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Depression Era Baby Names: Top Baby Names of the 1930s

What did parents name their children during the Great Depression? Here are the ten most popular baby names for boys and girls in the 1930s.

What were the top baby names of the 1930s?
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What were the top baby names of the 1930s?

Traditional American Names

The recent economic downturn evokes memories of one of the darkest periods in American history: the Great Depression of the 1930s. Comparisons between the two eras are common since America now faces the worst financial crisis since the Depression.

The 1929 Wall Street Crash changed nearly every aspect of American lives, including the birth rates. Worried about their financial futures, many Depression era couples put off having children until they had more money in the bank.

While fewer babies were born during the Depression years, one thing remained constant: the names that Depression era parents gave their newborn babies. According to the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), the top baby names remained stable during the 1930s.

So, what did Depression era parents name their children? Keep reading to discover the top American baby names of the 1930s.

Depression Era Names

Compared with modern trendy names like Mason, Ava, Liam, and Zoe, the 1930s baby names may seem mundane and boring. But in a time of instability and uncertainty, Depression era parents wanted to give their children solid, respectable names.

While they may sound old-fashioned, many Depression era baby names still enjoy widespread use today. They are not as exciting as some modern names, but they are reliable names that have stood the test of time.

Baby names of the 1930s are a good way for parents to pay tribute to a bygone historical era. Robert and Mary, John and Patricia ... there is something special about these names. They represent the strength and spirit that define America's "Greatest Generation."

Baby Names of the 1930s

Robert, James, John and William took the lead in boy names during the Great Depression. They were followed by Richard, Charles, and Donald. George, Thomas and Joseph round out the list of ten most popular boy names of the 1930s.

For girls, Mary was the overwhelming choice of Depression era parents. Betty, Barbara, Shirley, Patricia and Dorothy were other popular 1930s names. Joan, Margaret, Nancy and Helen round out the top ten.

The SSA has gathered data for the most popular baby names of the 1930s based on Social Security card applications. According to this government agency, the names were taken from "a universe that includes 10,846,238 male births and 11,043,322 female births."

The following table highlights the top Depression era names for each rank and gender. It also includes the number of occurrences for each name according to SSA data.

Depression Era Baby Names: Top American Names of the 1930s

Rank
Boys
Number
Girls
Number
1.
Robert
590,434
Mary
572,795
2.
James
547,122
Betty
300,303
3.
John
487,654
Barbara
296,337
4.
William
416,458
Shirley
229,312
5.
Richard
330,315
Patricia
220,534
6.
Charles
302,999
Dorothy
210,331
7.
Donald
283,512
Joan
173,388
8.
George
192,150
Margaret
157,324
9.
Thomas
183,764
Nancy
142,448
10.
Joseph
180,457
Helen
140,361

Your Turn

What are your thoughts on Depression Era baby names? Leave a comment below and join the discussion. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your social networks.

Reference Sources

  • Babies Online. (n.d.) "Most Popular Baby Names of the 1930s." Babies Online. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  • Moss, Peggy. (n.d.) "BabyNames TV." BabyNames.com. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  • Rosenborg, Victoria and Neil Street. (n.d.) "Depression Era Baby Names." Baby Names Garden. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  • SSA. (April 22, 2011.) "Popular Baby Names: Top Names of the 1930s." United States Social Security Administration. Retrieved October 22, 2011.

An American baby sitting on a cushioned porch chair (circa 1920s to 1930s).
See all 2 photos
An American baby sitting on a cushioned porch chair (circa 1920s to 1930s).

© 2011 Annette R. Smith Last updated on December 8, 2013

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Comments 12 comments

Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 2 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

Not an "Apple", "CoCo", or "OrangeAda" in the bunch. I love regular names that are classic and easy to spell. I saw a name spelled so strangely the other day that it took me a while to realize it was not a foreign language. Thanks for bringing baby naming back to earth.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

You're welcome, Hyphenbird. I love many of the traditional "old-fashioned" names, too. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my hub.

shea duane profile image

shea duane 2 years ago from new jersey

Love the hub... but I have to be honest, I like non-traditional names. I think Apple is such a lovely name. My son is named Jude after St. Jude because we almost lost him. There is a girl in his class named Diamond... I love that. But I think it is so interesting that at a time when the future was so frightening (1930s), people felt safe in holding on to what was so familiar.

Great hub! PS my mother's brothers were Robert and John.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

Nice to meet you, shea duane! Thanks for stopping by! Classic or non-traditional, aren't names fascinating? Thank you for sharing your thoughts here with us. I appreciate the interest and encouragement!

Cultivate Life profile image

Cultivate Life 2 years ago

Great Hub! I named my children very traditional names, you just can't go wrong with names that stand the test of time.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

Cultivate Life, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub. Thanks for the comment!

babynology profile image

babynology 14 months ago from New York

I have really enjoyed following article. You can find your valuable names with meaning for your baby at babynology.com.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 14 months ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

I am happy you enjoyed my article! The Babynology site looks like a fun place to read about baby names. Thank you for sharing the link.

jlpark profile image

jlpark 14 months ago from New Zealand Level 2 Commenter

Interesting! Thanks. Still a little old fashioned for us (given the names in our little list!)...but interesting all the same.!

Thanks for this!

vibesites profile image

vibesites 14 months ago from United States Level 2 Commenter

To each his own, I guess... I like regular names but I am also interested in colorful names and moreover gives a bit of individuality. And "Apple" has become a regular name here in our place too.

But that is depression era... so holding on to names that are classic and familiar was still the prevalent choice for parents then. Interesting hub, thanks for posting. :)

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 14 months ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

Hello, Jacqui. Some depression era baby names seem a bit old-fashioned for the 21st century, but others have stood the test of time and are still popular. Your name and its spelling are unique, which I like! Thanks for your comment.

Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 14 months ago from San Antonio, Texas Hub Author

Hi, vibesites. Thank you for commenting. This month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) released its annual list of popular baby names in the United States. While modern classics, like Jacob and Sophia, remain at the top of the list, more colorful names like Arya, Gael and Perla are rising in popularity. CNN says this may reflect "pop culture, style icons or plain old demographics."

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