The 1940s were an era like no other. As folks celebrated the end of World War II, pregnancy rates soared - and by the end of the 1940s, 32 million babies were born in the US, and these babies all needed names! And while the names on this list aren't as common as they were back in the 1940s, they're just as beautiful now as they were back then. So if you're looking for a name for your baby daughter, scroll on down for some vintage baby name inspiration!
In 1939, the world of cinema was changed forever when The Wizard of Oz was released. Featuring an impressive cast, a magical story, and some of the best cinematic effects of the era, the movie was an instant hit. And while all of the actors in this movie shot to fame, it was Judy Garland who won fans over with her depiction of Dorothy. And it wasn't long before hospitals in the US saw a Dorothy boom.
Over the course of the next decade, countless parents decided to call their baby girls Dorothy. They wanted their daughters to embody the same strength and endurance that the heroine did, and they loved how unique the name sounded.
Today, we rarely come across anyone called Brenda. But it may be that your grandmother or great-grandmother knew a lot of them. That's because a whopping 112,409 babies were named Brenda during the 1940s baby boom, thanks to the success of the socialite Brenda Frazier. Known as the "Poor Little Rich Girl," Brenda rose to fame during the Great Depression and wowed fans with her expensive clothing, impressive social calendar, and her famous Life cover shoot.
Although she was wealthy, Brenda struggled throughout her life - which is pretty ironic, considering the name Brenda reportedly comes from the Old Nordic words "sword" and "torch," which seem to represent strength.
How many Janets do you know? If you were born after the 1940s, there's a high chance that you don't know too many. That's because this vintage baby name has since gone out of fashion, but there was a time when it was super popular. In the 1940s alone, an incredible 130,753 Janets were born! And while parents may have been won over by its meaning of "God's gracious gift," they might have been influenced by something else.
In 1947, actress Janet Leigh made her impressive debut on the big screen - and it didn't take long for the world to fall in love with her. As a result, parents rushed to name their baby girls after her.
Anyone with knowledge of 1940s popular culture will understand why Joan was a popular baby name during the 1940s. Of course, the rise in Joans is all thanks to the one and only Joan Crawford. Known as one of the most famous actresses of all time, Joan was in her prime during the 1940s. Not only did she win the coveted Best Actress Oscar in 1945 for Mildred Pierce, but she also took home the trophy as one of the highest-paid actresses of the decade.
But while Crawford's popularity certainly influenced many parents, there's no doubt about the fact that Joan also carries deeply religious connotations that many families may have fallen in love with.
The 1940s saw a surge of babies with the name Gloria - and that was all thanks to one woman. Yes, we're talking about the one and only Gloria Swanson. This iconic actress first made her mark during the early 1920s and 1930s, and by the time the 1940s came around she was considered to be one of the most famous women in Hollywood. Women wanted to be her, men wanted to date her, and parents wanted to name their children after her!
The rush of girls being called Gloria meant that schools were overrun with students of the same name. But maybe the parents also loved the fact that this name means "honor" and "immortal glory."
You probably don't need us to explain why Elizabeth was one of the most popular girls' names of the 1940s. After all, it was a name quite literally fit for a queen! When Princess Elizabeth of York was born in 1926, parents around the world rushed to name their girls Elizabeth, too. This name continued to rise in popularity as the princess grew older, and an incredible 116,541 Elizabeths were born in the 1940s alone.
Of course, it became even more popular in the 1950s when Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Even today, the vintage girls' name is still considered to be extremely popular.
In recent years, the name Donna has seen a distinct slump in popularity. It recently fell off the top 1000 list of girls' names in the world, but this wasn't always the case. The vintage baby name can be traced back to the late 19th century, and while it took a while to take off, the 1940s saw a surge in Donnas. By the time the 1940s came around, it had found its place in the top 20 list of girls' names.
Derived from the Italian language, Donna translates to "girl" or "woman" - with the masculine equivalent being "Don." Yes, Don like Don Quixote, or like a mafia boss or crime kingpin!
While the name Joyce was once a popular girl's name during the 1940s, it's important to note that it wasn't always a girl's name. In fact, it's considered to be one of the earliest gender-neutral names, as its Latin origin means "merry" and "joyous." Before the 1940s, it was largely associated with boys rather than girls, but this all changed in the 1940s when it was taken over by a boom of baby girls.
