Farewell Elmer And Wilma: The Once-Popular U.S. Baby Names That Went Extinct

Plus, a look at the emerging names that might be popular in the future.
US Baby Names represented by a baby sticking their tongue out to the camera.

“What’s in a name?” as the famous Shakespeare quote goes. But naming trends can actually provide a fascinating window into different cultures and time periods, revealing which influences were most impactful on new parents’ name choices at the time. 

Our analysis of Social Security Administration records reveals the popular names from a century ago which have now fallen so far down the rankings that they can be considered “extinct.” 

Our researchers identified the top 100 names for baby boys and the top 100 names for baby girls in 1923. The frequency of these specific names for newborns was then assessed decade-by-decade over the intervening century, revealing a resilience or decline in popularity. Using SSA data from Social Security card applications for births that occurred in the United States, we were then able to shortlist 25 boys’ names and 36 girls’ names which have not featured in the top 1000 names for any year since 2020, thus making these once-popular names “extinct.” 

1923 vs. 2023: The Once Ubiquitous First Names Now Extinct

Boys’ Names

Name 1923 Ranking Most Popular Year Last Appeared In Top 1000
Arnold 93rd 1916 (83rd) 2004 (901st)
Bernard 46th 1921 (45th) 2008 (943rd)
Bill* 98th 1932 (58th) 1993 (885th)
Billy* 78th 1935 (19th) 2019 (890th)
Cecil 87th 1902 (65th) 1997 (972nd)
Chester 63rd 1919 (53rd) 1995 (918th)
Clarence 29th 1905 (17th) 2010 (987th)
Clifford 65th 1909 (57th) 1997 (972nd)
Dale 90th 1958 (46th) 2009 (917th)
Earl 31st 1901 (23rd) 2006 (993rd)
Elmer 57th 1901 (38th) 2009 (924th)
Ernest 38th 1906 (28th) 2018 (969th)
Floyd 64th 1905 (44th) 1998 (978th)
Fred* 33rd 1900 (17th) 2002 (875th)
Glenn 84th 1962 (55th) 2008 (865th)
Herbert 40th 1929 (25th) 2002 (977th)
Herman 66th 1904 (47th) 1999 (980th)
Lester 71st 1906 (52nd) 1999 (876th)
Lloyd 59th 1918 (51st) 2002 (994th)
Milton 81st 1912 (64th) 2008 (935th)
Norman 44th 1931 (36th) 2005 (908th)
Ralph 23rd 1917 (21st) 2018 (950th)
Vernon 67th 1920 (65th) 2003 (950th)
Virgil 100th 1907 (93rd) 1991 (861st)
Willard 92nd 1915 (58th) 1989 (961st)

Girls’ Names

Name 1923 Ranking Most Popular Year Last Appeared In Top 1000
Agnes 63rd 1911 (39th) 1972 (988th)
Ann 52nd 1936 (28th) 2019 (980th)
Bernice 43rd 1921 (39th) 1984 (936th)
Bertha 64th 1900 (16th) 1985 (950th)
Bessie 81st 1900 (15th) 1975 (957th)
Betty* 5th 1934 (2nd) 1996 (904th)
Dolores 83rd 1930 (13th) 1989 (959th)
Doris 11th 1929 (6th) 1992 (882nd)
Edna 32nd 1900 (12th) 1991 (912th)
Ethel 38th 1900 (8th) 1975 (889th)
Geraldine 58th 1931 (38th) 2012 (995th)
Gertrude 59th 1906 (22nd) 1965 (975th)
Gladys 29th 1901 (11th) 1999 (967th)
Ida 68th 1900 (30th) 1986 (996th)
Jean 19th 1929 (12th) 1994 (980th)
Jeanne 90th 1946 (83rd) 1990 (964th)
Juanita 51st 1924 (48th) 2002 (998th)
Lois 27th 1930 (17th) 1983 (982nd)
Lorraine 57th 1928 (39th) 1995 (882nd)
Marian 65th 1924 (64th) 2000 (735th)
Marion 44th 1922 (42nd) 1988 (955th)
Marjorie 16th 1923 (16th) 2017 (940th)
Mildred 8th 1920 (6th) 1984 (967th)
Minnie 99th 1900 (22nd) 1971 (956th)
Myrtle 84th 1901 (28th) 1965 (947th)
Norma 41st 1932 (22nd) 2002 (928th)
Patricia 56th 1952 (3rd) 2019 (940th)
Pauline 37th 1915 (32nd) 1997 (975th)
Phyllis 45th 1929 (24th) 1984 (959th)
Rita 50th 1930 (42nd) 2002 (918th)
Shirley 26th 1936 (2nd) 2008 (908th)
Thelma 31st 1910 (25th) 1982 (979th)
Viola 79th 1908 (42nd) 1972 (958th)
Wanda 80th 1934 (47th) 1990 (980th)
Willie* 67th 1909 (54th) 1972 (943rd)
Wilma 74th 1925 (62nd) 1973 (940th)

