The Most Common Baby Names You've Never Heard Of
Let me tell you about a certain name. It's a girl's name, four letters long, with independent origins in Ireland and Scandinavia. This name ranked among America's top 250 girls' names for decades, and in the top 1,000 for a century straight. At its peak, it was more popular than names like Jasmine, Sydney and Kayla -- and Mary and Maria -- are today. The name:
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It's possible that you've known an Elva. Perhaps there happens to be an Elva in your own family tree. But I'll bet that to most of you, Elva is a name you've flat-out never heard of. It's one of the forgotten hits, names that had long runs of popularity before vanishing, not just from the popularity charts but from our mental name pool.
Each of the names below ranked among America's top 1000 boys' or girls' names for decades, and spent at least some of that time in the top 500. Yet each sounds utterly unfamiliar to most Americans today.
Floy. Peak Rank: #291 in 1887. Apparently a nickname for the then-wildly-popular name Florence, with echoes of the fashionable male name Floyd.
Mozelle. Peak: #417 in 1920. This name was nearly unknown outside the Southern U.S., but there it was popular enough to place multiple variants (Mozell, Mozella) on the nationwide top-1000 list.
Marvel. Peak: #487 in 1899. Not all Victorian girls' names were modest. Marvelous Marvel took off starting in the 1890s, mostly in the Midwest. Silent film star Marvel Rea was born in Nebraska in 1901.
Ollie. Peak: #96 in 1888. Ollie can be short for Olive as well as Oliver, so it may not surprise you that there were girls with the given name Ollie. What's surprising is how many. In its prime, Ollie was more popular than names like Maya and Mackenzie are today.
Arvilla. #435 in 1881. Many have guessed at the origins of Arvilla. A feminine form of Arnold, perhaps, or of the Welsh name Arwel? I like to think of it as a distillation of the romantic sounds of its moment, much as a name like Aubriella is today.
Elva. Peak: #161 in 1885 & 1901. Elva can be a Nordic name (meaning "elf") or an Irish name (anglicized from Ailbhe). But Elva's long run of popularity wasn't linked to any particular ethnic group. The name was simply stylish, sharing a heyday with names like Erma, Iva and Edna.
Gust. Peak: #330 in 1887. A short form of Gustave, or perhaps in some cases an adoption of the German surname Gust. Probably not an adoption of the word "gust."
Cloyd. #447 in 1892. Cloyd is an occasional surname, and the Anglicized name of the Welsh river Clwyd. But the real key to understanding Cloyd as a given name is that it peaked at a time when Clyde, Lloyd and Floyd all ranked among the top 100 boys' names.
Elzie. Peak: #352 in 1891. Elzie may be a nickname for names like Eliezer, or transferred use of the surname Elzie. There have been a number of notable Elzies who chose to work under other names, like "Popeye" cartoonist E.C. Segar; stock car racer "Buck" Baker; and sportswriter LZ Granderson.
Otha. Peak: #451 in 1909. The name Otha was popular with both black and white families throughout the Southern U.S. In its peak year, the similar names Otho (a Roman emperor) and Othel also ranked in the top 1,000. Beyond that, I can't figure out what the heck this name is. Any insights, readers?