Monday, September 19

Panning for Name Gold: 1880

For those of you not in the know, the Social Security Administration (or as Rick Perry likes to call it, the Ponzi-Scheme Fun-Time Show) puts out a list of the most popularly-used baby names in the United States each year. The list is usually released around Mother’s Day, because they do it as a special gift, just for me.
The SSA list is a comprehensive overview of the top 1,000 names used for girls and boys — complete with the number of times a name is actually used (the #1 names, which you should definitely know, are Jacob and Isabella, each used on about 20,000 babies in 2010). The website is a place where name fiends can lose themselves for hours. (However, if you’re looking for information on middle name popularity, you won’t find it. If someone from the Administration is reading this, I will gladly sift through the data for you and take care of everything. I will do this all for free, even though I really have lots of other stuff I should be doing, like raising my daughter and writing unpublished novels. Thank you.)
Recently, in a genius move, the SSA made available for PDF-download lists of all the baby names used more than five times for every year since 1880. Now, instead of merely the top 1,000, you can search through pages and pages of every name used more than five times, and learn everything there is to learn about name trends in the United States. Remain calm!
In the dregs of these totally bizarre, eclectic lists are some really wicked names. Names that have never been popular, will probably never be popular, and are by all accounts strange one-off naming moments. These names have a special place in my heart. They come with auras, they beg for answers and explanation — they are cool. 
Here on Eponymia, I’ll be looking at one list from each decade, and choosing ten (5 girls, 5 boys) names that were used less than 10 times, to highlight and talk about. Just to put them out there and hope they stick, because 20,000 children named after characters in Twilight is more than enough.
Here are my picks from 1880, when the President’s name was Rutherford 
Orson — means “bear cub” and has a nice old-Hollywood feel, thanks to Orson Welles
Philo — “to love,” is a nice meaning for a boy. It ends in “O,” which makes it sound modern and fresh, and it could be a nice way to honor a Philip
Theron — if you think giving your son a name that means “to love,” will turn him gay, you’ll be glad to know that Theron means “hunter.” It also sounds familiar thanks to serious actress Charlize Theron
Urban — Pope alert! You can guess what Urban means. “U” is an under-used letter in first names, and the “N” ending has always been popular for boys
Winston — Winston’s hot in Britain right now, and has a great, strange meaning — “joy stone.” Depending on your proclivities you can think of Churchill, or George Orwell’s poor Winston Smith
Isadora — Isabella only has a bunch of boring queens, but Isadora (or even better, Isidora) was a saint. An Egyptian hermitess saint
Leonie — from Leo, so it means “lion.” Leonie is currently the #3 girl’s name in Austria and is in France’s top 50 (as Léonie)
Mahala — enough with the McKayla already. Here’s a lesser-known Biblical name for those who love soft sounds and layered meaning
Sula — personally, I like the name Ursula, but for those who’ve had it corrupted by Disney sea witches, just chop off the front and you have a breezy standout girl name
Zoa — Zoa’s the sharpest name on this list, and should appeal to nature lovers (it’s a mountain in Canada), anthropology lovers (it’s the name of a tribe of people who live in the Amazonian rainforest) and literature buffs alike (an unfinished book by William Blake has the title The Four Zoas)


  1. Winston is taking off in a restrained sort of way, and I recently saw a kid called Orson.

  2. I've just stumbled across your wonderful blog and am working my way through it... So, five years late but great site and great list!

    I love Orson, Philo, Isadora (and Isidor!), Leonie and Zoa. That last one's new to me, actually, but it's a bit of a "why didn't I think of that?!" kind of name, what with Zoe and Noah/Noa and Koa all on the up. Simple, clean and spiky, love it!


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