The Roaring Twenties are a full century behind us, but the most popular baby names of the era are still fresh. The Social Security Administration publishes data about names and compiles the most popular baby names given to children for any given year dating back to the 1880s. Because we’ve just entered the 2020s, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of the trending names from the 1920s. The Jazz Age was a time of great growth in culture and art and a celebration of America’s independent spirit. If you’re looking for inspiration for your own baby’s name, you’ll definitely find a name that would be welcome at any speakeasy. Here are the top 20 boys’ names and top 20 girls’ names from the 1920s.
Top 20 Most Popular 1920s Girls’ Names
The name Marjorie is a variant of the more traditional Margaret. Marjorie was a name that was seen at the time as a fresh take on the old standard. Marjorie comes from the word marjoram which is a popular herb used in cooking.
Irene is a beautiful name that means “peace” and coincidentally it rhymes with serene. If you’re looking for a baby name that evokes calmness and stability, you can’t pick a better name for your daughter than Irene.
Barbara is a classic name that is Greek in origin and means “foreigner” or “strange one.” We don’t usually associate the name Barbara with exoticness but people in medieval Europe did. The name is popular still today and is not only one of the top 100 names in the United States, but the name is also given to girls worldwide.
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The name Shirley was given to a baby who grew up to be one of the biggest names in Hollywood history. Shirley Temple became a child star and performed alongside some greats of American cinema. Although the name has fallen out of fashion in the United States, it’s still popular in the UK. The name Shirley comes from old English and means “bright meadow.”
Jean is a name that’s been around for centuries. The name has Hebrew origins and means “gracious lord.” Jean is one of the most popular French names and is commonly given to boys. In English speaking countries, the name is more popular for girls.
Alice is a popular French and English name that originated in Germany. The name means “of nobility” and it became extremely popular at Lewis Carrol’s novel, Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865. Alice is still a very popular name and ranks in the top 100.
Marie Antoinette and Marie Curie are two famous French Maries who shared one of France’s most popular names for girls. The meaning of the name Marie is debatable with many scholars agreeing that the name means “of the sea” or “bitterness.”
Anna May Wong was an extremely popular actor in the 1920s and is considered the first Chinese-American movie star. Anna and the name it came from, Hannah, remain popular names for girls. The name means “favor.”
Evelyn is an English name that originally was a common surname. When the name transitioned from a last name to a first name, it was usually given to boys and considered a masculine name.
A name fit for a queen, Elizabeth remains a timeless classic. It’s popular due to its affinity for various nicknames such as Beth, Liz, Lizzie, Eliza, and Liza. It also has many derivations in other languages such as Isabella in Spanish and Elsa for Germanic languages.
As you might guess, Francis is a very French name and comes from the ethnic name, Frank. The name became common in the Middle Ages because of St. Francis. The name was commonly given to boys (and still is in many places), but in the United States, it’s more often given to girls.
The name Mildred made the top 10 list of most popular girl names in the United States in 1912 and remained popular throughout the 1920s. However, the name fell out of fashion quickly and was not commonly given after the 1930s. The name means “gentle strength.”
The Dorians were one of the four main tribes of ancient Greece who settled the mountainous area called, Doris. The place and its name still exist in Greece. The name means “from the sea” or “gift of the sea.”
Virginia is a classic name that means “pure.” Virginia Woolf was a prolific writer whose most popular works came out in the 1920s. The stately name would be perfect for a little girl.
Unfortunately, the name Ruth has lost its popularity and fewer than 10,000 babies received the name from 2010-2019. The name means “friend” and comes from Hebrew.
The name Margaret has a storied history that can be traced all the way back to the Persian Empire. A famous Margaret from the 1920s is Margaret Sanger who became an outspoken, life-long advocate for woman’s healthcare. Margaret is still popular and consistently ranks in the top 200 baby names for girls.
Betty comes from another name on this list: Elizabeth. The name was given to one of the biggest cartoon characters of the 1920s Betty Boop. Betty Boop was a cultural mainstay of the day that was a caricature of a Jazz Age flapper girl.
Helen Wills was an American tennis player who dominated her field in the 1920s and 30s. At the height of her talents, Helen Wills won 180 consecutive tennis matches. Helen is a Greek name that means “bright one.”
Writer Dorothy Parker’s career took off in the late 1920s with her works being published in Vanity Fair and the new magazine, The New Yorker. She would go on to co-write the screenplay A Star is Born. The name Dorothy means “God’s gift.”