During this decade, it spent years in the top 20 baby names lists. And while it's not a popular baby name today, most older generations will know at least one Joyce.
In 2015, the name Diane finally made its way out of the top 100 list of baby girl names - but before that, it had spent decades at the top of the list. In fact, it was most popular during the 1940s and 1950s, and in 1947 it was the 18th most popular girls' name in the United States. And while there's no direct correlation to any famous people during this time, the one and only Diane Keaton was so-named when she was born in 1946.
But what does the name Diane actually mean? Well, it's derived from the female Latin word "divinus," and it's stated that this name quite literally translates to the word "divine."
Although the name Mary isn't as popular as it once was, there are still so many people in this world called Mary - and this is normally the case with religious families or those who want to pass down the family name. After all, Mary is one of the most religious names out there, and this meant that it was super popular during the 1940s. In fact, it was the number one girl's name from the 1890s until the 1950s!
Although the exact translation of the name Mary is unknown, it's believed that Mary is of Hebrew origin and means "beloved," "bitter" or "drop of the sea." So, how many Marys do you know?
There's no doubt about the fact that the 1940s saw a baby boom, but it also saw a boom in babies called Janice. In 1941, it became the 22nd most popular baby name in the United States - but nobody is quite sure why. Unlike many of the other vintage baby names on this list, there weren't any notable Janices in Hollywood. So, it's suggested that parents were simply inspired by the people around them instead.
Considering the name Janice means "God's gracious gift," we can understand why so many parents would be inclined to gift their baby girl with such a beautiful name during the 1940s.
Although modern iterations of the girl's name Susan have resulted in the likes of Susanna or Suzanne, there's no doubt about the fact that the more old-school Susan was most famous during the 1940s. And while C.S Lewis hadn't quite had his The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe books released, it seems as though the author was inspired by the popular girl's name of the time. Maybe that's why he named the eldest daughter Susan!
Derived from the Hebrew word for "lily," parents during the 1940s obviously fell in love with this name, too. In 1949, it was the fifth most popular girl's name in the US.
During the 1940s, the Irish boom in the United States was just starting. After all, a whopping 50,000 Irish immigrants moved to the States from Ireland in the 1950s, but they started to trickle over many years before that. Because of that, Irish baby names started to get more and more popular during this decade. Kathleen was one of those Irish names, but in Gaelic it was originally spelled as "Caitlín."
Kathleen means "pure," and was hugely popular with Irish parents moving from their home country and setting up a new life for themselves across the pond. It was a pure new start for them.
When you look at the talent on the stage and screen during the 1940s, the popularity of the vintage girl name Carol makes total sense. During this era, countless Carols were staking their claim in the limelight. From Carol Channing to Carole Lombard and Carol Bruce, these ladies were all at the top of their game in acting and singing. Because of this, fans of these women probably didn't have to think twice about naming their children after them.
The meaning behind the name Carol is also beautiful, as it means "joyful song." And in 1941, it was actually the fourth most popular girl's name in the United States.
It's safe to say that the name Karen has been on a whirlwind journey over the years. Today, it's filled with negative connotations, and it's associated with the infamous meme - and the name itself is often used as an insult! But this wasn't always the case. After all, the name Karen can be traced back to its Greek roots and is thought to have come from the word Aikaterine, which translates to "pure."
Karen was a hugely popular vintage baby name back in the 1940s, and that explains why there are still so many women called Karen in today's day and age. They're much older, though.
We already know that the name Dorothy was hugely famous during the 1940s, so this name shouldn't really come as a surprise, either. After all, it was during this decade that Judy Garland truly rose to fame. She starred in The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis, Babes on Broadway, and more during this decade - and she became one of the most famous women in the world over the course of just a few years.
So, it makes sense that parents would want to name their babies after one of the most famous women of the era. Judy was all everyone could talk about, so why not?
While some parents wanted to name their child born in the 1940s after the woman who would one day become Queen, there were others who were more enamored with her sister. Although Princess Margaret was younger than Elizabeth, she was still a huge public figure - even as a child. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that parents wanted to name their baby after this figure in British nobility.
