As I assembled yesterday's list, I noticed that all five First Ladies had names you rarely see anymore. I know one person named Harriet, but no one named Dolley (although I know one Dorothy, Dolley Madison insisted that Dolley was her name, not Dorothy). My high school librarian was named Edith, but I've never met anyone in my age range named Edith, and know no Florences.
What happens to given names? Why doesn't anyone name their children Ethel or Percy or Norma any more?
One hundred years ago, these were the most popular names given to girls and boys. Not one of these names is in the most recent lists of Top Five Baby Names, which I'll post tomorrow.
1. Mary. An obvious choice. It's not a name in my own immediate family, because no one wanted to subject a girl child to constant teasing about her middle name being "Hadalittle." But it's my mother's sister's first name, and she had an Aunt Mary, and I know few Catholic families that don't have an Aunt Mary. The youngest Mary I know, though, is in her mid-30s.
2. Helen. I know a Helen in her early 30s, and played with a neighbor named Helen when I was a child. "Helen" might be due for a comeback, in the way that "Emma" came back.
3. Dorothy. Elmo's goldfish is named Dorothy. Other than that, I know only one Dorothy, and she's in her 40s.
4. Margaret. The most common girl's name in my own family: I have a sister named Margaret, who has a daughter named Margaret, it was our Grandma Lamb's name, and we have an Aunt Margaret. My mother had at least one Aunt Margaret, too. At least in my family, this name never went away.
5. Ruth. I know a couple of women in my age range named Ruth, but it's not a name I see my friends giving their children. Too bad, because I like it. The Baby Ruth candy bar was supposedly named after President Grover Cleveland's daughter — but she died at the age of 12, in 1904, and the Baby Ruth candy bar didn't come out until 1921.
1. John. Probably the most common name among my own male friends; it still seems very popular, though most of my friends use the nickname "Jack" for their children. It's my brother's middle name, the name of one of my uncles, and the middle name of another uncle.
2. William. Another common name in my family; I must know a dozen Williams, Wills and Bills. It's still in the top ten list of boys' names.
3. James. My dad, my brother, my great-grandfather, a couple of great-uncles . . . the most common man's name in my family. At my great-aunt Agnes' 100th birthday party, there were so many Jims and Jimmys that we should have issued numbers.
4. Robert. I think plenty of boys are still being named Robert, but the diminutive "Bob" is just about gone. I don't know anyone named Bob who's under the age of 40; it's "Rob" now.
5. Joseph. Another very common name in my family, and I know plenty of Josephs and Joes who are around my own age. It's still pretty popular, I think.