Mary and Marie both come from the Latin name Maria. When the Bible was first published in English, the Virgin Mary was actually printed as the Virgin Marie. As the English language evolved and the name became more widely used, it became Mary by the third century. Mary is still a very popular name, and although it’s not the most popular name in the United States it still sits in the top 200.
Top 20 Most Popular 1920s Boys’ Names
Art and Artie are adorable nicknames that are made from the name Arthur. The name was very popular in the 1920s and means noble and courageous.
Kenneth is the Anglicized version of the Gaelic name Cainnech which means “from fire.” Ken and Kenny are popular nicknames to this very day and Kenneth is still one of the top boys’ names in the United States.
The name Henry is surging in popularity and ranked 35th for the top boys’ names over the past decade. The name Henry is Germanic in origin and means “estate ruler.” The meaning of this name is appropriate given that many nobles have been given the name.
Jack Dempsey was one of the most famous heavy-weight boxing champions of the 1920s. He and Babe Ruth were the most popular athletes of the decade. Jack is an English name that means “God is gracious.”
The name Walter fell out of fashion over the decades, but Walt sure would make an excellent nickname for a baby. Walter has a Germanic origin and means “ruler of the army.”
The name Raymond and its variations have been popular in Europe for centuries and means “wise counsel.” It’s past time for this name and the nickname Ray to make a comeback.
Paul Whiteman was an American bandleader and composer who was known as the “King of Jazz.” He helped bring Jazz music to the mainstream and helped develop what would later be known as symphonic jazz. Paul is a Roman name and it means “humble.”
Harold is the English form of Germanic and Norse names that mean “army leader.” Harold Lloyd was a prolific actor of the silent movie era and transitioned to “talkies” in the 1920s. He went on to become a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Frank is another form of the name Francis. Frank is a cooler version of the stuffy, Franklin. Frankie is also a cute nickname for a baby boy.
Still ranking in the top 50, Thomas is a timeless name. This biblical name comes from Aramaic and means “twin.” The name Thomas is extremely popular in the UK and it remains just as commonly chosen now as it was in the twenties.
Donald is a Gaelic name meaning “ruler of the world.” Donald A. Hall was a pioneering aeronautical engineer who became world-famous for designing the Spirit of St. Louis, a plane that Charles Lindbergh flew to complete the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927.
Edward is an old English name that means “rich guard.” American realist painter Edward Hopper started his rise in the 1920s and created his first notable works in the latter part of the decade.
Richard is a German name that means “brave leader.” Richard remains a popular name and has belonged to Kings as well as poets. There are many nicknames for Richard including Rich, Rick, Dick, and Ricky.
Joseph remains in the top 20 today proving that its appeal is timeless. Joseph comes from Hebrew and means “he will add.” Joe and Joey are endearing nicknames for a little boy.
Jacob Gershwin liked the name George so much, he changed his name to it. George Gershwin is a famed American composer who released many of his most popular works in the 1920s. The name George comes from Greek and means “farmer.”
One of the biggest actors and filmmakers of the time Charles “Charlie” Chaplin became a hugely successful silent movie entertainer. Charles is Germanic and means “a man.” Charles remains a popular boy’s name and still ranks in the top 100.
The meaning for the name William is a fun one: “resolute protector.” The name William has maintained popularity over the decades. It was the 5th most popular name in the 2010s. Not much has changed! Popular nicknames are Bill, Will, Willie, and Billy.
James is the English form of Hebrew, Jacob. The name means “one who follows.” The popularity of the name started in the early 20th century and peaked in the 1950s. However, James is an incredibly popular name to this day. Jim, Jimmy, and Jamie are all common nicknames.
One of the best-known illustrators of the 1920s was John Held Jr. John’s cartoons and drawings appeared in every major magazine of the day. John is of Hebrew origin and means “God is gracious.” John has slipped in popularity since the twenties and over the last decade was the 27th most popular name for boys.
The most popular name for boys in the 1920s was Robert. Over half of a million boys were given the name during the Roaring Twenties. The name is Germanic and means “bright fame.” Robert is not nearly as popular as it used to be with about one-tenth of boys named Robert in the 2010s compared to the 1920s. The name has been common in English speaking places since the 13th century.
The twenties were a time of excess that celebrated the relative peace that followed World War I and continued until the Great Depression. Rapid industrialization and changing social mores gave way to time unlink any other in American history. As you’d expect in the wild days of the twenties there were plenty of babies being made. These 40 names represent the most popular names from a hundred years ago. Surprisingly, many of the names have staying power and remain the most popular names for parents to give their children.
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