Note: Accessible SSA ‘popularity of a name’ data goes back to 1900.  

* Used as a full given name (rather than in use as a nickname)

What Makes A Name Popular?

Esteban Touma, Babbel Live Teacher explains, “Naming trends are reflective of broader linguistic and cultural trends, which is why looking at the popular names from a bygone era can offer you a snapshot into the culture of that place at that time. The popular trends in the United States today mirror the changing demographics of the country’s population, and how U.S. culture has evolved over the decades. Prominent celebrities’ name choices and names featured in popular culture can certainly impact people’s naming decisions. For example, it’s been reported that there’s been a surge of interest in the name ‘Barbie’ following the blockbuster movie this summer. Through looking at the top names from a century ago which can now be considered extinct, we can evaluate why that might be, and whether any of them are likely to have a revival any time soon – after all, like past popular fashion trends, these vintage names might come back around again.” 

Laura Wattenberg, creator of namerology.com and author of The Baby Name Wizard, comments,  “These names show how dramatically American name style has changed. 100 years ago, the fashion was for rich, heavy names dense with consonants. Letters like L, D, R and N would cluster together for a sound that felt elegant at the time.

“In the 21st Century, name style has turned smooth and light. Just try saying aloud today’s top three top names — Liam, Noah and Olivia — and compare that feeling to pronouncing Mildred, Herbert and Myrtle. The style transformation is so complete that parents today can hardly imagine most of the 1923 names as babies. But many of them were wildly popular. In fact, Mildred was far more popular in 1923 than any baby name is today. Names rise fast, but they fall even faster. Incredibly, the ‘80s favorite Krista is now less common than Edna, and boys are more likely to be named Elmer than Brad. Some of the departed 1920s names may even sound fresh enough for a comeback soon.”

Looking Forward

Babbel also asked naming expert Laura Wattenberg to share her predictions for 10 boys’ and 10 girls’ names that will be popular in the future. These names have not yet ranked in the top 100, but are rising fast in popularity. 

Girls’ Names Boys’ Names
Oakley Banks
Cleo Enzo
Esme Callahan
Catalina Saint
Stevie Milo
Alora Colter
Estella Koa
Juniper Callum
Palmer Stetson
Wren Tate

Laura Wattenberg explains, “No name exists in a vacuum, and each of these rising names is part of a hot style. For instance, Banks is following in the footsteps of the trendy favorite Brooks, and similar -s surnames like Wells, Briggs and Hayes are also rising fast. But each name also has its own unique attractions, like the way Juniper and Callahan contract to the familiar nicknames Junie and Cal.

“Celebrity can play a role as well, but even the biggest star will only inspire namesakes if it’s the kind of name parents were already looking for. Take two of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s kids, Saint and North. The name Saint fit with the current fashion for exalted names like Reign, King, Legend and Messiah, while North didn’t catch on at all.

“The one quality all of these names have in common is that they were not popular in recent generations in the United States. Parents aren’t drawn to the names they grew up surrounded by.”

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