10 Surprisingly Feminist Baby Names From The 1920s

When parents-to-be start brainstorming baby names, my intuition tells me the first thing out of their mouth isn't often, "Let's pick a name from the '20s!" But there are actually some unique, beautiful, and surprisingly feminist baby names from the 1920s that you might want to consider if you've got a little one on the way — or even if you don't. Maybe you're trying to name a character, or maybe you just kind of dig looking at names. They're fascinating, right?


When you think about it, it probably should come as no surprise that the Roaring '20s produced some rather memorable baby names; it was, after all, a decade of radical change. Americans left rural areas to live in cities; the country's wealth more than doubled; and nationwide advertising plus the growing popularity of chain stores bred an entirely new culture of consumption. The '20s were also the decade of the flapper: A young lady with a bob haircut, the iconic fringed dress, and a newfound sense of freedom. In fact, 1920 marked the year the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.

If you're looking to turn back the clock and pick a popular baby name from history, the '20s are a great place to start. Here are 10 of the decade's favorite baby names according to the Social Security Administrations data, plus notable women who each add their own feminist touch — brilliant minds in the fields of entertainment, politics, medicine, and more.

1. Ruth

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second woman to be appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice. She first graduated from Columbia Law School and has also been a powerful advocate for equal rights. She even worked with the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. Fittingly, "Ruth" means "compassionate friend."

2. Estelle

Estelle Getty was known for portraying Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls. She was a feisty little old lady, full of dirty jokes and sexual innuendos. Her character (and the show in general, really) was more than just hilarious: It all proved that women — yes, even older women — can be sassy, funny, witty, and have a sex drive. "Estelle" means "star," and boy, was Estelle Getty ever one of those.

3. Mildred

Mildred might not be a popular name now, but it certainly was in the 1920s, and for a good reason: The name means "gentle strength," indeed a great moniker for any woman.

4. Helen

Helen was originally the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. Then she stuck up both middle fingers and eloped with Paris, sparking the Trojan War. Pretty badass (minus the whole war part. War, as they say, is hell). The name means "bright, shining light."

5. Virginia

Sure, the name means "chaste," which is a little slut shame-y — but just think of all the incredible women who have been called "Virginia" throughout history. First to mind for me is Virginia Woolf, famous English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the entire century. She spoke at colleges and universities and wrote countless essays, novels, and short stories. She was known for both her brains and her deep creativity. 

6. Alice

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Alice Munro isn't just a highly respected Canadian writer. She also won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. The name means "noble."

7. Frances

The spellings vary, and Frances is a wonderful gender neutral baby name. Over 140,000 girls alone were given the name in the 1920s. "Frances" means "free one."

8. Florence

Florence Nightingale, a nurse, became known as the "Lady with the lamp" due to spending her nights caring for the wounded. It was during the Crimean War that she and the rest of her team helped to improve sanitation issues and reduced the death count by two-thirds! She also produced writings that helped ignite health care reform around the globe. No big deal. The name, by the way, means "blooming flourish," which is kind of spectacular.

9. Jean

Jean is another trusty gender neutral name to give your little one. In the 1920s, it came in at number 16 in popularity, with nearly 106,000 babies bearing it. It means "gift from God."

10. Eleanor

These days, we understand that the wife of the president plays her own role in politics and activism, and we have Eleanor Roosevelt to thank for that. The First Lady (wife of Franklin Roosevelt) was heavily active in American politics, giving press conferences and speaking on behalf of human rights, women's matters, children, the poor, and racial equality. She even had her own newspaper. A variant of "Helen," "Eleanor" means "shining light."

Images: jry140305/Pixabay; CKnight70, Alan Light, Irena, Betty B, Wellcome ImagesFDR Presidential Library and Museum/Flickr

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