Britain's 'endangered' names: Nobody wants a child called Cecil or Gertrude – but Alfie and Joe dodge extinction

A survey by used online birth records to compare the popularity of forenames over the last 100 years

Oscar Quine
Friday 04 April 2014 00:01 BST
Actors Alfie Allen (left) and Joe Dempsie, who first names are still popular while names such Horace and Clifford face 'extinction'
Actors Alfie Allen (left) and Joe Dempsie, who first names are still popular while names such Horace and Clifford face 'extinction' (Getty Images)

The girls’ names Gertrude and Bertha and boys’ names Willie, Cecil and Rowland are effectively “extinct”, according to an analysis of recent birth records.

Not a single baby was registered with any of these names in 2012, despite their historic popularity.

Research by also found several other traditional British names are now “endangered”, with their prevalence having fallen by 99 per cent since 1905.

They include Horace, Leslie, Clifford and Norman – as well as Ethel, Hilda, Marion and Phyllis. The survey, released today, used online birth records to compare the popularity of forenames over the last 100 years.

Cyril, Arnold and Bernard for boys and Mildred, Dorothy and Gwendoline for girls are considered “at risk” – those that have become significantly less common in recent decades.

The analysis also showed far more girls’ names disappearing or at risk than boys – thought to be because many men’s names are passed on from father to son. Mothers’ names are more likely to be selected as middle names, rather than forenames, for daughters.

Popular names from 1905 which remain common today include Lily, Hannah and Lydia for girls and Alan, Patrick and Joe for boys.

While many “old-fashioned” names face an uncertain future, others are enjoying a resurgence of sorts, albeit in abbreviated forms. Termed the “Alfie effect” – after the modern popularity of the shortening of Alfred – it has seen Ellie overtake Eleanor while Freddie has replaced Frederick. Charlie has also become far more popular than Charles.

Miriam Silverman from, said that dated names could enjoy a revival if soon-to-be parents used their family trees for inspiration.

“Of course, no first name can truly become extinct, as it can easily be resurrected, but it’s fascinating to look at the list from 1905 and see which have thrived and which have faded into obscurity,” she said. “We also know that people appreciate a rare or unusual name in their family tree.”

Darren Schroeder, 45, from Dartmoor, took his mother’s name for his daughter Doris Myrtle Boyask-Schroeder, aged two, and says it receives frequent compliments.

He said: “My partner and I have done quite a bit of family history research... Doris made my partner smile as she quite likes Doris Day... We went through family member’s names... and discounted any that were already taken. We were keen not to settle for anything too generic.”

Case study: Old-fashioned respect

Pete Dickens, from Bristol, and his three-year-old daughter Lilian Rose Rennel

"We wanted to pay respect to our family so we chose Lilian, which is my mother’s middle name, and a middle name of Lilian’s godmother. We both liked the idea of having an “old-fashioned” name, although we had different ideas of what that meant. Emma, my partner, was thinking more 19th-century English twee, whereas I was looking for old Norse names. More often than not, she’s just Lily – or Lil on occasion – but she is always Lilian when introduced to new people. We’ve never had a negative reaction to the name, but I do I imagine I see a wider smile on the faces of ladies of advancing years.

"Another factor was our plan at the time to emigrate to Sweden. There were names that we couldn’t choose. My mum’s name, Janet, doesn’t work well in Swedish as it is often pronounced with a soft J, and my wife’s mum’s name, Kerstin, is pronounced with a soft K, more like Shershtin. We decided to find a middle ground."

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