- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

Abigails and Sadies are no longer just found in rocking chairs at old folks homes. You’re just as likely to find them — along with Hazels and Ezekiels — digging in sandboxes on the playground.

In other words, when it comes to names, antique is chic.

“Old names — like Emma — are definitely coming back,” says Laura Wattenberg, author of “The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Guide to Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby” (www.babynamewizard.com). “It’s made the perfect ‘U’ [graph].”

Meaning almost a century elapsed before Emma regained popularity.

“There is typically a 90-year or so period before we’re willing to revive names again,” Ms. Wattenberg says.

We’re willing to revive them because we’re far enough removed from them; they carry neither bad feelings nor bad memories.

“Names of our own generation sound ordinary, our parents’ [names] sound boring and our grandparents’ [names] sound old,” Ms. Wattenberg says. “Our great-grandparents’ names, on the other hand, sound interesting.”

Also, they answer our need for continuity and nostalgia, says Nancy Schlossberg, professor emerita at the University of Maryland, whose specialty is counseling psychology.

“We idealize previous generations especially at a nervous time like this,” Ms. Schlossberg says. “Picking an old name is a way to connect to what we think was a more stable time.”

A more stable time? Never mind strained race relations, abusive labor practices, World War I, American Indian Wars and the huge inequities of the Gilded Age. Those are not the things we associate with names like Emma and Emily.

“We see a better time. A simple time. And we want to reach back and grab a piece of it,” Ms. Schlossberg says.

Subsequently, Emma was one of the most popular names of 2006. It landed in second place on the Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names (www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames) and was trumped only by Emily, another old-lady chic name. This year’s list, which tracks names for 2007, is expected to be released on or around Mother’s Day.

In SSA’s No. 3 slot was Madison, which is vintage-sounding but isn’t really a classic — at least not among girls.

“It didn’t really exist as a girl’s name before ‘Splash,’ ” Ms. Wattenberg says. In the 1984 box-office hit, Daryl Hannah — who plays a lost-in-Manhattan mermaid — is named Madison after Madison Avenue.

“People are definitely influenced by pop culture and celebrities when naming their babies,” says Jennifer Moss, founder and chief executive of babynames.com. “Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon helped popularize Ava, for example.”

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