Chances are, if you were born in the middle of the 20th century, you’ve got a friend named Linda—or maybe you’re a Linda yourself. Then again, you could just as easily be a Deborah. Or a Susan, Karen, Brenda, or Donna.
If you’re a man, there’s a high likelihood that you or some of the guys in your circle go by Don, Ken, Mark, or Gary.
But did you pass along any of these wildly popular names of your youth to your own offspring? Know anyone around your age who did? Do you know any grand-babies—yours or those of your friends—who have been given these names?
Bet that’s a resounding no since those names, along with many others that were popular when people now in their 50s and 60s were born, have gone the way of shoulder pads and leisure suits.
For instance, Gary, which was the 18th most popular name in the U.S. when these folks were born, comes in at No. 637 in the most recent ranking of names from the Social Security Administration. Brenda, meanwhile, has fallen from No. 16 to No. 915 and Linda—the second most popular girls’ name from 1950 to 1969—is at 708.
Wondering where your name ranks? Click here to find out
Take a look at the 20 most common names from that period, and it’s instantly clear how uncommon most of them are today.
Most Popular Names 1950-1969
What made these names so popular
Pamela Redmond Satran, co-creator of Nameberry and co-author of books such as Cool Names for Babies and The Baby Name Bible, explains the thought process of midcentury parents.
“The first post-war generation in the Fifties wanted to be modern and leave all the difficult, drab, depression years behind,” Redmond Satran says. “They wanted new non-traditional names like Linda and Karen and Gary and Terry, just like they wanted newly-built split level houses instead of Victorians and bright vinyl furniture instead of the heavy oak of their grandparents’ day.”
However, 1950s-era parents also placed a high value on conformity, which contributed to the favor of traditional stalwarts like Mary and Michael, but also steered parents toward more popular non-traditional names. It didn’t matter that there was another little Donna down the block—that only affirmed your good taste!
In the mid-1960s, the cultural landscape began to shift, and so too did the baby name trends. The appearance of gender-neutral, ethnic, and quirky, more unique names corresponded with the rise of the counterculture, feminism, ethnic pride, and individualism in American society, explains Redmond Satran.
It was no longer appealing for your daughter to have to go by Lisa K. in the classroom—parents wanted names that reflected their originality, heritage, and values. Babies of Generation X were being given names such as Jamie, Sean, and Latanya, and the top names were given to a smaller percentage of babies than ever before.
The gender divide
Baby girls were more likely to be on the receiving end of a trendy name than boys. Boys were traditionally given family names—a way of establishing lineage and inheritance, Redmond Satran says—which made male names less subject to the fads of the day.
This is why many of the most popular boys’ names of the 1950s and 1960s continue to rank highly today. After generations and generations of use, names such as Michael, James, William, and Charles have become unshakable classics—subject to small dips in popularity, but never out of style.
When naming a daughter, the considerations were much different. As Redmond Satran puts it, “Girls were named for decoration, to be pretty, alluring, and attract a good husband.”
But the subjective nature of what constitutes a delicate and wifely name meant that popular girls’ names were at the mercy of the latest trends. Girls’ names cycled in and out of style at a quicker rate than boys’ since the intention was to project image rather than heritage.
Naming babies in the #MeToo era
According to Redmond Satran, the disparity between naming sons and daughters is beginning to change as today’s parents make strides toward gender equality. Juniors, IIIs, and IVs are increasingly rare—instead, modern mothers and fathers are opting for fashion-forward, non-traditional boy names like Liam, Grayson, and Wyatt.
These days, in fact, it’s the girls who are more likely to be given classic names, although it’s often for their strong and intelligent impression rather than a familial connection. Common names for baby girls include Sophia, connected to the goddess of wisdom; Charlotte, a traditional royal name; and Amelia, meaning “work.”
Gender-neutral names—that trend that started in the 1960s—are still very much in favor, although there are shifts occurring among this subset of names as well. “It used to be okay for a girl to be like a boy but not vice versa, so as girls were given unisex names like Ashley and Courtney, parents abandoned those names for boys,” Redmond Satran explains.
Now, boys are starting to reclaim some of the names they had previously “lost”—names like Robin, Dominique, and Sidney. As new unisex names join the pool, many are remaining gender-neutral.
Finley, Oakley, and Landry—all of which entered the U.S. Top 1000 list of popular baby names in 2005 or later—have held fairly even in their distribution among girls and boys. And Charlie, a name which has exponentially increased among baby girls in recent years, has remained steady for boys, suggesting that modern parents would not be concerned if their son shared a name with the girl next door.
Bye-bye, Linda. Hello, Luna
If you enter a kindergarten classroom today and call out the names Linda, Steven, Deborah, and Mark, you’re likely to get blank stares. These names no longer reflect the times and have simply gone out style, as names do.
It will likely be at least another 30 or 40 years before they cycle back into mainstream use. That’s because names tends to follow the 100-year rule—it takes about three generations for a name to go from dated to sounding fresh again.
So as for that kindergarten class, if you’re looking to get a response, try Luna, Sebastian, Delilah, and Maverick instead.
Want to find out what your name would be if you were born today? Check out Considerable’s name tool to find out.