When parents chose this vintage baby name, they also got three names in one. Princess Margaret herself preferred to be called Margot rather than Margaret, and some people even called her Maggie!
While countless baby names were popular during the 1940s, it seemed as though there were baby Shirleys popping up everywhere. And it's safe to say that Shirley Temple had a lot to do with that - even though she'd already given up her acting career at that point. But although the former child star waved goodbye to the big screen, she said hello to a new career in politics, and this made fans fall in love with her even more.
In fact, in 1935 Shirley was the second most popular baby name in the United States, and it stayed atop of its game until the mid-to-late 1940s. Do you know a Shirley?
Nowadays, we associate the name Barbara with much older people. We think of Barbra Streisand, Barbara Walters, and Barbara Eden. But during the 1940s, Barbara Stanwyck was at the top of her game - and its thought that her fame and fortune inspired the boom in this baby name. At one point in the 1940s, Barbara was the second-most popular girls' name, with parents opting to also use nicknames such as Barbie, Bebe, Babs, and Bobbie.
Of course, religious folks have also helped to keep this name in the limelight. In the Catholic religion, Saint Barbara is a protector against lightning, thunderstorms, explosions, and sudden death. But what about the 1950s?
When World War II finally ended, many people were left with a newfound sense of excitement for life. They wanted to make the most of their time on earth, and they wanted to have fun after such a serious few years. Because of this, they started playing around with popular baby names and changing them up slightly. That's why there were so many more Carolyns than there were Carolines during this decade.
The name Carolyn means "song of happiness," and that perfectly sums up the mood during the late 1940s. Families wanted happiness in their lives, and their baby girl's name brought that.
Thanks to the likes of Betty White, Betty Draper, and Betty from Archie Comics, the name Betty is still a popular girl's name today. But its rise in popularity seems to be traced back to the 1940s, when a surge in parents calling their baby girl Betty came seemingly out of nowhere. However, it's suggested that General Mills might have had something to do with it. Yes, we're talking about Betty Crocker!
Whether parents named their child after the cake legend or whether they instead fell in love with the Hebrew meaning of "pledged to God," this old-school name isn't quite as old-school as we all thought.
Although the younger generation will forever associate the name Patricia with a viral social media moment, the older generation will remember that Patricia was once one of the most popular baby girl names in the world. In fact, throughout the whole decade the name Patricia flicked from being the third to the fourth most popular baby name at the time. And so many famous women were named Patricia thanks to this boom.
The name Patricia can be traced back to its Latin origin, meaning "noble" and "patrician." And did you know that Patricia is actually the female version of the male name Patrick?
Although the name Judith is one that you'd probably associate with a grandmother today, that's because it was super popular back in the 1940s. In fact, it was even among the top 10 popular girls' names during this decade - especially among those who loved the religious connotations associated with the name. Yes, the name Judith is actually derived from the Hebrew Yehudit, which literally translates to "woman from Judea."
During the 1940s, there were very few celebrities in popular culture called Judith. So, we can only assume that this name was popular because parents loved the sound of it.
During the 1940s, a few different variations of this name was found across the United States. Sure, some parents stuck to the usual spelling of Sharon, but others switched things up a bit and went for Sharron or the more eclectic Sharryn. And while this Hebrew name translates to "plain," this is normally in reference to flowers. So, we can understand why parents would want to choose this popular girls' name.
Of course, Sharon isn't as popular as it once was, but that's not to say that there haven't been some impressive Sharons over the years. You know, like Sharon Stone, and Sharon Tate!
By the time the 1940s had come around, Nancy Drew was already a household name. So, it makes sense that it would have been a popular girl name for a child. The fictional character was created by a number of authors, with books released under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. And as parents read the mystery novels, it seems as though they fell in love with the character - and the name as a whole.
In 1940 alone, 20,000 baby girls were named Nancy, and that number only increased as the rest of the decade went by. It may seem old-school now, but it was once super cool.
If you know people in their late 70s, how many of them are called Linda? There's a high chance that you might know a few Lindas around that age, as the baby name Linda was actually the number one choice for girls' names for six years running from 1947 until 1952. And it's been suggested that a popular Buddy Clark song of the same name was responsible for that trend!
