking of feminist baby names. You know what, though? There are actually a lot of surprisingly feminist baby names from the 1950s. Based on the SSA's data on the most popular baby names from the decade — as well as subsequent events in history that give added context to those names now — the '50s prove to be a time filled with names that feminist mamas can be proud to give their kids today.

As the mother of two tiny humans, believe me when I say I understand how agonizing it can be trying to nail down the perfect name for a little person you haven't yet met. And as a feminist, you want to give your daughter a name that projects what a fierce woman you're confident she'll grow to become. Were the 1950s a great time for, well, anyone outside of wealthy, straight, cisgender white men? Not exactly. But the nation was on the cusp of great change, and many of the women who were given these names in the '50s went on to become great catalysts for change in our country.

So if you love names that are at once both retro and modern, take a peek at some of these top picks from the '50s.

1. Ray


While this name was predominantly male in the 1950s — ranked at 111 with an impressive 29,899 boys getting the moniker during the decade — it is now an undeniably cool gender neutral name, often used for girls with the alternative spelling of "Rae."

2. Marilyn

In addition to being a beautiful name that commands attention (not to mention my lovely mother's name), Marilyn hearkens several great feminists in history. Two spring to mind immediately: second-wave feminist Marilyn French and feminist theorist Marilyn Frye. Ranked the 56th most popular pick during the '50s, it continues to fare well — in 2015, it was ranked no. 426 on Nameberry.

3. Valerie

There's an undeniably badass feminist history to this 1950s name. During medieval times, a soldier named Vitalis was buried alive for his belief in Christ. His wife, St. Valeria, was then martyred by pagans for standing beside her husband. On top of that, several other feminists in history share the name: think Valeries Solanas, Smith, and Wise.

4. Lois


As a feminist and a writer, I honestly adore the fact that Lois calls to mind two prominent feminist authors — Lois Banner and Lois Gould. Plus, I'd be lying if I said it didn't also make me think of Superman's fierce (and feminist!) girlfriend, Lois Lane.

5. Johnnie/Johnny

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During the '50s, both Johnny and Johnnie made the Top 200 names for little boys. However, I'm a huge fan of this gender-bending name for girls! Singer Melissa Etheridge must agree, since she named one of her twins Johnnie Rose. The name Johnny/Johnnie itself means "God is gracious."

6. Rita


Ranked No. 73 in the '50s, Rita is a name that just has a certain flair, don't you think? There's really no shortage of reasons to love it. For starters, it means "pearl," which is pretty great. It also hearkens silver screen siren Rita Hayworth, as well as feminist writer and activist Rita Mae Brown.

7. Leo


Several incarnations of this name were in high demand during the '50s for boys: Leo, Leon, Leonard. And while it would definitely still be considered a gender-defying name, it makes a unique and interesting pick for modern girls. It's got the whole lion thing going for it, you know?

8. Sylvia

As a big fan of Sylvia Plath's writing, it's no surprise this No. 108 '50s pick would land on my list. Really, there are several cool things happening with this name. It means "from the forest," which makes it perfect for those of us who love being in nature. It was also the name of the mother of twins Remulus and Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome.

9. Julie

Meaning "youthful," Julie is actually a gender neutral name despite being predominantly chosen for little girls. In fact, in the '50s, it was ranked 42 for girls and didn't make the cut for boys at all. I may be a bit biased since it is my name, but it also has serious feminist cred thanks to Julie Zeilinger — the Millennial founder of the feminist blog, The F Bomb, and author of A Little F'ed Up: Why Feminism is Not a Dirty Word.

10. Rose


Admittedly, this moniker sounds very sweet and delicate thanks to its floral namesake. But, hey, every rose has its thorns, right? These flowers are beautiful and tough, not unlike feminists who share the name such as women's suffrage activist Rose Scott and, yep, Rosie the Riveter, too.

11. Francis/Frances


True story: I have a friend who just named her daughter Frances, and they call her Frankie Faye. How precious is that! I feel like their kid is just destined to be complex and full of character. This name is gender neutral too, having ranked no. 102 in the '50s for men (Francis) and no. 86 for women (Frances).

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