6/11/2024 | By Patricia Garrison

“My name isn’t old, it’s vintage,” declares writer Patricia Garrison, whose once-popular name has gone out of vogue, as many of us in the over-50 crowd with vintage names have experienced.

My name was once one of the most popular for American girls, and I spent most of my life loving it. In high school, Patricias – like Donnas and Debras and Susans – were everywhere. I may have been a day late on a fashion trend and always a tad too serious when the rest of the cafeteria was in stitches, but my name was trendy and my chosen nickname, Patti, satisfied a part of me that wanted to fit in, requiring no effort. I may have worried whether my bell bottoms had the just the right appliques to match my new Earth shoes, but at least my name was hip.

When I entered the workforce in the early 1980s, I changed my nickname to Pat, thinking it more professional. I was ambitious, and my new nickname felt tough, quick, direct, like the kind of young urban professional I wanted to be.

But something shifted in the early aughts. Millennials were entering the workforce and I found myself wincing whenever someone asked for me, called on me, or introduced me. In a sea of Jessicas, Amandas, and Sarahs, my name was now a signifier that I had, seemingly overnight, become the oldest person in the room. As I reacted to the aging face in the mirror, the name I had once loved bred a queasy self-consciousness. Yes, there were a couple of Patricias in the office, all about the same age as me, but camaraderie was no match for internalized ageism.

Vintage names, photo, envelope, and pocket watch

My moniker, once wildly popular for baby girls born in the 1950s and ’60s, (ranking as high as number three), eventually plummeted by the early 1970s. As with other mid-century names, Patricia is now about as common as a rotary phone, languishing at 941.

Today, in my community of retirees, I’m surrounded once again by Susans and Barbaras, and plenty of Patricias. I’ve returned to using Patti as my handle and wonder if my name will ever see a rebirth. Will Patricia return, like Eleanor, Charlotte, and Olivia, or will it remain a post-World War II artifact, the 20th century version of Bertha?

We may need to wait until the members of GenZ start having children to find out. Baby name popularity is capricious, a combination of popular culture, how names sound, (parents today are opting for soft-sounding names) and how they differ from previous generations. The 1950s and early 1960s were decidedly orthodox, with post-war parents happy to settle into the confines of suburban conventionality. Baby names were straightforward, simple, and brimming with American optimism and modernity. Boomers, ready to chart our own course, avoided those handles and instead chose Jennifer, Ashley, and Jessica for their baby girls – which had never been popular before. Our children went back to the time of their great-grandmothers with names like Emma and Emily, first made fashionable in the early 1900s.

GenZ, described as pragmatic, authentic, and valuing sustainability, may find the crisp, clean sounds of our 75-year-old names as practical and unique as they are. Plucking our once popular monikers from obscurity would also speak to their generation’s individuality and their love of vintage and sustainability. By welcoming little Barbaras, Debras, Lindas, and Susans, they’ll be rescuing these undeniably cool names from oblivion, and in the case of Patricia (not to mention Nancy, Sharon, John, Mary, Robert, William), from possible extinction. Unlike millennials, they’ll see no need to create new names when plenty of good ones already exist. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Far out.

Like vintage names, our styles recycle, too.

Five vintage trends from your attic

Patricia Garrison

Patricia Garrison is a former corporate communications professional who now enjoys the writerly life as a freelancer and essayist. She lives in Lewes, DE with her husband, and her work has appeared in Next Avenue, Insider, HuffPost, Delaware Beach Life, Persimmon Tree, and Herstry.