Alongside this, the word Linda has numerous positive connotations. In Spanish it means "pretty" and its German roots can be traced back to the word "lind" which translates to "tender."
Sure, most of us now associate the name Sandra with the one and only Sandra Bullock. But when you think about it, this actress has a pretty vintage name for someone so young. Today, there aren't too many Sandras around - but this name was super popular during the 1940s. In 1947, it was the 5th most popular girl's baby name in the United States, and it stayed popular during the whole decade.
In fact, the parents of the popular actress Sandra Dee were also inspired by this 1940s rush. Sandra was born in 1942, right when the name was at its peak.
Yes, we may have just spoken about Linda, but did you know that this name was also super popular during the 1950s? By the time this decade came around, the name Linda had solidified its place as one of the most desirable baby girls' names out there. And it seemed as though the trend just didn't want to slow down. In fact, it was the second most popular girl's name from 1950 to 1969.
Because of this, it should come as no surprise to learn that so many famous Lindas were born in the 1950s, including actresses Linda Blair and Linda Hamilton, and model Linda Evangelista.
In 2019, Patricia was number 938 on the list of most popular girls' names. So, you can probably tell that it's definitely not as popular as it once was. In fact, many would say that it's super old-fashioned and old-school. But this wasn't always the case. We already know that Patricia was popular during the 1940s, and this popularity spread into the 1950s too. In 1952, it was the third most common name in the US.
However, it was during the 1950s that the name's popularity started to dwindle. It was a slow and steady decline during the '60s and '70s, but since then it's been a steep one.
After its success during the 1940s, the name Susan took on a whole new generation of fans. After all, people began to realize that it was a super versatile name and that it could be shortened dependent on each individual. Before too long, parents of the '50s were naming their baby girls Susan, but choosing to nickname them Suzie, Suz, or just Sue for short. There were so many possibilities.
Because of this, more and more Susans started to come out of the woodwork during the 1960s and '70s in Hollywood. In fact, actress Susan Sarandon was born during the name's initial boom in 1946!
As more and more parents of the 1950s decided to play around with nicknames and different spellings, the name Deborah continued to reign supreme during this decade. Of course, some stuck to the traditional spelling of the name - and this allowed the name to become the second most popular name in the United States. But those that wanted a little variation decided to opt for a slightly different spelling.
Yes, just a few places behind Deborah was the name Debra which found its place in the top 10 baby girls' names of that decade. So, it was the battle of the Deborahs and the Debras!
Few actresses have the chance to stay in the limelight for as long as Barbara Stanwyck, but during the 1950s she was still at the top of her game. Not only was she incredibly beautiful, but she also proved her worth as an impressive actress who was extremely versatile in front of the camera. Because of this, Barbara continued to be a hugely popular girl's name during the decade of the '50s.
In fact, the name continued to stake its claim at the top of the list for another decade or so, before it started to make its way down the list during the 1970s.
The 1950s saw a major boom in Karens, but not the people who like to complain for the sake of it! Karen was already popular during the 1940s, but during the 1950s it really came out of its shell and took over. Don't believe us? In 1956 alone, the number of babies called Karen increased by a whopping 117%. This saw the school playground inundated with young girls all called Karen.
Today, the name's popularity has seriously dwindled, and in 2020 it was number 831 on the list of the top baby girls' names. We assume it will continue to go down, too!
Today, Nancy isn't the most uncommon name out there - but it's certainly not as common as it once was. It was hugely popular during the 1940s and '50s, and there was a huge Nancy boom during these two decades. In fact, fans of The Simpsons might be interested to know that the long-time voice actor behind the character of Bart Simpson, Nancy Cartwright, was born in 1957 during this boom.
And it's not hard to understand why this name was so popular. Not only is it short and easy to spell, but it also sounds lovely when you say it out loud!
Popular culture has a huge impact on baby name trends, and that's exactly why the name Donna continued to become more and more popular from the 1940s until the 1950s. In 1958, Ritchie Valens released his hit song 'Oh, Donna.' And as you can imagine, this had a major impact on the baby name world. Fans of Ritchie and the song were eager to name their baby girls after their favorite singer and song.
In fact, 1959 was when the number of Donnas in the world peaked. So, make sure you thank Ritchie Valens the next time you meet a Donna when you're walking down the street!