Baby names can be a fascinating window on changes in style and representation over the years. Names shift from being popular to hopelessly out-of-date over the decades, and baby names like Ethel, Mildred and Gertrude, to name just a few, sound like the stuff of beloved grandmothers to today’s ears — and can make it hard to picture a baby with one of those names today.
Baby names come from so many different sources: They can reflect one’s religion, pay tribute to a family member, celebrate one’s cultural heritage or even express pop cultural fandom. The meanings of some baby names may also surprise you — while plenty of parents choose names based on meaning, some follow trends or choose a name that simply sounds nice to them.
If you were born in the ’70s, you probably remember an abundance of Jennifers (or maybe you’re even named that yourself!). In the spirit of nostalgia for that sometimes stylish, sometimes corny decade, we’ve gathered a list of the 15 top 70s girl names in the US, along with information about what they mean and whether they could be making a comeback.
Like most of the names on this list, Jennifer remains ubiquitous enough that it sounds like a perfectly common name to today’s ears, even though it’s steadily become less popular since its peak as the 70s girl name. Jennifer doesn’t sound old-fashioned today, but it does come from a surprisingly classic source. The name (which is often shortened to Jen or Jenny) means “white shadow” or “white wave” and is the Cornish variation of the historical name Guinevere, which is itself derived from the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar. Who knew that Jennifer had ties to a medieval queen?
Short and sweet, Amy makes a big impression with just three letters. Derived from a French word meaning “beloved” (aww!), it first became popular in the 19th century, when it was famously used for one of the March sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. Amy can also be spelled Aimee, Amie or Ami, but the spelling ending in Y is most classic.
Names ending in A have such a pretty, feminine sound to them. Modern-day parents clearly agree, given that Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Isabella, Ava and Mia are the top six girl’s names of the 2010s. With that in mind, it seems Melissa, which derives from the Greek word for “honeybee,” is due for a comeback. The name was also used for fairies in the Italian Renaissance.
Michelle is a name with the all-important Paul McCartney seal of approval. In the Beatles’ song, it’s rhymed with “ma belle,” but the name has a loftier meaning than just being pretty. The French word it comes from means “who is like God.” The name is a feminine version of Michel (more commonly “Michael” in English), and was originally spelled with one L.
A Y at the end of a girl’s name instantly makes it feel bright and upbeat. Kimberly is derived from a place: This name means “Cyneburga’s meadow,” referring to an Old English woodland area. Kimberly is also the name of a South African town. Often shortened to the no-nonsense Kim or the playful Kimmy, it’s a name you can enjoy even if you haven’t been to one of the places it evokes.
A popular name since the ’60s, Lisa maintained its stronghold in the ’70s and stayed in the zeitgeist when The Simpsons began in the ’80s (who can forget Lisa and Bart?). Derived from Elizabeth (another popular ’70s girl name), Lisa means “pledged to God,” and grew in popularity after Elvis Presley bestowed the name upon his only child in 1968.
Angela is a name with a glamorous feel, and Angie makes a sassy nickname. It’s no surprise that Angela means “angel”. Angela is related to other angelic names like Angelica and Angelina. Its reign in the top 10 baby girl names ended in 1979, making it a true ’70s classic.
There’s a reason why Heather was the name of choice for the gang of mean girls in the cult 1989 teen movie Heathers. The name was given to many baby girls in the ’70s, and became ubiquitous in the ’80s. Heather comes from a lovely purplish flower, making it a good choice for gardeners, and while its taken a nosedive in popularity since the ’90s, with the millennial love of all things ’80s, it may just come back as a retro favorite.
The feminine version of Stephen, Stephanie means “crown” or “garland” in Greek. Stephanie lends itself to cute nicknames like Steffi or Stevie (yep, Stephanie is Stevie Nicks’ given name!) and has often been associated with royalty (Grace Kelly used it for her youngest daughter). There are a number of global twists on Stephanie, including Stefanie, Stefania and Estefanía.
Derived from the male name Nicholas, Nicole is derived from the Greek compounds “nike” (“victory”) and “laos” (“people”). The name as we now know it is a French variation from the Middle Ages. While Nicole hasn’t been a top 10 name since the ’80s, it’s still popular enough that it remains in the top 200. The victorious origins of Nicole give the name a sense of optimism, while Nicky, Nicki or Nikki make bubbly nicknames.
Think of Jessica as Jennifer’s slightly less popular ’70s J-name cousin. Jessica is believed to have been coined by Shakespeare, and was used in The Merchant of Venice. It doesn’t have a specific meaning, but the Shakespeare connection gives it some good literary cred. Another name popularized by the Bard? Olivia, which is one of the top names for baby girls of the 2010s. Shakespearean names never get old!
A name fit for biblical figures and queens, Elizabeth comes from the ancient Hebrew name Elisheva. Elizabeth may be old, but it lends itself to many nicknames that make it feel fresh, including Eliza, Bessie, Lizzy and Libby. The name Betty, which instantly conjures up midcentury charm, is also short for Elizabeth. One interesting variation on Elizabeth? Lilibet, which is the name Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave to their daughter in honor of the Queen.
Derived from the biblical name Rivkah, Rebecca means “to tie.” The name can also be spelled Rebekah, and Becca or Becky make a cute nickname. Rebecca is a good choice for lovers of mystery, as it’s the name of a gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, which was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock.
Kelly is a unisex name of Irish origin. It means “war,” which maybe isn’t the most pleasant association for a baby, but that definition aside, it’s a fun and free-spirited name. You can tell Kelly is a quintessential ’70s name by the amount of teen Kellys on ’80s and ’90s TV shows. There’s Kelly Bundy (Married… With Children), Kelly Kapowski (Saved by the Bell) and Kelly Taylor (Beverly Hills, 90210) — all Gen X icons, to be sure.
The most popular of biblical names, Mary doesn’t feel uniquely ’70s, and that’s because it was the number one baby name for many decades before that (it was even rated number one all the way back in 1880!). In the ’70s, Mary was already getting slightly less popular, but really, it’s one of those simple, classic names that will never go away. Even today, Mary remains in the top 200.
The name game
Whether you named your own daughter one of these names, or you’re a ’70s baby yourself or you’re interested in the names that were popular before you were born, there’s so much to explore when it comes to name trends. Knowing why these particular 70s girl names became popular sheds valuable light on the Jennifer-filled past.
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