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Aren't These Old Lady Names?

I've recently encountered two baby girls in the 4-6 month age range named Beverly and Nancy. Are these babies out-of-sync-with-their-generation anomalies, or the bleeding edge of a new revival of old (but not too old) lady names? Or are "Beverly" and "Nancy" not even in the same category with each other?

- SF Trend Watcher

You're right that a new round of "old ladies" is about to find the baby name fountain of youth. As a rule of thumb, it takes about four generations after a popularity peak before a name is ready to return. By that time, the name has passed beyond "old" into "antique."

Today's schoolyards are packed with girls' names from the late 1800s (like Grace and Amelia) through the 1910s (Ruby, Evelyn). The names of the 1920s and '30s, then, should be right around the corner. That's the generation of Dorothy, Shirley, Betty, Marjorie, Norma, Joan, and yes, Beverly and Nancy.

Yet the reality is that not every name makes a comeback. For every Emma or Grace that returns to the heights of style there's an Edna, a Gladys, a Florence and two Gertrudes left behind. So the wee Beverly and Nancy you met could signal a new trend, or they could just be family namesakes outside the fashion stream.

Of the two names, I'd put my money on Beverly as the more likely revival. Nancy was a much bigger hit, and for longer. It held on as a top-10 name for more than two decades straight, and didn't drop out of the top 100 until 1979. That means that most parents today personally know women named Nancy, which keeps it from feeling like a fresh rediscovery.

Sound and style play a big part, too. Beverly echoes the rhythm of other hit revivals like Evelyn and Vivian, and the rising hits Everly and Waverly owe a lot to Bev. Nancy's sound doesn't hit any comparable fashion targets. So I'd keep a lookout for the name Beverly more than Nancy — and Dorothy and Marjorie ahead of Shirley and Norma.


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July 21, 2014 10:46 AM
By Kelly (not verified)

I'd bet more on Nancy for two reasons:

Nancy, although traditionally a nickname, is more of a classic than Beverly. In my genealogy I've run onto several 18th and 19th century Nancys. On the other hand Beverly is like the Ashley or Harper of its day - a surname/boy's name turned girl. That's the same reason Emma (another classic) but not Edna (a more trendy name of its time) made a comeback.

Since the US and UK often follow each other's trends after awhile, and Nancy is rising in the latter, within a generation the same will likely occur on this side of the pond (think of Emma 40 or so years ago). Beverly peaked in the UK almost a full generation after it did in the US, meaning that name is unlikely to see any kind of a trans-Atlantic influence anytime soon.

July 21, 2014 5:56 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I also think Nancy has a much better chance of a come-back - it has that genuine retro feel, a long history as a girls name, could be used to honour a lot of names from Agnes to all the Annes, and is, quite simply, spunky and adorable.

I've already seen a couple of baby Nancys, but no Beverleys, and I must say, that one would make me do a double-take. It seems much more grandma that great-grandma (my mother's generation rather than my grandmother's).

By the way, Florence is already very much making a come-back (it's super fashionable), and I have seen a few Gertrudes as well!

July 21, 2014 6:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I like Nancy much better than Beverley. It does sound old, but more classic than Beverley. I'd much rather go with the similar sounding Francis though. Franny would be such a cute nickname.

July 22, 2014 12:41 PM
By Lisa (not verified)

Also, would the book series "Fancy Nancy" play a part in a comeback for the name? I always think when a parent can see a child with a name in literature, it gives it more of a childish feel.

July 22, 2014 12:46 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Nancy lost a great deal of its charm because the name itself became a derogatory slang word for an effeminate male. I wonder if little Nancy's parents knew about that fact.

July 22, 2014 1:01 PM
By Elizabeth (not verified)

I just had a similar conversation with a friend! We live in a pretty young, hipster area (Durham, NC), where the granny names have proliferated. I can't go to the park without meeting a Wyatt, Arlo, Ava, Ida, Amelia.... My friend and I were joking that if people want to go full-in hipster with their names, they should kick off the mom generation names: Bob, Denise, Jean, Kay, Diane, and, of course, Nancy.

July 22, 2014 1:14 PM
By anon (not verified)

Yeah, Nancy is also a candidate for creative spelling (ugh). Who wants to imagine a bunch of little "Nancee"s, "Nayncy"s, etc.? Btw, when is someone going to bring back and modernize Nancy Drew?

July 22, 2014 5:59 PM
By Sallyo (not verified)

Nancy reminds me of Nancy Blackett; Amazon pirate from Arthur Ransom's classics. Beverly seems much more staid and laidback, maybe because of Beverly Nicholls, a gardening writer (male). My mother's second name was "Nancie" so I grew up with the name and have always liked it. Her full name was Patricia Nancie; my second name is Patricia, and my sister's first name is Anne, for which Nancie/y was an established dim.

July 22, 2014 9:59 PM
By Debbie S. (not verified)

Nancy Drew is back as a buxom graphic novel star, along with the Hardy Boys :) I immediately thought of both Nancy Drew and of Nancy Spungen of Sid and Nancy. I see Nancy being more popular than Beverley/Beverly because I think parents will get sick of the longer names and are looking for something spunkier (like Poppy versus Rebecca). I can see Nancy and Dorothy as pre-school pals. Still, Bev is a cute nickname.

July 31, 2014 2:41 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Name Lady, but of course I have Beverly on my short list for the next one and would never consider Nancy. But I can see the appeal for some, I think it would be how I see Lucy.

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September 26, 2014 6:16 PM
By Danny (not verified)

it has that genuine retro feel, a long history as a girls name, could be used to honour a lot of names from Agnes, to all the Annes, and is, quite simply, spunky and adorable.

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