Baby names: How old-timey is too old-timey?

Retro baby names are on the rise but we might be going overboard with all the Mabels and Hazels.

By Ariel Brewster
Baby names: How old-timey is too old-timey?

In baby names news this week, announced that their “Cool Name of the Week” is an old — but newly hot! — classic name: Muriel.

It’s a Celtic name that means “of the sea,” which is all lovely and good. But it’s also one of those remarkably musty, old-lady names. I can practically smell the mothballs and baby powder. (And picture the tracksuits and orthopedic shoes….) Muriel happened to be the name of my dear, departed great-aunt — she had an Irish background, and was born in the 1920s, so it made sense for her. But I have a hard time picturing a sweet little baby Muriel.

“Muriel” is also incredibly hard to say, especially for little kids. My aunt Muriel’s brothers and sisters (and the grandchildren, grand-nieces and grand-nephews born decades later) all called her “Yu-Yu.” When I was growing up, she was always “Auntie Yu-Yu.”

Sidenote: While Yu-Yu might seem somewhat cruel — a family friend once accidently called her “Auntie Doo-doo” with complete sincerity — Yu-Yu had it much easier than her sister Harriet, whose full name, after her Catholic confirmation, was Harriet Eleanor Margaret-Mary Murray. Then she married three times and kept all the names! So for most of her adult life, she was Harriet Eleanor Margaret-Mary Murray DeAngeles Tarjan Allen. My grandmother was an… interesting lady, to say the least.

Anyway, back to Muriel: Aside from being hard to say, I think it’s taking another step back into alarmingly retro name territory. I already know countless Mabels and Hazels, Adas and Idas, Arlos and Orlas — all under age three. And don’t forget the trio of popular “O” names for boys (and — let’s be honest — for dogs and cats, too!): Otis, Oscar and Ollie.

Celebrities have gone with Matilda (Michelle Williams' daughter) and ventured so far as Gloria (Maggie Gyllenhaal's daughter). I’ve seen lots of parents in my generation giving their daughters decidedly old-lady middle names, too (Ruth, Louise, even Ernestina). Our next-door neighbours, who have a three year-old and one-and-a-half-year-old twins (God bless them!) named their kids Wesley, Gillon and Emmett, which I think is sort of a blend of the old-timey name trend and the Wild West name trend. It’s just getting to be too much. 

Even I will admit that Maude and Beatrice are both cute, but what about Myrtle, Blanche and Agnes? Does Mildred or Millicent come after Muriel? Does Esther follow after Esmé?

If you really want to be a baby-name trendsetter, name your kids after your parents, not your grandparents. Forget about skipping a generation. What’s really going to be hip — within 10 years, I’d venture — is ironically naming your kid Debbie or Diane, Alan or Jerry, Sharon or Cheryl. I’d be fine with a Frank or Frances (after my husband’s beloved grandfather), but Howard or Donald, the other family names we could choose from? Not so much. I just can’t imagine cradling and cooing at a cute little baby called Don. Could you picture yourself breastfeeding a baby named Barbara???

What do you think about retro baby names? Is your child named after a grandparent?

This article was originally published on Aug 15, 2012

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