When it comes to classic baby name sources, the Bible is the gold standard. Biblical names like Mary, Anna and Sarah, John, Lucas and Jacob, are timeless favorites with roots so deep they can’t be buffeted by the winds of fashion.
OK, that was a trick. One of the names I just listed is anything but timeless. In fact, in the 1900 U.S. baby name statistics, the name Lucas flat-out didn’t exist. And in case you were wondering, the familiar English form Luke wasn’t picking up the slack. Luke was relatively uncommon in 1900, ranked #243 and trailing names like Alva, Harley and Dock. Today, Lucas and Luke both rank among America’s 30 favorite names for boys.
Lucas isn’t an anomaly. Dozens of “biblical classics” are entirely absent from the 1900 baby names’ list. They run the stylistic gamut, including:
- 1980s favorites like Jeremy, Tabitha, Bethany and Jared
- Aggressively antique pioneer names like Judah, Zachariah, Nehemiah and Jedidiah
- Scholarly-styled choices like Nathanael, Matthias, Titus and Phineas
- 21st-century trim standards like Ethan, Lucas, Asher and Micah
This graph charts the historical popularity of those 16 names, in occurrences per million births:
Other names with a trajectory like that include Summer, Tyson and Bryce: familiar and popular, but with a contemporary style. Meanwhile, you can find plenty of bold, modern-sounding names that were actually more popular in 1900 than they are today. A girl was more likely to be named Atlanta, Venus or Ambrosia in 1900; a boy to be Wheeler, Solon or Fate.
It all points to the surprising subtlety of “classic” as a name category. It’s part history, to be sure, and part cultural roots. But it’s also about style, perception and intention. We rely on fashion to send signals—even the signal that we’re beyond the reach of fashion.