Do you know an Ethel or a Norman? The name could soon die out as research reveals once popular names are quickly becoming ‘extinct’

Research by used online birth records to compare popularity of forenames over the past 100 years.

  • In 1917 over 11,000 new-born girls were given the name Mary, in 2017 only 64 girls received the first name
  • John was the most popular boys name in 1917 but by 2017 it had fallen to 22nd most popular
  • Names including Ethel, Shelia, Garrett and Herbert are among those that have become ‘extinct’ 

Ancestry, the global leader in family history and consumer genomics, has conducted research into the popularity of forenames in Ireland over the past 100 years.


Three categories of names are detailed in the study, which was compiled by comparing the popularity of forenames from 1917 to 2017 using’s extensive birth record collections.


The most ‘critical’ on the list are those that have seemingly disappeared (by not being selected as first names for new babies) and include Gertrude, Ethel and Muriel for girls and Herbert, Norman and Cecil for boys.


Many more are labelled ‘endangered’, having fallen drastically in popularity for new-borns today despite being among the top 100 names in 1917. For girls, the first name Mary has become ‘endangered’ since 1917. For boys, Joseph saw the biggest drop in popularity, by 97%.


Lastly, there are those that, whilst still being selected, are significantly less common and tend to dip in and out of fashion – identified as ‘at risk’.


Boys names such as William and Patrick have fallen by 96% and 95% respectively. Alongside this, girls names such as Ellen, Elizabeth and Annie have fallen by 97%, 96% and 95% respectively.


Ancestry spokesperson Russell James said:


“Whilst we know no name can ever truly become extinct, it’s fascinating to look at the names which have gone out of fashion and those that have boomed in the last 100 years.


It would be uncommon to meet a new-born Mary, Margaret or John today while babies with the name Emily or Jack can be found around the country.”


Many popular names from the early 20th century have also evolved to their shorter form, which has replaced their previous name in popularity. This trend has seen Alex overtake Alexander, Theo overtake Theodore and Charlie become far more popular now than Charles. The same applies to girls’ names, with Catherine making way for Kate and Ella overtaking Eleanor.


The research also showed far more girls names dropping in popularity than boys – thought to be because many men’s names are passed on from father to son, where mothers’ names are more likely to be selected as middle names, rather than forenames*.


Below is a list of extinct and booming names:

‘Extinct’ (None recorded in last five birth records)

Male – Herbert, Norman, Cecil, Bartholomew, Leslie, Cyril, Reginald, Donald, Sylvester, Wallace and Garrett.


Female – Gertrude, Ethel, Eveline, Muriel, Gladys, Sheila, Marion, Doreen, Wilhelmina, Doris, Edna, Letitia, Margaretta and Fanny.


Booming traditional names (risen in popularity from 1917 to 2017)



Name 1917 Frequency 2017 Frequency Percentage increase
Matthew 250 256 2%
Leo 93 193 108%
Luke 52 420 708%
Mark 39 119 205%
Harry 38 410 979%
Adam 26 389 1,396%
Aidan 26 127 388%



Name 1917 Frequency 2017 Frequency Percentage increase
Anna 251 293 17%
Emily 148 459 210%
Grace 97 371 282%
Charlotte 81 138 70%
Eva 80 144 80%
Lily 67 289 331%
Emma 60 393 555%
Lucy 61 349 472%
Lena 42 68 62%


To search the birth records at, visit:



Data sources: Ireland BMD (Birth, Marriage and Death) index records for 1917 ( and 2017 Baby Names from Central Statistics Office, Data from the 1917 BMD index was used to construct the top 100 boys’ and girls’ names and each of these names was cross checked with the prevalence of these names in the latest baby names data for 2017. Full tables available upon request.


  • ‘Extinct’ names were those that were in the top 100 in 1917 but NOT PRESENT in the 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013 CSO records.
  • Booming names were those that had risen when comparing 1917 and 2017.


* Research carried out by PCP International for in September 2013, which interviewed 1,000 new parents online about their motives for selecting first and middle names.



About Ancestry

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