16 Surprisingly Feminist Baby Names From The 1940s
If someone were to ask you to pinpoint a decade full of feminist baby names, you probably wouldn't immediately think of the 1940s. Admittedly, I didn't either. But you know what? It turns out that feminist baby names from the 1940s definitely exist; indeed, judging by the Social Security Administration's list of top names from the time, the '40s were chock full of seriously feminist monikers for girls and boys alike. And when you start digging a little deeper, you'll find that there was no shortage of inspiration, seeing as women in the '40s were doing some incredible things: Think playing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and breaking barriers at the Olympics. See? Awesome stuff.
The truth is there are a ton of names that were popular in the '40s that are still really relevant for feminists today. I was surprised, to be honest. I've done a few of these lists before and, more than any other decade I've done, the '40s surprised me the most in terms of the depth of names that were both unique and feminist in meaning or namesake. Since there's a huge boom right now in "old fashioned" baby names, many of the top picks back then are coming back in vogue. In seemingly equal measure, though, there is no shortage of eclectic names from the '40s with feminist undertones just begging to be given to a modern feminist baby.
While feminism hasn't officially been a movement in history for very long (in the grand scheme of things, that is), this list proves women have long been fighting for our unalienable rights. Giving that notion a nod by naming your own sweet bundle one of these '40s-inspired monikers is a great way for anyone to start life.
How do I love this name? Let me count the ways: Rosalie Olivecrona, Rosalie Rayner, Rosalie Abrams, Rosalie Bertell ... this name may only have ranked number 185 on the list of most popular monikers of the '40s, but it's tops in terms of the incredible women who've shared it. Baby Rosalies are basically destined to become feminist forces to be reckoned with.
Rad Florences throughout history include artist and humorist Florence Claxton, Florence Nightingale (of course), and singer Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine. Heck. And yes.
Or Frederick, for that matter, since the fem-spo here is none other than social reformer/orator/writer/visionary Frederick Douglass. Hailed as one of the most influential African-American men of the nineteenth century, Douglass spoke on many social issues — including women's rights, and especially women's suffrage. In an 1888 speech, he said, "I believe no man, however gifted with thought and speech, can voice the wrongs and present the demands of women with the skill and effect, with the power and authority, of woman herself. The man struck is the man to cry out. Woman ... is her own best representative."
If you're looking for a baby name for a little girl that hearkens some seriously badass women in history, look no further than the name Clara. Meaning "bright" or "clear," this moniker has at least three stellar namesakes: Clara Thompson, a psychoanalyst who connected the dots between gender characteristics and cultural contexts; Clara Schumann, one of the first and most distinguished pianists of all time; and Clara González, the first Panamanian woman to earn a law degree, the first Latin American woman to earn a doctorate in law, the first Panamanian woman named as a Juvenile court judge, and founder of the National Feminist Party.
There's lots to like about this name. Not only is an interesting take on the spelling of the ever-popular Lily, but it calls to mind American suffragist and reformer Lillie Devereux Blake — also known by her pen name, Tiger Lily. (For real, though ... how cool is that?) In addition to being a huge proponent of women's education, she earned notoriety when she picked apart the lectures of a clergyman insisting women's inferiority was supported by the Bible.
This gender neutral name is effortlessly interesting, no? Meaning "resolute protection," Billy/Billie works equally well for little boys or little girls. Plus, it's got some fantastic females to bolster its feminist cred — think the inimitable jazz great Billie Holiday, tennis legend Billie Jean King, and pilot/poet/painter/silent screen star Billie Dove. Fun fact? Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, decided on her professional pseudonym based off her admiration for Dove.
Vera, which means "faith" in Russian, is a name on the rise again — ranked number 188 in the '40s, it is currently up to number 312 on Nameberry's popularity chart. If the loveliness of the name itself doesn't sell you on it, perhaps knowing it is the name of feminists like Vera Brittain, Vera Mackie, and Vera Caspary will.
I love me some Barbara Walters, so I couldn't leave this one off the list. It's a bit of an abstraction, if you will, but naming a little boy Walter can certainly be construed as a nod toward broadcast journalism's leading lady. Besides, you can nickname him Walt, like Walt Whitman — the poet whose many meaningful friendships with women have led to his posthumous identification as a feminist.
While I'm tempted to champion this name solely for the beloved arachnid in E.B. White's classic coming-of-age novel, Charlotte's Web, I'll give you something a bit more substantial to go on, too: Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Author of "The Yellow Wallpaper," Gilman started her career as a door-to-door soap sales woman before morphing into one of the country's preeminent feminists and social reformers.
This short name, which means "industrious one," was lauded a century ago for being "sweet as apple cider." It's still pretty darn adorable, if you ask me, and it has some cool connotations. For starters, there's Ida B. Wells — a journalist, editor, suffragist, and leader in the 21st century civil rights movement who, in 1896, formed the National Association of Colored Women. There's also British-born actress/director Ida Lupino.
Although more popular for little girls, the name June works for little boys too. So if you're a fan of this month name, by all mean go for it regardless of your baby's sex. It's obviously a sweet choice, and it has the added benefit of being shared with feminist writer and professor June Hannam.
The name Paul was extremely popular for little boys in the '40s, coming in at #17 on the SSA's top names chart. And while it means "small," it has big impact if you think of feminist Alice Paul as inspiration. A celebrated suffragist, Paul founded the Congressional Woman Suffrage (CUWS) in 1913. When it merged with Woman's Party to form the National Woman's Party, she became the first chair. At one point, she even met with President Woodrow Wilson to urge him to support suffrage and drafted an Equal Rights Amendment.
Let's start with the fact this name means "life." You can't get much better than that, no? Part of its appeal, though, lies in the fact that it is associated with Eva Peron — better known to most as "Evita" — the wife of former Argentinian president Juan Peron and a celebrated suffragist and women's rights activist of the '40s. Which, to be sure, makes it perfect for this list.
As a writer, I'd be remiss not to mention a name inspired by scholar and fellow wordsmith Dale Spender, who has spent the better part of her career campaigning to remove inequalities in language that discredit women. Bonus? This name meaning "valley" works for little boys and little girls. Score!
C'mon ... this name means "victory," y'all. So, there's that. But what I'm about to say could seal the deal that this is one feminist name from the '40s you shouldn't pass up — suffragist Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president. I kid you not. It was in 1872 and she didn't win, but she dared to dream that dream and fight that good fight.
Anthony ranked number 45 in the '40s and hasn't waned much in popularity over the years — today, it is holding steady at number 25. I personally like it because it reminds me of feminist icon Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker who chose never to marry and devoted her life to campaigning for the abolition of slavery as well as in favor of women's rights.